Youth under siege

February 09, 2005|By Anirban Basu

YOUNG PERSON, you are under assault.

I'm not sure what's most troubling about this - that it's happening, that you are utterly oblivious to it, or that it's your parents and grandparents who are doing this to you.

I know you feel pretty good about things, what with your iPod downloading this, uploading that. But make no mistake, you are under siege, and your future looks bleak from here. Act now, and you still have a shot at the life your parents enjoy and say they wish for you. Stay ignorant, and you will always be a Democrat.

Please hear me out before you plug your ears back up. Every - and I mean every - public policy decision being made out there is being made against you, and it's a bipartisan effort.

Don't believe me? Have you checked out your college tuition lately? Do you have any idea how much debt you will have upon graduation from the institution you attend? The average college graduate will have $16,000 to $20,000 of debt upon graduation. Should you trouble yourself with graduate school, that figure jumps to $30,000 to $60,000.

Naturally, you're doing the right thing by investing in yourself. You pine for the American Dream. You want a house, one that you can share with a banker for most of the rest of your life. But do you honestly believe that you will be able to afford one? Face facts: Too many of you will be living at home with your parents when you graduate. Your parents will gleefully complain about it to you and their friends.

And then, after work, they'll attend meetings screaming about new development and how new homes don't pay for themselves, even though their homes somehow manage to, and how they just don't want any more people in their community and the traffic is bad and the school you used to attend still has kids in it and the townhouses, what with those people, etc., etc., etc. This, of course, simply causes home prices to float higher, so that you stay at home - their home - forever generating complaints and smarty comments all the while.

Of course, your parents are doing some nice things around the house, what with the low-interest refinancing and heavy dose of fresh debt. What's nice about all this is that your parents can simply pay back that second mortgage by deducting it from your inheritance. Oh, and that spanking new SUV - priceless.

You think that's where it ends, but it's not even close. Please understand, there is only one thing that strikes more fear into the hearts of your parents and grandparents than the prospects of a prison or drug treatment facility finding its way into their neighborhood: apartments. Yes, it's true. They used to live in one when they were young. But that was a long, long time ago. In 1950, the median age of Americans was a youthful 30. Today, it's making a beeline toward 40.

Frankly, your parents and their parents can't remember what it was like to be young. They can't remember what it was like to be you. And so they fight apartments at their town meetings, and what they are really fighting is you and your friends and the have-nots and the don't-deserves. And then they look at you and ask, "Why are you such an incorrigible deadbeat? Why, when I was young, I had my own place right after high school." Right. I'd be blocking out reality with my iPod, too.

But there's more. To feed their constant demand for products from the Middle Kingdom and other places that compete for American jobs and your future, they cry for more tax relief so that they can put more on their credit cards. Meanwhile, the nation's debt skyrockets. You don't appreciate it yet, but you owe everyone lots and lots of money already, and it has little to do with your Nikes, PS2s, torn jeans or concert tickets.

You already owe the rest of humanity $25,800 as your share of the national debt, and your parents and grandparents keep voting for people who are driving you further into permanent insolvency every day. Good luck making it all back on $8 an hour, $14 if you actually make manager.

Why are they doing this to you? That's obvious. They are comfortable. Very comfortable.

Their politics reflect this heightened comfort level. They don't want things to change. They don't care to see housing built for you (not you precisely, just people like you), that school debt is good for character development, and anyway, the Pathfinder now seats seven. Three rows, yippee!

Now comes the coup de grace. After driving you out of the housing market, compromising your inheritance, selling out the American worker and your prospects for a promising career and driving you into debt while keeping everything for themselves and giving the balance to China, they want to fiddle with your Social Security benefits.

Mind you, they're not messing around with their benefits, just yours. Lovely. I know what you're thinking. You didn't expect to see any of that money anyway. Good for you. You're finally starting to see how this works.

Anirban Basu is chairman and CEO of the Sage Policy Group and a senior lecturer in economics at Towson University.

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