Joe Laliberte: A not-so-booming legacy

Our generation is, for lack of a better term, getting screwed.

The baby boomers, a generation that most of our parents belong to, are going to leave us with well over $10 trillion in national debt. They are leaving us with an environment that is on the brink of disaster. In the prime of their lives, which for most of them was throughout the 1990s and earlier this decade, they presided over an economic bubble that just happened to explode when most of them are getting ready to cash in their Social Security checks. We’ll be paying for these checks, by the way.

It reminds me of a gambling addict in Las Vegas who skipped town when they realized how much they were in for. Where is the mob when you actually need them to help collect debts?

Boomers were born after World War II, when the “Greatest Generation,” our grandparents, came home from war to start new lives. Between 1946 and 1964, nearly 76 million boomers were born. They remember the assassination of JFK, the civil rights movement, draft cards, cultural experimentation, Watergate and the Cold War. Through these tumultuous and defining moments in American history, the boomers helped build America into what it is today.

But this current economic crisis should give us pause as we rethink the legacy of this generation.

The bottom line is that they bought things they couldn’t afford. While the generation before them saved most of their money, the boomers spent it. And oh, how they reaped the benefits. Throughout the 1990s and the past 10 years, massive borrowing has led to a situation in which our economy and the entire world’s economy is at a breaking point.

This year, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will cost the government a whopping $1.2 trillion. By 2030, these programs are projected to account for three-quarters of the national budget. Add to that the $700 billion bailout passed several weeks ago.

According to Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson, if benefits for our precious boomers are not altered in some way, the tax increases required by 2030 could hit 50 percent, and budget deficits could balloon to quadruple today’s level.

But have no fear! As both presidential candidates push for lower taxes, when our generation actually starts paying real taxes – by real, I mean not the 5% you have taken out for your summer job painting houses – we’ll be footing the bill for the boomers’ party.

Oh, and we have one more thing to thank the boomers for. Generally, most boomers bought their first car in the 1970s. Right around that time, as they drove their new muscle cars all around the United States, global CO2 levels rose from about 315 parts per million in 1960 to well over 380 parts per million today. Without getting too scientific, that’s a whole lot of carbon. So much, in fact, that it is the most we’ve had in our atmosphere in over 800,000 years.

Of course, the boomers are not solely responsible for the drastic increase in CO2 production. They are responsible for not doing anything about it. They argued for most of their lives about whether climate change was a serious issue and have only recently understood that we need to change our behavior.

That brings us to generation Y, or the millennial generation: all of us currently in college. It’s time for us to clean up the mess. We are being saddled with all these problems, but that’s OK. With everything going wrong in this country today, these problems present us with a unique opportunity to make a difference.

In reality, we don’t have any other choice.

The writer, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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