Letter to the Editor: Debt and destiny
Seven score and nine years ago (149 years) President Lincoln came to Gettysburg, Penn. to commemorate a cemetery for the union soldiers who had fought and died there that summer to preserve the union. He took that opportunity to put in words what he saw as the essence of the Civil War. It was, he said, a test of popular government, to see if the proposition put forth by our founding fathers could be realized. Could a free people govern themselves and meet the challenges of Civil War?
A decade earlier he had given a speech recognizing that the threat to American democracy was not to come from the tyrants and armies of Europe. He said, “That they could not by force take a drink from the Ohio river in a thousand years,” but that if failure was to be our fate it would be one self-inflicted.
For over 200 years the United State has demonstrated to the world that it can meet the challenges of tyrants both at home and abroad. It has faced down dictators, kings, and internal factions. For years we became what Lincoln envisioned we would “the hope of man on earth.”
But today I suggest that the proposition needing to be asked is can a people deep in debt be free? Can a dependent people govern themselves? What will the result of our current profligate spending be on our children’s futures?
Our current national debt stands at nearly 16 trillion dollars. We have run budget deficits of over one trillion dollars for the last four years and in the billions for the last decade. Most of this spending is on auto pilot. That it is built into the system, the big budget items are Social Security, and Medicare/Medicaid. As our society ages and the baby boom generation ages the unfunded liabilities owed are going to begin to squeeze out all other spending.
Take defense spending. Currently it is just under 700 billion dollars and dropping. If we cut out all defense spending that would not even balance our current budget. As the baby boom generation starts to retire at 10,000 members per day, Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security will begin to take up a larger and larger share of the budget. That and interest on the debt will start to squeeze out nearly everything else. And make no mistake this will have consequence for our children. We are limiting their options daily by our failure to take action and address this problem and the longer we wait the greater those consequences will be.
We already see that Europe has fundamentally abandoned any real defense force. While we certainly need to reconsider what our commitments will be around the globe. Make no mistake that the most dangerous times in history are when empires/superpowers contract. Who and what will fill the void are valid questions. Will our current course leave our nation less secure for our children? At our current rate of spending I fear going to find out sooner rather than later.
We hear much about the gap between rich and poor, rich and middle class these days. And the questions and debate are valid. But what is seldom mentioned is the divide between old and young. Those over 65 now have a greater share of the wealth than those under 35 than any time in the history of the world. In Briton, in fact, those over 50 control four-fifths of that entire nation’s wealth. Our current demographic trend shows we are just a step behind Europe in this regard.
Consider what the consequences of this might be. Currently, the unemployment rate among the young is a staggering 17 percent. This is delaying marriage and children which means that the generation asked to hold up the edifice of our current debt are going to be the least prepared to do so. The burden is likely to only get worse if our spending goes unabated.
I think Lincoln today would have reminded the nation of a biblical proverb. “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” Are we to make our children economic slaves? Are we to leave the next generation a world less secure? Are we to limit the opportunities of the next generation? Is this the legacy we hope to pass on? Do we believe that we will escape the laws of history? We seem to think that ignoring them may make them go away. But remember history waits for no one and the future will arrive like it or not!
Lance Harvell is House District 89 representative for the towns of Farmington and Industry.