Future imperfect


It is an undoubted truth that a clear driving force of the Middle East uprisings has been the grievances of the youth.

As Fareed Zakaria points out, Arab countries have been unable or simply resistant to providing job opportunities, education and rights to their younger population – so they revolted. Prominent political commentators like David Brooks and Zakaria are arguing that the American youth should see striking similarities.

Firstly, let me be clear that I, and those political writers, are not by any means comparing the United States to dictatorships or authoritarian regimes that have seen their powers decimated by their people’s uprisings.

What I am suggesting is that after the latest federal budget unveiling by Mr. Obama and state budgets, it appears as if America’s youth are going to be left scrounging for scraps after the budget-carving extravaganza which has overwhelmed American politicians. Ultimately, limiting their education and future job prospects.

The U.S. federal government’s expenditure on young Americans is half of what it was forty years ago. In 1960, when John F. Kennedy Jr. was the president, around 20% of the budget went to programmes dedicated to health, education and development of Americans under the age of 18. Today, it is 10%. And with deficits not appearing to evaporate any time soon, this number looks likely to shrink further.

One would surmise that a rich, prosperous nation like that of the United States would want to invest in their future. As Barack Obama once said, “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.”

I fear that America is on the wrong path. It is on a path that strictly caters to those individuals who scorn those loud, impolite and incorrigible youths who skateboard nearby on the road. That’s right, I’m talking about the older generation.

They pay taxes, they vote and thus they have an active impact on politics. Public employees fill up Capitol buildings in Wisconsin. Angry taxpayers march on Washington. As a result, seniors are in safe hands. In contrast with the spending figures for the American youth, expenditure on the elderly has more than doubled in the fifty year span since 1960. Social security and Medicare make up 40% of the budget at this point in time. Zakaria suggests that in a decade’s time, this figure has the potential to attract more than half of the budget’s expenditure.

In simplistic terms, this means that for the present day and for the near future, that for every $1 the U.S. government spends on its children, it spends $4 to $5 on its elderly. Ageism anyone?

Texas for instance, a notoriously red state, has slashed at least 13.5% of its school financing. This budget cut takes out $3.5 billion for education spending. For politicians, who face an angry populace over the uncertainty and danger of budget deficits, they see education as a politically easy issue to slice without ramifications from the majority of the populace who can vote.

What many Republicans, and some Democrats, would argue is that the umpteen amounts of national debt pose a greater and more pressing threat to prosperity, and indeed the nation, than these education budget cuts.

This is simply nonsense. Instead, why don’t these ‘oh so thoughtful’ older generations lower their pension promises and the mind-boggling amount of money spent on health care during the last few months of a life. They care about the future of their children and grandchildren, just so long as it doesn’t mean they have to make sacrifices too.

The protests of British students due to increase in tuition fees have shown that the youth of Western society do have the capacity to have their voices heard.

Whether or not they have been entirely effective is beyond the point; the fact of the matter is that they are out on the streets making politicians factor them into their budgets.

America has always been a nation driven by its youth’s innovation and genius. From Microsoft to Facebook, the youth have implemented serious, positive changes on U.S. society and the world at large.

If the U.S. government continues on its path of cutting expenditure on the young, they risk cutting the nation’s very future right out from underneath the next generation.

As David Brooks so aptly put it, “the future has no lobby.”

Nick Cassella


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