Is it fair to blame the national debt on any particular generation?

Rhetoric during this campaign season has often turned to the national debt and the annual budget deficit. Some blame the problem on the generation now nearing retirement, arguing that baby boomers have lived well and irresponsibly at the expense of younger people. Today’s Question: Is it fair to blame the national debt on any particular generation?

  • reggie

    It is almost axiomatic that what can be imagined or built will eventually be used. The post-WWII baby boom generation of which I am a part imagined and built a financial system that was wonderfully efficient at many things, but insuring its own sustainability wasn’t one of them.

    Should we be blamed for running up the national debt? Probably. There’s no question we’ve taken advantage of the system we built, that we’ve reaped the benefits of easy money, and we’ve given little thought to the long-term consequences, intended and unintended, of living beyond our means. But in fairness, we didn’t spend all of the money only on ourselves: we’ve given the succeeding generations all kinds of advantages. Unfortunately, we’re also sticking them with the bill at the end of the party.

  • Kurt

    Yes. The Boomers who thought that Government could be all things to all people and saw themselves as “virtuous” by spending other peoples’ money to provide it.

  • Austin

    Sure. Previous generations with debt did a good job of paying that debt down. For example, debt as a share of the economy was highest just after WWII but by the 70s was low and sustainable. So I’d say we have around 15 years to get sustainable if this generation doesn’t want to be the selfish generation. I doubt that will happen, though.

  • Clark

    Douglas Elmendorf, the Director of the Congressional Budget Office stated it well:

    “This country faces a fundamental disconnect between the services the people expect the government to provide and the tax revenues that people are willing to send to the government to finance those services.”

    I do not believe Mr. Romney or Mr. Obama will be honest with voters on this issue. Mr. Romney due to concerns on taxes and Mr. Obama due to concerns on spending.

  • Gary F

    Born in 1964, at the end of the baby boom, yes, the ‘boomer” generation is to blame, and by their large voting numbers, will need to be the solution also.

    Yes, the boomer thought it to be virtuous by being compassionate with other people’s money. That government can solve all of society’s problems. That moral relativism will make society more “fair”. That in order to help the people who truly need help we have made generations of able bodied people now unfit to be self sufficient.

    We now are in a world where just the threat of not getting your annual increase from the government is now labeled as a “drastic cut” causing wailing and gnashing of teeth. It’s never less spending, and always more income. The beast must get fed.

    So many folks idolize Europe. Well folks, they are just 10-20 years ahead of us, it’s coming here.

    For the boomers, my advice, big government is unsustainable.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Or should we blame the boomers’ parents for raising a generation of spoiled brats?

  • GregX

    A better name for the boomer generation is the Oblivious generation. On the left – there was always more money in the pipeline that could be diverted for some good cause – without diluting the substantive gains for the primary suppliers and customers of the pipe. On the right – there was always plenty of money in the pipeline, even with the left diversions, to pay for future obligations like polllution clean up, pensions, corporate infrastructure. In both cases , left and right, the Oblivious assumed that the world support a constantly growing US economy that would “earn” through the burn and come out with more money to pay for the lapses of the past. They didn’t foresee or deal with a global fuel shortage and the desire to increase living standards of the largely impoverished Asian and Pacific nations. The boomer-blivious – shoulder-sleeved good-Christian nation – failed to pay attention to the changing world; failed to pay our debts up front; -failed to put away for a national future. It was every jerk for themselves, by and large, taking on the very polular debt – when two incomes was no longer enought to afford a peek at the American dream. OH …. And a couple of folks working for the real future needs of their fellow struggling Americans.

  • Sue de Nim

    The real question the referenced article raises is this:

    Are we going to learn from the past, or just gripe about it?

  • James

    A lot of fancy rhetoric today. I think it’s simpler.

    Yes the boomer generation is to blame. But not all of us.

    I squarely blame those who deman the US to be the policeman to the world and don’t want to pay for it in real time. Without Coldwar Debt ($5 trillion +) and 9-11 Debt ($5 trillion) we would have a modest national debt that could be dealt with at any time with a modest tax increase.

    Everbody’s hero Ronald Regan and nobody’s hero George W. Bush are the main perpetrators of this crime. Let’s be honest!

  • kim

    No, and I’m sick and tired of the “baby boom generation” getting blamed for all the world’s problems.

    Life happens and people deal with events the best way they know how at the time. Personally, I think the MAIN reason for the deficit is the economy. If things were cookin’ along with no problems, there’s be revenue to pay for stuff and a lot less demand on the social safety net. You have a safety net so you can use it when times are tough, like NOW. You borrow money to pay for it if you have to. Now, the way that works in my own life is, if the truck breaks down, I need to fix it because I need it to work so I can earn money to pay bills. If I don’t have the money to fix the truck, I put it on the credit card. That’s why I HAVE a credit card. If I parked the truck until I had the money to get it fixed, I’d never have the money because I need the truck to earn the money. Obviously, I borrow the money knowing full well it will have to be paid back.

