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Letter to the Editor: A call to action for the youth generation

Kicking the can down the road — we do it rather well in this country. Whether it is reforming the funding formulas for Social Security and Medicare, or addressing our nation’s crippling debt and deficit, or rising college costs, or wage stagnation, we seem to put off solving problems today that we can solve tomorrow.

According to the Social Security Administration, Social Security is likely to become insolvent in the early 2030s. According to Medicare’s trustees, it will become insolvent even sooner, in the late-2020s. That might seem far off, but it isn’t. The federal Highway Trust Fund, which funds upgrades in transportation, is set to expire Oct. 29. These impending calamities have not come from thin air, though. Congress has known for some time action is needed, upwards of the last decade and more. But has Congress acted in a serious and meaningful way? No.

These issues are difficult to solve, to say the least. After all, if these problems were so easy to solve, they would already be solved. Our members of Congress are human, like us. Perhaps they do not have answers to all these problems. But there is more to it than that.

For many elected officials, these issues are not priorities. The average age of a member of Congress is 57 years old — 61 years old for the average senator. Why should someone around that age be expected to prioritize stemming rising college costs, wage stagnation or the impending insolvency of Social Security and Medicare? When these programs go belly up, most of these people — with all due respect — will either be in nursing homes, six feet under or golfing in South Florida. Kicking the can down the road is easy for them because they will not have to live with the ramifications of inaction. The status quo bodes well for them — but not for their grandchildren.

Our generation’s engagement in these issues can command the attention of elected officials. If youth engagement as a percentage can rival that of our parents and grandparents, elected officials would be wise to heed our wants and needs more than they currently do — it would be shrewd electoral politics to do so. Research shows those who participate in government and politics receive more attention than those who do not. Thinking realistically, why should an elected official be responsive to a generation that does not engage or vote in large numbers, who therefore pose little threat to the official’s re-election when he or she is not responsive? If elected officials consciously ignore issues important to our generation, there is little threat of reprisal. Martin Wattenberg humorizes that “politicians are not fools; they know who their customers are. Why should they worry about young nonvoters any more than the makers of denture cream worry about people with healthy teeth?” Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, in his 2016 presidential campaign, has reached out to youths, as he believes many align with his more libertarian values, but youths do not engage or vote in large enough numbers to sway the election.

Ironically, there is a cyclical nature to the process of impassiveness between young people and elected officials: A lack of our generation’s engagement in the electoral process necessitates a lack of attention paid to youth issues by elected officials; a lack of attention paid to youth issues by elected officials necessitates a lack of our generation’s engagement in government and politics. Which caused which in the first place is a chicken-or-the-egg type of question, but it shows how each side’s apathy indirectly reinforces its own indifference.

This is a call to action. Our generation, those in their teens and twenties, has to get engaged — our fiscal future depends on it. It is not my intention to scare or guilt people into action, as that might sound very doom-and-gloom, but we must awaken our generation out of indifference and apathy. I recognize every 18-to-29 year old will not engage, but more should. What is realistic is for each of us to find an issue we are especially passionate about, and focus on tackling that issue. For some it might be rising college costs — great. For others it might be addressing deteriorating entitlement programs — great. For the remainder it might be the dissatisfaction with partisan vitriol between Democrats and Republicans — great. Pick an issue and contact your elected officials about it. Send them an email or call their offices. Even easier, talk to your friends and neighbors about it. Encourage them to become more engaged.

If we ignore these issues, they will not solve themselves. If we ignore these issues, we become complicit in our own fate, intentional or not. Our elected officials will continue to eschew acting soon if we remain unengaged and unconcerned. The positive news — and there is some — is that we have an opportunity to act, but we must do so quickly. We are the masters of our own fate. That is both gift and curse. The curse lies in that the window to act is closing, whether we act or not. Inertia allows the can to continue being kicked down the road, but our mobilization can stop it. Enough is enough; let’s stop kicking the can down the road.

Andrew Podob

First-year Ph.D. student studying American politics

One comment

  1. October 13. Almost 2 weeks and not a single comment. And on such a good letter written by a first-year doctoral candidate in American Politics. Our generation is truly pathetic. The majority of our generation doesn’t care (either because they’re too ignorant on the reality of the situation or because they just dont want to get involved), and of those of us who do care, we don’t DO anything about it, be it because we’re scared, feel insignificant, don’t have time, etc. Let me give my 2 cents from an Engineering mindset as opposed to a political mindset (I’m a senior CSE undergrad). Because I’ve been passionate about and pondering this stuff for a good 7 years, and especially over the past year. I even created my own socio-economic-political ideological theory, and described it in incredible detail, although never really shared it with anyone. However, My personal desire to “Do something” and try to realise this same call to action drove me to a near suicidal level of depression towards the end of last Spring semester, so over the past few months I’ve temporarily abandoned mental involvement in thinking this way for my own recovery.

    First let me list the one fundamental key to my mindset: Our system is broken beyond repair. It’s fundamentally unsound, corrupt to the core, and run by people with intellectual abilities less than that of middle schoolers, backed by police intimidation and force domestically, and military intimidation and force internationally, who act in the interests of and care about nothing but money. You mention our elected officials alot in this post, but our politicians are all nothing but jokes. If they disagree with you, they can ignore you or tell you to fuck off, and there’s nothing you or anyone else can do about it. If they do agree with you, they’re not going to do anything about it, and if they do, it wont pass, and if it will, Ted Cruz will filibuster for 20 hours, and if it still passes, they’ll shut down the government. It’s a fucking joke played like a fucking game to these 60 year old middle schoolers. Going through out system, progress is either illegal or ineffective. If you want to make any legitimate progress, the way I see it you have 2 options: Start a war or Break free. Patriotism is blind, and if you can’t see our country and our system for the failure that it is, then you deserve to go down with the ship (And I do see the ship going down, for many different possible reasons).

    I’ve always like the idea of breaking free, independently starting a closed off society, getting it right, and then saying “Look at how we do things. Now compare it to how you do things. Which is better?” at which point I imagine the former would take over just because of growth of people switching to the better option – which would then make it (if you do it right) better – which would entice more people to join, and would be recursive until the later would fall from being too weak to stand.

    And that’s what lead to and is the philosophy behind how I imagined I would go about implementation of my ideological socio-economic-political system, which is essentially a human right set and moral code (social), an extreme form of socialism which one government branch roots to all companies and provides all employment opportunity (political), and a moneyless economic system which uses assigns citizens within the society ranks, and those ranks map to accessing certain amounts of certain types of resources per some unit time (economic).

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