THE BLOG
10/29/2013 12:59 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Generational Theft: Our Youth Have to Stop It

Most Americans would agree that these past few weeks have not been America's best. Not only did we waste resources, shut the government down and halt congressional focus on strategic priorities, but we diminished our standing in the world. Worse, we did nothing to solve our biggest foreseeable problem: the explosion in spending, especially entitlements, which is numerically certain to be a choking burden for today's young people and future generations.

Even liberal New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recognizes this. He wrote a column recently laying out how future generations are inheriting a massive burden we placed on them because of the promises we have made to ourselves -- promises we cannot sustain.

The numbers don't lie. Our promised benefits have grown, and more people are using them as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement. People are living longer. Meanwhile, our deficit is growing, and low interest rates and Fed maneuvering to pay our annual interest and keep the dollar strong cannot continue. As a result, many predict that today's young Americans will be worse off than their parents were.

Many rely on the Tea Party to take up the fight for today's young; but despite all its concern for limiting government spending and paying down our debt, the Tea Party has not done enough to tackle entitlements, which will hurt the young the most. More, the recent "shut the government down" strategy has hurt the Tea Party for the foreseeable future.

Some older people are realizing the trajectory of our economic situation, and they're working to get young people involved. Experts like Stan Druckenmiller are speaking on college campuses, urging young people to learn the facts and do something to change these troubling trends.

They recognize that only one group can make the argument in a way that will change the minds of politicians too accustomed to kicking the can into the future: America's youth themselves.

It was an earlier generation of young Americans who provided the numbers and political cover to change our civil rights laws. And another generation of America's youth changed our policy on the Vietnam War. Now it's up to this generation to stop the federal government's destructive spending habits.

The current generation of college students should be storming Washington, picketing the AARP and other status quo defenders, and forcing a realistic discussion of how their generation will shoulder future interest payments without squeezing out spending on most federal government programs.

Consider that in just a few years our debt will be $20 trillion. Even a low, 5 percent interest rate on $20 trillion is $1 trillion annually, an amount that nearly equals the annual discretionary federal budget. Throw in promised entitlements, and we face a train wreck where our government will be strapped and incapable of paying anything other than interest on the debt and some entitlements. Forget spending on defense, education, health care, research and the myriad other things that we look to government for.

I have two children under 6 years old. I fear for them. What America will they face 20 years from now? Will it be a Third World country where we fight each other for resources? Or will it be a great America with a role for government where all citizens try to contribute to rather than take from the system?

Granted, some young people have begun to take notice of the looming problems facing their generation and those that will come after. Some groups, like The Can Kicks Back, have begun to speak out, urging young people to get involved. But there is much more to be done, and more young people need to get involved to make a real difference.

The answer lies with today's youth. If current college students and young professionals wake up, do the math and join together to demand that older generations live more responsibly, we have a chance of changing the status quo.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro.

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