Eating Our Young

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It is popular now to talk of race, class, and gender oppression. But left out of this focus on supposed victim groups is the one truly targeted cohort -- the young. Despite the Obama-era hype, we are not suffering new outbreaks of racism. Wendy Davis is not the poster girl for a resurgent misogyny. There is no epidemic of homophobia. Instead, if this administration’s policies are any guide, we are witnessing a pandemic of ephebiphobia -- an utter disregard for young people.

The war against those under 30 -- and the unborn -- is multifaceted. No one believes that the present payroll deductions leveled on working youth will result in the same levels of support upon their retirements that is now extended to the retiring baby-boom generation. Instead, the probable solutions of raising the retirement age, cutting back the rate of payouts, hiking taxes on benefits, and raising payroll rates are discussed in an environment of après moi le déluge -- to come into effect after the boomers are well pensioned off.

The baby-boomer/me generation demands what its "greatest generation" parents got -- or, in fact, far more, given its increased rates of longevity. The solution of more taxes and less benefits will fall on young people and the unborn, apparently on the premise that those under 18 do not vote, and those between 18 and 30 either vote less frequently than their grandparents or less knowledgeably about their own self-interest.

The Social Security pyramidal scheme is merely the tip of the ephebiphobic iceberg. Currently student indebtedness exceeds $1 trillion. Many of these loans begin compounding before graduation and are pegged at interest rates far higher than parental mortgages. The cause of this tuition bubble is also not controversial. The prices colleges charge for annual tuition, room and board have for over two decades far exceeded the annual rate of inflation.

There were four causes of such price gouging of students. None of them had anything to do with offering better education for a more competitive price for job-hungry graduates. The first was automatic escalations in the amount of money students could borrow that would be backed by federal guarantees. If campuses hiked their wares at prices consistently twice the rate of inflation, they could assume that students -- while in college -- could qualify to borrow the needed sums. What happened afterwards was not all that much a concern of the campus, at least as long as it did not affect subsequent admissions.

Second, the size and compensation of the administrative class exploded. Again, the reason why was not difficult to understand. Awash in federally backed loan dollars, hoping to lure students with high-tech and social amenities, and to indoctrinate them with race, class, and gender ideology, campuses created new positions from diversity associate provosts to technology gurus -- all to oversee everything from rock-climbing walls to on-campus lectures and paid workshops from fashionable cultural icons.

Third, there was a radical bifurcation among faculty, a sort of divide-and-conquer strategy that rewarded fossilized tenured professors with reduced teaching loads and support for research, while cutting back on new replacement tenure-track billets and upping the percentage of units taught by pastime adjunct teachers. The new younger Morlocks did the grunge 1A work for their more rarefied and contemplative elder Eloi, and the students who paid for it sat through their lectures on fairness and equality.

Finally, the idea of medieval exemption masked the oppression.  Colleges were loudly progressive. Faculties sided with the Palestinians and Walmart greeters in the abstract, never the exploited part-timers in their midst. The noble poor were always distant, not the supposedly clueless lower-middle-class student who went into hock to subsidize academic rants on equalitarianism.

Little need be said about Obamacare. It is a third method of a vast redistribution scheme between the age cohorts, one that seeks to hike insurance premiums on the mostly young, healthy, and low paid or unemployed in order to subsidize the health care costs of the older, less hail, and more affluent. The success of Obamacare hinges on taxing a youthful cohort for a service it will rarely use in order to subsidize those better off who will use it a lot.

This administration has added so far about $8 trillion to the national debt.  By the end of its two terms, the national debt will have doubled in less than eight years. After the tax hikes and sequester, we may nonchalantly talk of deficits stabilizing at over $600-800 billion, forgetting that such annual red ink will in aggregate add trillions to the soon to be $18 trillion in aggregate debt. The tab can only be serviced by continuing virtually non-existent interest rates. For the present generation of toddlers, it is likely that the debt will only continue to grow and the eventual cost of servicing will soar. Interest rates will rise, and those who ran up the tab will be retired -- while those who were not responsible for the profligacy will pay if off.

In short, those now in the womb to the age of thirty will have to subsidize Social Security and Medicare for benefits that they themselves will never commensurately enjoy. They are paying far more for college than did either their parents or grandparents, and receiving less sound education and more dismal job prospects -- with aggregate student loan debt that may match their mortgage obligations. Finally, the youth have no choice whether they wish to become as profligate as were their parents. Like it or not, for the next generation’s natural lifespan, federal budgets will be reduced and taxes probably raised to service the enormous debt of others.

The old notion of marriage in one’s early twenties, two or three children by one’s thirties, a two-car garage in the suburbs and a mortgage paid off by retirement is already a myth from a now forgotten age. Like the citizens of Petronius’s Croton, the best bet for generations X, Y, and Z are an inheritance from those of an easier age.  We can easily caricature today’s youth -- the prolonged adolescence in the garage or basement, the tattoos and piercings, the sorta, kinda going to school or part-time working that so often eats up one’s twenties and early thirties -- but the fault is more so their parents’ generation who strangled and bankrupted the economy.

In California, the boomers have virtually stopped natural gas and oil production in the Monterey Shale formation. It was adults that idled hundreds of thousands of acres of irrigated farmland that in turn put thousands out of work. The youth did not cancel new water projects and put California on the edge of disaster. The rich, affluent, and mature were opposed to salvaging a billion board feet of torched timber after the recent Sierra forest fires. It was always the smug older establishment that decided that they had enough money and security not to worry whether the less fortunate others might have commensurate opportunities. To the Bay Area grandee, one spotted newt or valley rat is always worth sidetracking a few thousand youthful futures.

So, yes, there is something nauseating about the full, tenured professor indifferent to the plight of the part-timer, the Sierra Club attorney who cares nothing for the out-of-work young logger, and the pensioner with additional Social Security who assumes that the minimum-wage young fellow at Starbucks should always pay more benefits that he will never see.

Symbolic of the many gifts bestowed by the baby boomers to the present generation of youth -- aside from Botox and liposuction -- was the new idea of the “intern”: an unpaid helot position predicated on the notion that the young and poorer might someday win a wage from the older and richer.

How odd that President Obama, in his soon-to-be-infamous “I have a pen and phone” boast to bypass the Congress, claimed that he would act outside the Constitution to enact his agenda and help the “kids.”

In truth, no administration in recent memory has done more to harm young people. Like some strange exotic species of the animal kingdom, we Americans are now eating our own young.