Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Generational Causus Belli....,

My man Spence has been holding it down this week on the subject of youth rioting in Europe and some of what's motivating the current wave of unrest. David Green explored some of this same territory with an American focus at Counterpunch.
I cannot think of a single time in American history where one generation left their children such a stunningly large and complete a mess to clean up.

The fiscal part of it is astonishing, though only the most visible element. A wrecked economy that may sink below the depths of the Great Depression is just the latest contribution. But even before that, economists have been predicting that today’s young people will be the first generation in American history to be less well off than their parents. That doesn’t even account for the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, which has been almost completely neglected for thirty years, so that we could party now and pay later. It also doesn’t include bills encumbered as Baby Boomers begin to retire and demand their promised Social Security and Medicare. These would be almost impossible to meet by virtue of demographic and rising healthcare factors alone. But we might have had a chance at doing so had we set aside the revenues coming in all these last decades while Boomers were working, for use at the time when the payers would became the payees, en masse. But, of course, that would have meant raising taxes or spending less – and we can’t have that! – since we’ve been using that money instead to pay for general budget expenses.

Or, should I say, to not pay for general budget expenses? Could you imagine parents so reckless that they would party themselves into a drunken stupor by stealing the funds from their children? I’m not talking about burning through the inheritance, which, after all, is the parents’ money to do what they want with. No, I’m talking about spending the money the kids have saved themselves for their own college education, or for a down-payment on a house. Outrageous, eh? Well, guess what? That’s exactly what the Baby Boomers did. Because they wanted all the government services they got, plus the tax cuts that put a little extra jingle in their pockets, plus the luxury of being so stupid and ill-informed that they didn’t have to grapple with the questions of where that tax ‘cut’ money was really going, or how utterly bogus were the administration’s claims about its policies, especially concerning the hugely expensive Iraq war. Put it all together and it equates to living well beyond your means. And when you do that, there are only so many ways to deal with the difference in what you’re spending versus what you’re bringing in. Cue the kids here.

The math is astonishing. The current amount of the national debt is a staggering 10.667 trillion dollars, and climbing fast (indeed, it has already risen substantially since I typed that number). Let’s leave aside for the moment that it is rising every year with each annual deficit – which some people now think could be a dramatically record-breaking trillion dollars next year – added to the pile. And let’s also leave aside the fact that each of those dollars are borrowed, and are thus accruing additional liability every day in the form of interest. If we just take the current debt, and divide it by the number of payroll workers in America (about 150 million), that means each worker’s share of the existing debt is $71,113. Now, just for the sake of argument, let’s say a worker has a job pulling down fifteen bucks per hour in pay. At that rate, they would have to work 4,741 hours to do nothing but pay off the amount that has been borrowed in their names, without their assent, and just to cover only what has been loaned so far to date – not counting new additions to the pile each day, and not counting accruing interest. At forty hours a week, that’s 2.37 years of someone’s life. In fact, that’s 2.37 years of 150 million people’s lives. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine going to someone and saying “I’m going to force you to work over two years of your life in some job you probably don’t like, so that I don’t have to”? Because that’s exactly what this represents: Baby Boomers refusing to live within their means and desperately turning to their own children to facilitate the parents’ irresponsibility. Parents stealing more than two years of their children’s lives, to add two years of play time to their own. Unreal.
Interestingly, there is as yet no current mobilization along generational lines in the U.S. such as we're witnessing in Europe. I suspect we can easily understand why this is the case. I suspect that as we descend further into the devastating economic crisis of the Greatest Depression that Barack Obama cannot halt, there will be tens of millions of Americans who will be ruthlessly thrust aside. As their houses are foreclosed, as their jobs are lost, as they are forced to declare bankruptcy and watch their communities collapse, they will retreat even further into irrational fantasy. It will be very interesting to see what glittering and self-destructive illusions the dopamine hegemony - our corporate advertisers, our charlatan preachers, our television news celebrities, our self-help gurus, our entertainment industry and our political demagogues—have in store for American youth who have yet to face their own rude awakening. We ain't seen nothing yet.....,