Saturday, January 10, 2009

Letter to NPR's Marketplace

I was recently contacted by NPR's Marketplace regarding a letter I'd submitted. I was responding to a commentary from a guy about my age saying he was willing to sacrifice the luxury of retirement if it meant digging out of the massive debt we've been saddled with and providing a decent health care system. I absolutely agreed and sent the following letter in response:

***I just listened to the commentary by Tim Evanson and I must say he
nailed it for my generation. It should be required listening for every
politician. I, too, am fine with the concept Social Security probably
won't be there for me. It's there for my parents who will soon start collecting
it, and that's good enough. I'm far more concerned with access
to health care and, of course, keeping the dollar and our overall
economy solvent for my grandkids.

I don't think people in the 30 and under crowd have quite the
entitlement mentality that our parents had. The Boomers inherited the
greatest middle-class standard of living the world has ever seen as a
result of massive government investment by their parents in things
like the GI Bill and Interstate Highway System. They turned around and
demanded tax cuts and an end to that public investment. But that's OK.
They gave us the Civil Rights Act and broadened the idea of what the
phrase "liberty and justice for all" should truly mean. But they've
left the responsibility of rebuilding our nation's infrastructure and
salvaging the economy to their descendants. Each generation has their
responsibilities to bear. I think many people in my generation
understand ours.***

It was a quick rough-draft, and I want to add some additional explanation.

The line about "entitlement mentality" might bother some Boomers, but here's what I meant by it. I've been thinking lately how the Boomers were born into a world that was
all about them. After WWII, all the attention of the nation was turned
to the post-war children. Initially, that was a really good thing as
Boomers had the courage to defy the status quo with regards to gender
and racial equality. But it seems like after the "hippie euphoria"
wore off, the next big movement of the Boomers was the Reagan
Revolution and the corresponding abandonment of all sense of financial
responsibility (on a national level, of course...obviously on a
personal level many boomers have been very responsible). The
last three decades have seen taxes slashed, along with investment in
education (hence skyrocketing college costs) and infrastructure (hence
collapsing bridges). And of course, that tax money that was no longer
being collected continued to be spent...on the military. So the
deficits have piled up. And now that the Boomers are starting to
retire, the bill for all this will fall on future generations. It's
amazing the WWII generation managed to fund the New Deal and the
largest war effort in history, and then paid almost all of it back
within a decade or two. The deficit spending of Reagan still hasn't
been paid back--it's been added to--and what do we have to show for
it? The economic policies of the last 3 decades didn't "create"
economic growth as much as they "borrowed" growth from future
generations. The scary part is the major innovations of the last few
decades (the internet, microchips and PCs, satellite technology,
wireless communication, etc.) were pretty much all developed in their
early stages by government spending in the 50s through 70s. Since
government hasn't been doing that kind of R&D for the last few
decades, where will the innovations of the next few decades come from?



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