Opinion

The kids don’t stand a chance

Bonnie Kristian Fellow, Defense Priorities

The pin-striped men of morning
Are coming for to dance
Forty million dollars
The kids don’t stand a chance
— Vampire Weekend

Make that $14 trillion instead of $40 million and Vampire Weekend has the American debt-ceiling situation nailed. While the pin-striped men in Washington fiddle with the trimmings on spending extravaganzas only government could call “budgets,” the kids will eventually get stuck with the bill.

And the kids are increasingly not okay with that prospect.

When not discussing current events in light of indie rock lyrics, I work as director of communications for Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), one of the fastest-growing nonpartisan college political organizations in the country. At the beginning of April, 78 YAL chapters in 32 states joined in a national activism event called “Visualize the Debt.” Each chapter constructed a 40-foot-long national debt clock and placed it in their campus quad, affording plenty of opportunity to discuss the debt with fellow students.

I should pause to note that YAL does activism on a lot of topics. We raise awareness about the Bill of Rights, protest the TSA (you may have seen our Pedobear flyer), collect petitions to end the wars and more. None of our activism has been met with the near-unanimous response the Visualize the Debt project received: Students agreed that spending must be reduced to get the national debt under control, and that nothing — including military spending and entitlements, sacred cows of the right and left respectively — should be off the table for cuts.

This isn’t scientific data, of course, but as one of the kids myself (I’m 23), I entirely agree — and so, it seems, do many Americans across the political spectrum. According to a recent Gallup poll, 51% of adults are more worried about raising the debt ceiling “without plans for major cuts in future spending” than they are about the financial crisis that could result from a default. Given the apocalyptic language used to describe what would happen if the government defaulted, this preference indicates a strong political will for significant reform of our spending habits.

“Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt,” said Herbert Hoover, and the young are increasingly aware of what a backhanded blessing it is. Yet spending isn’t the only problem. Also at issue is the recklessness evident in the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve.

Since the dollar was taken off the gold standard in 1971, the national debt has begun a steep, unprecedented climb upward. Backed by only the “full faith and credit of the U.S. government,” new dollars can be created with a click of a button. Though a new round of quantitative easing is currently on hold, this third inflationary event in the last five years is likely to follow in the footsteps of its bipartisan forebears, as Fed Chair Ben Bernanke has indicated that he will consider it until the markets are trending toward full employment, which they currently aren’t.

Whenever it happens, QE3 will certainly stimulate some parts of the economy — primarily the big banks on Wall Street whose former employees populate the Fed’s hallowed halls — but it will do so at the expense of the money in your pocket, continuing a century-long trend of the dollar’s decline into near-worthlessness.

Indeed, as Bernanke’s most vocal critic, Rep. Ron Paul, has put it, easy-money policies are a key reason we have this $14 trillion mess:

As government and central banks continue the cycle of spending and inflating, the purchasing power of their currencies is constantly being degraded. These currencies are what the people are working for and saving. This inflation guts the savings and earnings of the people, who have very limited options for protecting themselves against these ravages … Fiat currencies trade the people’s freedom and security for the government’s freedom to squander the wealth of the nation on wasteful pet programs, wars and corruption.

When that wealth is squandered beyond even our newly printed means, it’s the kids — already struggling with the worst unemployment rate for our age group since 1948 — who will ultimately be stuck with the bill. Our elders will have dined and dashed on the largest check in history if across-the-board spending cuts aren’t made soon. It’s a check my generation can’t afford to pay.

Vampire Weekend’s last stanza proclaims:

The pin-striped men of morning
The partners in the dance
The paper’s shot to pieces
The kids don’t stand a chance

The paper is indeed shot to pieces — and the longer we dally in making truly significant budget cuts while taming the Federal Reserve’s print-happy ways, the more the kids don’t stand a chance. As one of the kids, I say to Washington: Cut the spending. Yes, it will hurt. Cut it anyway. I’d start with exiting Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia — but that’s just me. Whatever you choose, just make sure the cuts are bold and serious.

Because I’d like to someday be able to afford pin-stripes, too.

Bonnie Kristian is the director of communications for Young Americans for Liberty.