Thank you for coming along on this journey to define what we owe to the next generation of voters. It has been said that the easiest decision a reader can make is to stop reading. I hope to give you enough valuable and thought-provoking information each week in these blogs so you will want to come back, and to do it in short, easily digestible packages. To gauge whether I am on track, I will pay close attention to your feedback. Please let me know what you think and add any relevant information to the discussion. Let’s see what we can build together.
For my first post, I wanted to respond to the feedback I have gotten so far about the Democracy for Future Voters essay. Before starting the blog, I sent this around to about 20 people I knew to ask for their ideas and criticisms. Most read it and wrote back with both enthusiasm and skepticism. Here are some of the themes:
- Several agreed the next generation perspective was needed in government today because of the financial burdens we are putting on them without their consent. One concern was the “intergenerational wealth transfer” caused by running deficits for current consumption. Another was the underfunded liability that is building up for public employee pensions. Borrowing for a war, for long-lasting infrastructure, or to pull ourselves out of a recession might be justified as providing benefits to the next generation as well as costs, but borrowing simply because the current generations of voters are not willing to pay for the government they want seems unfair.
- Several readers focused on educational needs for the next generation. Schools and other institutions must prepare students with the knowledge and motivation to be active, responsible citizens. They will have to understand the political process and believe they can be effective. In today’s information environment, we also need to arm them with the tools to sort out fact from fiction and fact from opinion.
- One reader suggested that “losing hope” was a great impediment to the next generation being ready to engage politically. He believed that this was caused by a feeling that the system is rigged, political leaders spreading fear, and growing inequality. He also cited changes in laws and regulations that have accelerated the decline of labor unions.
- How would we come to a consensus on defining the interests of the next generation? One reader suggested that high school aged children could be involved in councils to discuss their interests and concerns rather than having adults simply guess at them.
- One reader agreed that it is important to get more long-term thinking into government, but wondered why I just focused on children who are too young to vote. He pointed out that most current voters will still be alive in eighteen years and that we owe a duty to future generations beyond the next one. This was echoed by another reader who mentioned an idea prominent in Native American circles about thinking in terms of seven generations.
- A couple of readers responded that the whole idea is unrealistic. One wrote, “How do you expect current voters to care about the next generation when they won’t even put Social Security on a sound footing for themselves?” Another thought that the influence of money in elections, lobbyists, and the polarization of our political parties will make it impossible to shift American governments in the direction of more long-term thinking.
- Finally, one reader raised the issue of how difficult it is in practice to project the impact of current policies eighteen years into future. He asked questions about how we could evaluate an infrastructure bill that covered many different projects, how we could project the results of zeroing out the budget for the Department of Defense—or doubling it, how we would deal with the issue of discounting future costs and benefits. Even if there was full political support for considering the interests of the next generation in deciding policies, the technical issues would give us another mountain to climb.
Responding fully to each of these bullet points could be several years of work. I hope we can accelerate that by thinking together. I will plan to do postings on these over the next few months. Please keep sending ideas, facts and figures, or references to others who have worked in this area.