What do young people think about the national debt? If you ask young Occupiers, the debt is less important than tax and income "fairness." If you look at how young people are voting in the Republican primaries, majorities have supported the budget-slashing Representative Ron Paul (R-TX). And yet with the national debt set to explode within a decade, young people still have few outlets to really get their voice heard in any politically meaningful way.
We hope to change this. Over the last two months, the national debt has once again been on the lips of pundits, editors and politicians across the nation. First it was Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports on expected debt (an additional $10.9 trillion over the next 10 years), current deficits (a report estimated that February boasted the largest deficit in American history -- $500 billion, or about $1,600 per American) and updated estimates that the cost of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) had nearly doubled. In and around this were the release of the president's proposed budget (based upon wishful economic growth and manipulative tax estimates), the Senate Tea Party Caucus' and Republican Study Committee budgets -- aiming to eliminate the deficit by 2016 -- and the House Budget Committee's proposal this week to slowly balance the budget through entitlement and tax reforms.
But the question remains: What do young people think of all of this? Everyone pays a price for higher debt, mostly through slower economic growth, higher taxes and a lack of entrepreneurial independence. But it is those people under the age of 30, the Debt-Paying Generation, will pay the highest price as their entire lives are dominated by paying down our nation's massive debt.
We asked members of this generation to tell us how they thought exploding public sector debt would shape their lives. What they've told us in this symposium is more telling than the dry numbers too often used to describe the debt problem. We aimed for a wide spectrum of opinions by people in and out of politics, on the left, on the right, cynics and optimists. What we found was a sampling of young adults who are concerned about the debt... and for a whole host of reasons.
While multiple proposals exist to prevent fiscal disaster from arriving at the doorsteps of young Americans, including The Heritage Foundation's fiscal blueprint, Saving the American Dream, all plans should follow these principles:
• Significantly change the tax code. Options including a flat expenditure tax, such as Heritage proposed, and a national sales tax. We will need a strong economy to help balance the budget, and these tax changes will help with that process.
• Cut bureaucratic and regulatory spending, first by eliminating duplication, fraud and waste -- which could total anywhere from $350 billion to $700 billion annually, or 10 to 20 percent of the federal budget. Then move into changing our federal contracting process so it is more accountable. Third, look at the necessity of all departments and their current activities, and get rid of all elective and unconstitutional programs -- including and especially private-sector subsidies.
• Begin the process of making Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid solvent. For example, the proposals in Saving the American Dream secure the social safety net provided by these programs while instituting reforms that focus spending on those who need it most. Heritage's proposals also introduce much-needed market forces into our health care system, including Medicare and Medicaid.
Young people are more politically engaged than ever, especially as the job market continues to be weak and the debt puts our nation's AAA rating at risk. "The Debt-Paying Generation Speaks" is not the first forum in which young adults have made their voices heard (they have voted for Ron Paul for President in large pluralities many states, for example, and Students for Solvency was critical in nearly convincing Indiana governor Mitch Daniels to run for president), but we hope it is the start of a constructive conversation among young Americans as to how to best move the nation forward. If this conversation fails, however, 20-somethings may take up the advice of RJ Caster, whose initial contribution to this symposium was: "Glad I learned all of those Ramen Noodle recipes while I was in college, 'cuz I'm gonna need them again when I 'retire.'"