The Brokest Generation
Our kids are the ultimate credit market, and the rest of us are all pre-approved!
By Mark Steyn
Just between you, me, and the old, the late middle-aged, and the early middle-aged: Isn’t it terrific to be able to stick it to the young? I mean, imagine how bad all this economic-type stuff would be if our kids and grandkids hadn’t offered to pick up the tab.
Well, okay, they didn’t exactly “offer” but they did stand around behind Barack Obama at all those campaign rallies helping him look dynamic and telegenic and earnestly chanting hopey-hopey-changey-changey. And “Yes, we can!”
Which is a pretty open-ended commitment.
Are you sure you young folks will be able to pay off this massive Mount Spendmore of multi-trillion-dollar debts we’ve piled up on you?
“Yes, we can!”
We thought you’d say that! God bless the youth of America! We of the Greatest Generation, the Boomers, and Generation X salute you, the plucky members of the Brokest Generation, the Gloomers, and Generation Y, as in “Why the hell did you old coots do this to us?”
Because, as politicians like to say, it’s about “the future of all our children.” And the future of all our children is that they’ll be paying off the past of all their grandparents. At 12 percent of GDP, this year’s deficit is the highest since the Second World War, and prioritizes not economic vitality but massive expansion of government. But hey, it’s not our problem. As Lord Keynes observed, “In the long run we’re all dead.” Well, most of us will be. But not you youngsters, not for a while. So we’ve figured it out: You’re the ultimate credit market, and the rest of us are all pre-approved!
The Bailout and the TARP and the Stimulus and the Multi-Trillion Budget and TARP 2 and Stimulus 2 and TARP And Stimulus Meet Frankenstein and the Wolf Man are like the old Saturday-morning cliffhanger serials your grandpa used to enjoy. But now he doesn’t have to grab his walker and totter down to the Rialto, because he can just switch on the news and every week there’s his plucky little hero Big Government facing the same old crisis: Why, there’s yet another exciting spending bill with twelve zeroes on the end, but unfortunately there seems to be some question about whether they have the votes to pass it. Oh, no! And then, just as the fate of another gazillion dollars of pork and waste hangs in the balance, Arlen Specter or one of those lady-senators from Maine dashes to the cliff edge and gives a helping hand, and phew, this week’s spendapalooza sails through. But don’t worry, there’ll be another exciting episode of Trillion-Buck Rogers of the 21st Century next week!
This is the biggest generational transfer of wealth in the history of the world. If you’re an 18-year old middle-class hopeychanger, look at the way your parents and grandparents live: It’s not going to be like that for you. You’re going to have a smaller house, and a smaller car — if not a basement flat and a bus ticket. You didn’t get us into this catastrophe. But you’re going to be stuck with the tab, just like the Germans got stuck with paying reparations for the catastrophe of the First World War. True, the Germans were actually in the war, whereas in the current crisis you guys were just goofing around at school, dozing through Diversity Studies and hoping to ace Anger Management class. But tough. That’s the way it goes.
I had the pleasure of talking to the students of Hillsdale College last week, and endeavored to explain what it is they’re being lined up for in a 21st-century America of more government, more regulation, less opportunity, and less prosperity: When you come to take your seat at the American table (to use another phrase politicians are fond of), you’ll find the geezers, boomers, and X-ers have all gone to the men’s room, and you’re the only one sitting there when the waiter presents the check. That’s you: Generation Checks.
The Teleprompter Kid says not to worry: His budget numbers are based on projections that the economy will decline 1.2 percent this year and then grow 4 percent every year thereafter. Do you believe that? In fact, does he believe that? This is the guy who keeps telling us this is the worst economic crisis in 70 years, and it turns out it’s just a 1 percent decline for a couple more months and then party-time resumes? And, come to that, wasn’t there a (notably unprojected) 6.2 percent drop in GDP just in the last quarter of 2008?
Whatever. Growth may be lower than projected, but who’s to say all those new programs, agencies, entitlements, and other boondoggles won’t also turn out to cost less than anticipated? Might as well be optimistic, right?
Youth is wasted on the young, said Bernard Shaw. So the geezers appropriated it. We love the youthful sense of living in the moment, without a care, without the burdens of responsibility — free to go wild and crazy and splash out for Tony Danza in dinner theater in Florida where we bought the condo we couldn’t afford. But we also love the idealism of youth: We want to help the sick and heal the planet by voting for massive unsustainable government programs. Like the young, we’re still finding ourselves, but when we find ourselves stuck with a medical bill or a foreclosure notice it’s great to be able to call home and say, “Whoops, I got into a bit of a hole this month. Do you think you could advance me a couple of trillion just to tide me over?” And if there’s no one at home but a couple of second-graders, who cares? In supporting the political class in its present behavior, America has gone to the bank and given its kids a massive breach-of-trust fund.
I mentioned a few weeks ago the calamitous reality of the U.S. auto industry. General Motors has 96,000 employees but provides health benefits to over a million people. They can never sell enough cars to make that math add up. In fact, selling cars doesn’t help, as they lose money on each model. GM is a welfare project masquerading as economic activity. And, after the Obama transformation, America will be, too. The young need to recognize that this is their fight. They need to stop chanting along with the hopeychangey dirges and do something more effective, like form the anti-AARP: the association of Americans who’ll never be able to retire.
— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is author of America Alone. © 2009 Mark Steyn