Victor Davis Hanson
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As gas prices climb back toward $4 a gallon, the Obama administration -- facing a tough re-election campaign and rising Middle East tensions -- is once again considering tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. For years, administrations have bought and stored oil for emergencies, in fear of a cutoff of imported oil, as happened during the Arab embargo of 1973-74.

But since 2009, the U.S. government has declared most federal lands off-limits to new oil and gas exploration -- despite vast recent finds of energy and radically new means to tap it. President Obama also canceled the most vital sections of the Keystone pipeline, a proposed conduit from the Canadian oil fields into the heart of the oil-consuming U.S., while preventing production on existing oil and gas reserves in northern Alaska and offshore. In the midst of a crop-killing drought, we are diverting about 40 percent of our shrinking corn crop to produce high-cost ethanol fuels.

Apparently, Americans are not willing to produce enough new available oil to meet our always growing gasoline appetites. Yet to keep gas prices manageable in an election year, we will surely tap what our predecessors once banked for us.

The same shortsighted selfishness characterizes debates over entitlements and the deficit. Republicans accuse Obama of transferring more than $700 billion out of Medicare to help fund his new federal takeover of health care. Obama counters that Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plans would either privatize or end Medicare as we know it. But either way, without revolutionary changes, Medicare's costs will almost double in the next 10 years and bankrupt the system.

Periodic tax hikes to support Medicare have never quite caught up with ever-growing expenses, as the pool of elderly recipients exploded and the number of younger payers shrunk. Baby boomers insist that politicians keep Medicare payouts untouched, but that unrealistic demand will ensure that millions of mostly poorer younger people will pay more and receive less -- if anything -- themselves.

Since 2001, federal government has added more than $10 trillion to the U.S. debt. Even the supposedly toughest budget cutters admit that they cannot realistically balance the budget within the next 10 years, much less pay down what may soon reach $20 trillion in aggregate national debt.

The generation now in charge of the country can afford such reckless borrowing only because interest rates remain at historic lows. But should inflation mount, the cost to service this enormous borrowing will ensure that generations to come will have to sacrifice to pay back what others long gone spent so recklessly.

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Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.