Thursday, November 12, 2015

Give the children a say in our national debt

If you'll allow me to channel my inner Ron Fournier for a moment, I'd actually like to endorse a point that both Republicans and blue-dog Democrats have been making about the debt. Multiple candidates alluded to this during the GOP's most recent debate in Milwaukee, but Rep. Leonard Boswell - a board advisor for First Budget - puts it best:
Partisanship aside, what matters most to me, as I think about my eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, is the legacy of debt we are leaving to them and future generations.
Boswell may be confused in thinking that debt today implies economic hardship for future generations, but the underlying point is indisputable: quite obviously, the decisions we make now will have significant consequences for years to come. On this point there seems to be a bipartisan consensus, and a nearly universal fear that, as Marco Rubio worries, "our children will be the first Americans ever left worse off by their parents."

That said, this whole line of thought always strikes me as odd, because its proponents never carry it to its obvious conclusion: that we should give the people with the greatest stake in our economic future some say in it. That's just one of many reasons why I've been arguing that we must give children the right to vote: the inalienable right to participation in power has always been the moral foundation of democratic thought, and the arguments against doing so are generally indistinguishable from all of the historical arguments against franchise for women, non-landowners and non-whites that we long ago dismissed as monstrous and indefensible.

Unfortunately, since we don't give children the vote, polling outfits generally aren't interested in what they think about spending and the national debt. Polls among other age groups, however, tell us a lot:


First, we see that across the board - and by overwhelming margins - people in every age group overwhelmingly prioritize recovery spending over debt reduction. Second, it's clear that younger voters are less concerned about the debt than everyone else. In fact, only among voters under 30 does the preference become so strong that we actually get a majority opinion: most young voters want the debt to go up.

You may have noticed that these trends force debt hawks into a hilarious dilemma about children's suffrage. After all, the standard argument against giving children the right to vote is that their opinions would diverge significantly from everyone else's; but here, children can only diverge from public opinion by agreeing with the debt hawks. And this, according to the debt hawk narrative, would make perfect sense, as children have such a unique stake in reducing spending.

Debt hawks have nothing to lose and everything to gain by supporting children's suffrage. In the "worst" (and most likely) case, the status quo would simply continue, with children supporting the overwhelming American preference for more spending and less austerity. In the best case, they will have won much-needed political allies, advanced a cause they believe in, and (most importantly) avoided the ghastly crime of denying children the opportunity to salvage their own future. Either way, debt hawks are out of excuses. Either they'll give kids the right to vote because they care about the children - or they won't, because they don't.