The Starting Five, 2/3/2015


I have a son. He's 26. Lately,

he's been in the news.

By this I don't mean that

you've seen his name or face. He's no Charlie Sheen, thank God. And he hasn't

come up with some new social networking app. My son's in the news because he's

on the leading edge of all those nameless, faceless people politicians and

pundits refer to when they talk about the country our kids are going to


It doesn't matter how you

get your news, if you tune in on any given day, you're bound to hear somebody

wearing a dark suit and a scarlet tie muttering about how this country's debt

is going to crush the living daylight out of my son's future. Governor Mitch

Daniels, who has based his political career on catering to Baby Boomer

nostalgia, riding motorcycles and building highways, has gone so far as to call

the national debt the next "Red menace."

The future these deficit

hawks portray looks grim. It's a country where families have to scrimp to get

by, where services are shoddy and people have to pay more and more for basic

necessities like food, shelter and health care. All this because the government

will be forced to dedicate an overwhelming portion of its annual budget to

paying off interest on the money we've borrowed from other countries.

That's the future we're

being warned about. The trouble is, there are a lot of us, my son included, who

could say that future is now.

Like so many of his peers,

my son has a college degree. So far this degree has netted him a job working as

a clerk in a high-end retail store where he sells a lot of slick utensils he

himself can't afford to buy. He gets no health benefits — that would wreck

his boss's bottom line. Besides, she knows that there are plenty more young

people where my son came from.

But never mind the way

things are today. The deficit hawks want us to think about tomorrow.

It seems getting debt-free

is going to cost us. First we're going to have to cut health care costs. The

way to do that, apparently, is by not using health care. As we've recently

learned, insurers can't afford to charge any less and doctors certainly

shouldn't take a cut in pay. Hospitals need to have the latest super

technologies. And drugs: everybody wants more of those — the stronger the


Then there's Social

Security. Given how bad we Americans are at saving money, you could say that

Social Security is a last resort savings account. That should be a good thing.

It's something we all pay into and should be able to count on.

But wait. It seems that to

make Social Security solvent past 2026, people like my son will have to put off

receiving benefits until they're in their 70s. Maybe not using any health care

will take care of that, too.

What about the military?

We spend billions a day on various wars. Some say we should be on our way to

Libya, that nobody else is going to do it. But unlike health care, we can't

just say no to warfare. Besides, the armed forces have become our country's

most effective jobs program.

What about all those other

public employees? You know, like teachers and firefighters and cops and, yes,

clerks in the state department of transportation who read maps all day and directcrews to

go out and fix those gaping potholes in the middle of our governor's beloved

highways. We need to pay them less. And as far as offering them pensions,

forget it.

As for welfare and the

environment, building bridges and the arts... we'll have to learn to rely on the

market to take care of these things. That is, if people can make a profit doing

or fixing or making them. Otherwise, get ready for some shared sacrifice.

It's funny, in a way. It

used to be that the same folks who want us to think so much about the future were

all for running up huge government debts. Ronald Reagan did it. So did George

W. Bush. The idea then was to put the government in hock so that they could cut

programs they didn't like. Now that the government's over a trillion dollars in

debt, they want to cut everything.

There's another way to

think about this. Since taxes are the lowest they've been since the 1950s, we

could ask those making over $250,000 a year to chip in a little more. We could

charge banks we bailed out in 2008 for the money they owe us. Even better, we could

decide that this country depends more on people than multinational corporations

and base our budgetary policies on that basic premise.

If we acted as if people

really mattered, I don't think my son would have to worry about his future. His

life — all our lives, really — would be better off right now.


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