Fazio: Generation Atlas and the 2012 election

Ryan Fazio

A little more than three years ago, young Americans learned they had it within their power to be kingmakers in national politics.

We would not have our current president without a tidal wave of support from young voters, and he would not have had the two-year luxury of 60 percent majorities in Congress without those same voters.

But a little more than three weeks ago, we were given yet another sign that the president is absent on the one issue that will affect young Americans more than any other.

This year’s budget promises to increase the national debt by at least $11 trillion over the next decade, despite already raising taxes by $1.9 trillion on American families, small businesses and investors.

In spite of our fiscal woes, the new budget increases spending $1.5 trillion above the current unsustainable baseline, because apparently spending the first $45.5 trillion would be insufficient.

Most damning of all, the budget proposal does not meaningfully touch entitlement programs, the main drivers of our debt.

In fact, the White House has made no real proposal to address entitlements over the past three years.

Every opportunity they are given and every time others introduce comprehensive plans (Paul Ryan, the president’s deficit commission, et al.), the White House either demagogues the issue or ignores it entirely.

Despite purporting to be stewards of America’s future for the youngest generation, the president and his ilk have capitulated on the most crucial issue to our future.

Indeed, Republicans and Democrats alike are responsible for spending binges that have ballooned our nation’s debt.

But the present imperative is not just to stop adding new spending, but also to provide specific and comprehensive plans to correct our course and stop the fiscal train wreck.

Doing nothing is not an option because our current trajectory will bankrupt the country in less than two decades.

The present value of our unfunded liabilities is almost $100 trillion for Medicare and Social Security alone.

The Medicare trustees predict the program will go completely bankrupt by 2024, five years earlier than previously expected. By 2030, debt relative to our economy would surpass the level of Greece when it required its first bailout in 2010 – if the economy does not already break down from the cost of debt by 2027 as the Congressional Budget Office predicts.

We are on the precipice of perhaps the most predictable financial crisis in American history.

The problem is that this future is not far off on the horizon. It’s especially close when you consider that almost all comprehensive proposals to reform entitlements don’t even touch benefits for those 55 and older because it’s understandably prohibited from revoking retirement benefits for those in or approaching retirement.

Considering that Medicare is projected to go bankrupt in 12 years and that it’s politically unfeasible to change benefits for those less than 10 years from retirement, our government must at least begin to make serious reforms in the next two years lest we never properly correct our present path. Dithering is not an option.

The only thing more daunting than our financial position is how the growth of government and debt can also change the character of a nation.

Government spending, which will grow from a post-WWII average of 19 percent of GDP to 32 percent by 2030, is not just driven by entitlements but by an entitlement state of mind. The more the government becomes responsible for people’s material livelihood, the less people depend on themselves and the institutions of America’s civil society (church, community organizations, family, etc.).

Those opposed to reform always demagogue the issue as if someone were trying to take away the safety net from poor people.

But the fact is the government has long passed the point of the safety net and is fast approaching a cradle-to-grave welfare state.

Look no further than Europe today. Not only has its middle-class welfare state bankrupted several countries, but it has also wrought the most lamentable social breakdown. When the bills finally came due and governments were forced to make limited cuts after years of lavish benefits, the reforms led to mass discord.

The protests that ensued in Europe brought daily life to a standstill on many occasions and resulted in countless injuries and some deaths.

The dependency driving us into bankruptcy breeds resentment rather than gratitude within our society. At stake is not just our economic future but also the nature of our people.

The debts now being foisted upon young Americans by our leaders have created an entire generation of Atlases expected to bear the future burdens of present indulgences.

Now that our generation has learned that it is in our power to alter politics, it is incumbent upon us to demand a correction to our unsustainable course. In 2012, Generation Atlas must finally shrug.

Ryan Fazio is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected]

All opinions expressed in this column are solely the opinions of the columnist and do not reflect the views of The Daily Northwestern. If you would like to respond to the column, you may comment below, email the columnist or submit a 300-word letter to the editor to [email protected].