David Hoppe

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:: Living in the future

Ignoring today

By David Hoppe


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 inherit.

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.

Mitch Daniels, who has based his political career on playing 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 the interest on 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, health 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 better.

Then there's Social Security. Given how poor we Americans are at saving money, you could say that Social Security amounts to every American's savings account of last resort. 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 he's in his 70s. Maybe not using any health care will take care of that, too.

What about the military? We spend billions a day in various wars. Some say we should be on our way to Libya. 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.

But what about all those other public employees? You know, like teachers and fire fighters and cops and, yes, that clerk in the state department of transportation who reads maps all day and directs a crew to go out and fix that gaping pothole in the middle of one our governor's beloved highways. We need to pay them less. And as far as offering them pensions, forget it.

As to 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 that are wanting us to think so much about the future used to be 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 government 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, could decide that this country depends more on people than multinational corporations and base the policies our budgets are built around 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.