Generation Cleanup

Ten years ago today I became a father, and by doing so I have left my indelible mark on society. Long after I am gone my two children will still roam the earth and try to live a good life in the wake of those who came before them. That’s what every generation does. We are all born amidst the circumstances and conditions that were created by those who came before us, and we have to live our lives either prospering from the ways of the world, or trying to make things better for ourselves in spite of the hand we are dealt.

Politicians like to fret over the budget deficit by saying “we can’t saddle future generations with our debt”, or “we can’t punish our children and grandchildren by making them pay off our excesses”. They say we can’t kick the can down the road for someone else to deal with. That is why politicians are up in arms about the bailouts, health reform, and deficit spending. They contend that government can’t afford to invest more money in fixing the economy right now because future generations will spend their lives paying off this debt.

I say that this is a baseless argument for two reasons.

First of all, unless we fix the economy NOW, my children will have far worse problems to deal with in the future. For example, if the economy continues to go south and I lose my job then my children will be at a huge disadvantage. We lose our home, their lives will be severely disrupted, and their future will be uncertain. Plenty of studies show that children whose parents struggle economically often turn to drugs, crime, and (for girls) are more likely to become pregnant teens. I would argue that these conditions are far worse than my kids dealing with higher taxes and inflation as adults when their generation has to pay off government debt. If they have good careers and healthy lives then they will have the ability to deal with it. It won’t be ideal, but it will be possible.

Secondly, “passing the buck” is a part of American history. The “Greatest Generation” dealt with cleaning up the Great Depression and fighting World War Two. The Baby Boomers helped remake the US economy by transforming us from a manufacturing and agricultural society to an information and technology society. Generation X (my generation) has to struggle with the looming transformation of the healthcare industry and its impact on the economy, while the country’s financial resources are evaporating under the heat of fighting two misguided and seemingly endless wars. And my children (and probably my grandchildren) will be paying the tab throughout their adult lives.

But that scenario is far better than having them struggle through poverty as children. The US government needs to invest more money where the US consumers currently can not. Otherwise there will be nothing left for our children to deal with when they are old enough to do so.

That’s the true way of life as Americans. It doesn’t matter who’s fault it is, and it doesn’t matter when it gets cleaned up (unless China decides to call us on the debt we owe them, which will never happen because they will lose their biggest global customer and plunge the world into economic oblivion). We need to get through right now with some semblance of normalcy so that our children have a decent life to grow up strong enough so they can have a decent chance to actually pay for our sins. And besides, after generations of mounting debt, it would be more unfair to suddenly say “this is wrong, we must clean this up right now” and start slashing things like infrastructure, social services, and more jobs. That would be far worse that pushing it off for another time.

So I say we keep kicking the can down the road until future generations are strong enough and better suited to pick up that can and throw it in the trash where it belongs. Spending beyond our means is wrong, but so is ruining the lives of generations that aren’t at fault for the situation they were born into. Let’s give them a fighting chance.

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