Youth on the losing end of class warfareThe last presidential campaign seemed to be about “change” and the most recent congressional election about “Obamacare.” So far, it looks like the theme of the current campaign will be “class warfare.”
The last presidential campaign seemed to be about “change” and the most recent congressional election about “Obamacare.” So far, it looks like the theme of the current campaign will be “class warfare.”
Just last week, Mitt Romney played the class warfare card on Newt Gingrich, saying that Gingrich wants to “replace ambition with envy.” If two Republicans go at it like that, just wait until the general campaign heats up, and Occupy Wall Street and Super PACS join in.
Most Americans don’t want to play this game. We want to believe that America is a land where hard work is fairly rewarded. That belief, though, is shaken by bailouts for millionaires, and by huge sums of money going to those responsible for monumental failures.
But there has been more than one form of class warfare. The evidence is voluminous.
Exhibit one is Duluth’s public employee health care liability, measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars. That liability began decades ago, when the City promised future health care to its employees as a way to avoid paying or accounting for employee benefits up front. In effect, Duluthians, many no longer alive, obligated future generations to pay their bills.
Another generational cost shift is going on under our feet. There, our ancient city water infrastructure crumbles, rusts, leaks, and breaks, while we don’t commit the resources to repair it. Someone else, sometime in the future, will pay.
Head down to St. Paul for a similar story. This year’s state budget was balanced, in part, by holding back 40 percent of school funding, which forced school districts to borrow.
Worse, the State also borrowed $1.6 billion against future payments owed to Minnesota due to the tobacco lawsuit settlement. Those loans will have to be paid back by future taxpayers, with interest. That won’t be easy, because while the legislature was balancing the budget with gimmicks, it was failing to fix the state’s underlying budget problems.
But the City and State are models of fiscal prudence compared to the federal government.
Just how bad things are in Washington is illustrated by Congressman Chip Cravaack, who writes that he is “a numbers guy.” In July Cravaack wrote that he was proud to support the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act, which was to bring federal spending down from its current 22.5 percent of gross domestic product to about 20 percent, roughly the historical average, by 2021.
That seems like a responsible budget, but it’s not. Unfortunately, current federal tax receipts are only 15 percent of GDP, the lowest since Truman was president. Absent an economic miracle, or tax increases which Cravaack opposes, that would leave us with a permanent annual federal deficit of five percent of GDP, or three quarters of a trillion dollars. Guess who will pay, sometime in the future.
All of this, to me, looks like class warfare, with older generations shifting costs to the young.
I was born in 1965, one year after the last of the baby boomers. That means that I’ve benefited from the deficit spending and low taxes insisted upon by my elders, so I suppose it’s a form of justice that I spend the rest of my life helping to fix the result.
Such is not the case for our youth, some yet to be born, who will shoulder the burden of fixing problems their elders created and often resist helping to solve.
Nowhere is it more obvious how our youth get the short end of the stick than in Congressman Paul Ryan’s Medicare “reform” plan. That plan would maintain Medicare as is for those over 55 but, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would require today’s 47-year-old to be paying 68 percent of his or her own benefits at age 65.
As Cravaack said, when he explained the plan to his own worried father, “Dad, this is going to preserve your Medicare. Nothing will change for you.” But the young will again suffer by paying for benefits for elders that they can’t access themselves.
Our youth could be forgiven if they abandoned our seniors, who made such a mess. They won’t, though. They are too uninformed and too powerless, and probably too dependable.
But if this election is going to be about class warfare, then candidates should be talking about intergenerational class warfare, too.
Budgeteer columnist Pete Langr writes monthly for the Budgeteer. Contact him at email@example.com.