    There are no clear cut lines between generations. A “generation” is WAY more diverse that it gets credit for being. Hey, none of this is my fault! I voted for Ross Perot! I can’t help it that I was in the minority!

  • Carrie

    As a millenial, all I’ve heard about so far is how important baby boomers are and that the country needs to cater to them because of their voting power. Cracked out on drugs in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s, now demanding a shift to “conservative” values and supporting environmental destruction and bigotry. Hurry up and pass on, since so many of them would rather “spend it all while I’m still alive” than invest in education or pass anything they have to the next generation. May Burger King and McDonalds be the death of you.

  • Dennis

    Let’s remember that Bush, assisted by the Supreme Court, stole an election and started two wars that he couldn’t afford and did not raise taxes to fund.

    That’s the problem.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Yet one more thing to divide ourselves over….

  • Wally

    Not so much the “Boomers” as the so-called “Greatest Generation,” who focused on their prosperity, albeit working hard . . . but these WWII vets who “kept the world safe for democracy,” then allowed the government to spend trillions on: a phony Cold War, the phony War on Poverty, the phony War on Drugs, the phony War on Terrorism. This was accompanied by an ever burgeoning bureaucracy, and an ever burgeoning debt–now $50,000 per American, and yes, I had already done the math, and Erik Paulsen has it right.

    But the die was cast for this debt-based economy by an even earlier generation, the WWI generation, which allowed Woodrow Wilson’s skullduggery in establishing the Federal Reserve, which creates the fiat money to loan the government, and the Income Tax, which robs the citizenry to service the debt.

    If the Boomers will be to blame for anything, it will be for their poor health, mostly obesity, which will cost more trillions as they age and die.

  • Jim G

    Baby Boomers! No one saw us coming.

    They had to stack us in the halls of hospitals when the nursery overflowed, use temporary classrooms in schools with 40 kids per teacher, Psychology 101 was held in Northorpe Auditorium at the University of Minnesota. Now as we start to retire we’re again in the news sending the nation’s budget into red ink. American is so short sighted. We don’t plan for anything beyond the next fiscal quarter.

    Ok man, chill out, all is not lost. Social Security was tweaked back in the 1980’s, and it needs to be tweaked again to make it sound for the next 30 years. You’ll miss us when we’re gone. You won’t have us “Baby Boomers” to blame for all of this country’s problems. 😉

  • david

    It sure seems like their fault sometimes. My dad died virtually pennyless, but also debt free. My mother uses her home like an atm and that house will never be paid off. But that seems almost understandable. To their parents money is more of a taboo subject then sex. It’s weird how hostile my grandmother can become if the subject of money comes up. She lives in absolute fear that she’ll go broke at any minute. She is also probably the only member in the family that that is not a possibility. I think that is a sentiment carried by a lot of those who lived through the great depression. Unfortunately those lessons were not passed onto their children, and by today are totally gone. That is until i had to learn them for myself the hard way because of the “great recession”. One thing grandma and i totally agree on, medical costs may be the death of both of us.

    But blaming the boomers completely is no more fair then blaming the Republicans or the Democrats. Both parties piss away money like it was draft beer at a frat party. Having an honest discussion on the subject is nearly impossible. Everybody has what they perceive as their own best interest in mind. I think that is where a lot of grandma’s hostility comes from. Its shame for looking out for herself when so many others are in need.

  • Gordon near Two Harbors

    We’ve had deficits when the economy was booming, when it was in recession, and every time in between. We are all responsible, because no one has bothered to figure out what it’s worth to live in the greatest country on Earth, and set the tax rates to meet that value.

    Somewhere along the road society decided that it wanted all of these benefits, subsidies, tax cuts, and an entire military industrial complex that produces more junk than we will ever use—but didn’t bother worrying about who will pay for it all.

    The chickens are coming home to roost…

  • Gary F

    “Let’s remember that Bush, assisted by the Supreme Court, stole an election and started two wars that he couldn’t afford and did not raise taxes to fund.

    That’s the problem.”

    Thanks for reminding me, it’s always Bush’s fault.

