12/27/2012 01:15 pm ET Updated Feb 26, 2013

The Sensible Center: The Challenge of an Intergenerational Compact

In this holiday season, we cannot but consider the relations among generations -- parents with their parents, parents with their children, grandparents with their grandchildren and great grandchildren.

So it is an optimal time to seek a way forward in the face of the terrible cross-currents confronting us. In our economy, all of us who can do elementary arithmetic and have heard of post-Keynesian economics know that we need short-term stimulus combined with long-term deficit reduction. And any of us who depend on our public services (which is virtually all of us) are also becoming acutely aware that we will need to reduce our expenditures on entitlements in order to allow investments in infrastructure, including research and education.

The fiscal cliff is helpful in that it calls attention to what is required. We need a sensible center: a great many of those a little to the left of center who will need to give in the short term on some of our long-term priorities and a significant number of those to the right of center who recognize the imperative to address our concrete common challenges rather than only state abstract principles. Surely this coalition is attainable!

As a member of the older generation, I call on all of us regardless of age to forge a compact that will undergird the United States in the decades ahead. It will require that we resist so focusing on the needs of seniors that we fail to invest in young people and therefore neglect our children and grandchildren. We need investments in programs to train the unemployed for further years of productivity, in education and research to assure long-term personal, social, and cultural vitality, and in developing the infrastructure of transportation and services on which we all depend.

A sensible center will balance the needs of the unborn and the young with the legitimate claims of the older. It will know that the increasing divide between the well-off and the impoverished cannot continue to grow wider indefinitely. It will also be increasingly aware that the broad range in the middle will not in the long run tolerate continuing barely to hold its own or even losing ground.

The turn to the New Year is an apt time to focus on attaining this intergenerational compact. As we celebrate festivities that connect us across generations, we should look ahead to the daunting challenges that will define us for decades to come. The time to gain traction on these issues is now.

We should join in sending a message to the president and Congress: we expect you to represent our better selves and to forge a comprehensive compact that unites us rather than offer small measures that divide us.