It’s Time for Some Debt and Entitlement Alarmism

  • September 21, 2023
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Polls consistently show that climate change is a leading issue for young Americans. Millennials and Generation Z have been coached on climate arguments—and in most cases outright climate alarmism—in school and by the media, leaving them convinced that carbon-based energy has ruined their future on the planet.

It appears that children are being organized to advance adults’ political goals. Greta from Sweden addresses the United Nations, apparently coached by her parents and other adults, scolding us “How dare you” for allowing the planet to burn up in a few years. Twenty-somethings glue their hands to valuable works of art in major museums to protest the use of fossil fuels.

Young plaintiffs in Montana won a lawsuit claiming that the state has failed to uphold its constitutional responsibility to provide a healthy environment for state residents, a ruling now considered a victory for the climate movement. If it inspires further political and legal climate change activism, it may mark the beginnings of a twenty-first-century Children’s Crusade.

With plenty of diverse opinions about the potential risks of climate change, the matter has polarized Americans along both political and economic lines. The current administration has allocated great amounts of resources attempting to ameliorate the presumed effects of climate change, adding significantly to annual federal budget deficits that will grow into additional federal debt over time.

Meanwhile, although the facts about those annual federal budget deficits and accumulating federal debt are well known, they are barely acknowledged by both voters and our nation’s leaders. Equally unacknowledged are the facts about looming unfunded liabilities in entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Why are these looming budgetary and entitlement funding problems so widely ignored, given the published figures and projections from the Congressional Budget Office? Why is there so little concern about the insolvency of the Social Security trust fund by 2033, and the Medicare trust fund by 2031, given the figures from trustees of these funds? Why is there no awareness that interest on outstanding federal debt will increase from about 15 percent of total federal revenues in 2023, to 20 percent in 2033, and 40 percent in 2053?

Such dramatic increases in interest payments leave less budgetary room for discretionary federal spending on both defense and nondefense programs that are popular with voters. Today’s youth will be paying these bills during their adult years, as interest consumes increasingly greater amounts of total federal spending (and never mind the minimal likelihood that the country can ever repay the total principal of the debt itself).

There is a huge disconnect between youthful climate alarmism on the one hand and indifference to debt alarmism on the other hand. While today’s youth readily protest climate change, they are indifferent to this fiscal burden that will make it more difficult for them to succeed as adults in an economic environment that they anticipate. Perhaps they are so convinced of the existential threat of climate change that their own future financial well-being seems insignificant. But whatever the explanation for their indifference to the debt burden and entitlement shortfalls that they will inherit, those will be theirs to own because no one else will be around to pay the bills.

Rather than coaching young people about climate alarmism, it is time for responsible adults to explain to young people the magnitude of this debt burden so they can begin to prepare for it. But before that can happen, today’s adults must themselves face up to the reality of the burden that they will leave to younger generations.

If young people want to become activists for a cause, there is today none more important than their own generation’s need to acknowledge the looming federal budget and entitlement finances. Such federal fiscal alarmism would provide a purpose to which they could productively bring their youthful energies. Indeed, federal budget alarmism could be considered a cause worthy of gluing one’s hand to a painting in a museum.

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