  • Jefferson

    We are all to blame for the current situation but the real question isn’t who to blame after we’ve already accumulated the debt, it’s how do we balance the budget and bring the debt down. I agree that the spending programs that the baby boomers ignored/neglected are to blame for our current situation…but are they honest enough to demand cuts in Social Security and/or Medicare to account for the fact that they will take out much more than they ever put into either of those systems? Nope, they will freak out and never vote for a single person who would ever cut benefits for people age 55 and up (which is why both parties have agreed that they will not touch that group’s benefits). Once again it will be the next generations who will attempt to balance the budget and make Social Security and Medicare solvent again. The real scary part is that baby boomers are resisting even allowing the next generations to adjust their own benefits (55 and younger) for Medicare and Social Security…at least allow the younger generations to save those programs for themselves…baby boomers don’t ever hold up Social Security or Medicare as an issue because you will get yours…let the younger demographics discuss that and stay out of the conversation. I can’t count the number of misinformed baby boomers who worry about their entitlements being in jeopardy when not a single major political party has suggested that anyone above the age of 55 would ever see a change to their benefits.

  • Jefferson Correction


    … to account for the fact that they will take out much more than they ever put into either of those systems …”

    You need a lesson in Math … I have paid into FICA for close to 50 years … max rate for the last 30 years. At my stated annual benefit rate which the SS mails me each year, I need to live to 112 to recover.

    I also did not have a choice to NOT participate. I was given some excellent advice though in my first job out of grad school — max my 401K contribution and raise it each year by the percentage merit increase I received and never ever touch it.

  • Jefferson

    Ah, but you are one of the “rich” people, as per the Democrats you did your duty to pay for others who weren’t as fortunate as you. I know from actually looking at the numbers with my dad (who just took Social Security near age 64) that he will take out more than he paid in within 6 years of being on Social Security…like most people who get to use of that system. There are many, many more people like him than people like you. I tend to agree with you that people should have more direct control over their funds they put into social security…they should be able to monitor an account of their contributions which they can invest at least half of that money in what ever they choose. Of course you’d have to keep half that money in a program similar to the current SS program to keep the Democrats happy.

  • dewber

    i love being richer than bill gates

  • georges

    Yes….yes……..all that is true……..

    But we need not worry about the National Debt.

    Barack Obama has told me that, if he should be elected to a second term, he will completely eliminate the Debt within 2 years. Yes, it is true. He has a Secret Weapon. And, he will unleash it.

    It is quite simple, really. His Secret Weapon is Hillary Clinton.

    Obama is going to give Hillary one (1) trillion dollars of the Taxpayers money, with the instructions to trade the cattle futures market just like she did 30 years ago in Arkansas, where she proved herself to be the perfect trader, always winning, never losing, always knowing which side to place her daily bet on. Obama estimates that Hillary’s talent will eliminate the U.S. National Debt in the first 2 years of his second term, and then she can make everyone in the entire world a Billionaire in the third year.

    Yes, there are the nay-sayers, those nattering nabobs of negativity that will say Hillary wasn’t playing the cattle futures market at all, but that it was Tyson placing the daily bets, and if it won, it went into an account for Hillary, and if it lost, it went into a Tyson account. And that it was just a cute way of paying her husband Billy Boy for cheating laws that profited Tyson by hundreds of millions and the 2 million payoff to Bill & Hill was a bargain. Sure, go ahead and say that, just because the facts support it.

    But I, for one, will never believe anything so insulting to the decency of those great and honest Americans, Billy and Hilly. I know Hilly really has the Golden Arm, and she will get us out of this mess.

    She is Woman………..hear her roar.

  • Leonard

    Does anyone wonder why we discuss such issues when the big stories are ignored as we approach the election? Why not ask about our own MN candidates why they still support a President who has now been caught again lying about Benghazi attack? Most probably don’t know that there were NO crowds storming the consulate but rather was a Islamic terrorist group planned out with mortars an RPG’s.

    What will the silent media do when Obama is no longer in office? Talk about who to blame like the Baby boomers for their failed policies? Oh please_ demand more from our media then seeing stupid AP news manipulated photos of Romney bending over in front to of a ten year old girl! Just because the Obama campaign has no record to run on, doesn’t mean all the media should still be protecting Obama. Why not ask why do we hear little about Obama’s book where the editor vetts him and says, Kenya, Africa was his birth home? Oops, not politically correct to call him out on his own words huh? But lets talk about some hyped up idea of blaming baby boomers or accusing the opposition of killing a man’s wife with cancer or wanting dirty water?

  • Paul

    I blame the generation that invented a system where the people with the power to tax are the same people with the power to spend and who need to bribe who they can to keep THEIR jobs.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Watch out for those molotov crock tales.

  • GregX

    Flat out yes. the built the machine … for a specific set of beneifts and they made no sustantive effort to properly maintain it or dispose of its toxic waste – within their yearly efforts. The let it build up decades worth of financial, political, regulatory, and cultural sludge. the were bad stewards of the country. They are responsible for the mess on their watch.