Society in our day and age appears to be thriving on polarization. Not just between Democrats and Republicans, city liberals and rural conservatives, tax payers and entitlement recipients but now – ominously – also between current and future generations.
David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, has repeatedly warned that Washington is all too willing to sacrifice the interests of the very young and unborn (who do not vote) for the interests of the large, growing and politically influential group of older Americans who are represented by an enormously powerful interest group called AARP.
The young and unborn don’t have an equivalent of AARP to represent their interests and it shows (in Congress). For more than two decades now we have unabashedly been robbing the cradle by charging trillions of dollars of routine, operational expenses, to our national credit card, raising the National debt from $ 4 trillion in 1990 to in excess of $17 trillion at the end of 2013.
The administrations responsible for the debt explosion were Republican and Democrat, so neither party can claim the moral high ground. Their actions and inactions that have led us to the brink of a debt crisis are both economically detrimental and morally decrepit.
Economically detrimental, because we did not go into debt to invest in a better future for Americans but simply because we allowed the expense of running the business of the country to exceed, year after year, the revenues we were collecting. We accepted year after year a budget deficit and, more recently, we abandoned the principle of budgeting our expenses altogether and we just funded our runaway expenses with a series of continuing resolutions. To the point that our national debt now just about equals the size of our economy.
There are all kinds of good reasons to leverage the size and dynamism of the US Economy by borrowing to cover calamities like wars, natural disasters and cyclical downturns or to invest in the future in the form of infrastructure improvements, research and development and investment in our human resources, but it is economically unwarranted to finance ongoing operations with debt. And that is what we have been doing.
We are deep in debt and we have not even put our existing entitlement programs on a path to long term solvency. We are deep in debt without having addressed our decaying infrastructure or our education deficit compared to the rest of the developed world. We are deep in debt without having taken any steps to protect our people and property from the negative effects of global warming.
That is where the moral argument comes in. Our generation has selfishly spent to accommodate its bad habits and utter lack of fiscal discipline. It protects ad nauseam the interests of its senior citizens in programs like Social Security and Medicare that were last written into law in a different day and age and with a very different outlook on demographics and economic realities. And, unless Congress reverses course and negotiates the grand bargain that is now required, we will present the bill for our spending spree to our children and grand children.
We have a real problem in America when we allow interest groups like AARP to dictate public policy with utter disregard of the legitimate interests of Americans who do not have a vote.
On paper, our nation and economy should be strong enough to serve the interest of its young and its old without having to favor one over the other.
If Congress would just stop bickering and pass measures that will foster America’s competitiveness and growth – including measures that will bend the curve on the growth of our national debt - we should not have to favor one constituency over the other. But if we do, we should do what Americans have always done and give its young and coming generations an outlook on a better future than we ever had.