Older people almost always seem to think they had it tougher than “kids today” do. So some older folks are striking back against the privileges enjoyed by today’s young people. And this doesn’t bode well for the future of society.
Consider a recent story out of Pennsylvania. “The owner of a small restaurant outside Pittsburgh is banning children under the age of six, saying they regularly disrupted other customers’ meals,” the Wall Street Journal reported recently. “I’ve decided someone in our society had to dig their heels in on this issue,” the owner (a former teacher, luckily not of grammar) told reporters.
Well, it’s his restaurant, and if he wants to turn families away, that’s his choice. And he doesn’t seem to be facing a lot of pushback. The Journal reports that receipts at the restaurant are up, and notes: “A poll on the website of a Pittsburgh TV news channel found 64 percent supported the under-six ban, compared with 26 percent who said it was a bad idea. About 10 percent said they didn’t care. More than 10,000 people voted.”
Meanwhile, CNN columnist LZ Granderson opines that this restaurant is on the right track. “I don't know about you but I would gladly support an airline or restaurant that didn't make someone else's yelling, screaming, kicking offspring my problem,” he writes. “If you're the kind of parent who allows your 5-year-old to run rampant in public places like restaurants, I have what could be some rather disturbing news for you. I do not love your child. The rest of the country does not love your child either.”
Maybe I’m eating at the wrong restaurants. I’ve had more flights and meals disrupted by unruly (drunk) adults than by uncontrolled children. Still, it seems obvious that many Americans have no patience for the idea that “children will be children” and are instead embracing the wisdom of the Middle Ages: “children should be seen and not heard.”
Ah, but they will be heard from eventually, and we may not enjoy hearing what they’ll have to say. As journalist Michael Barone noted recently, Americans will soon depend on today’s youngsters to pay for the country’s lavish retirement promises.
“[U]nder Social Security, as with most public pension systems, current pensions are paid for by current workers. As lifespans increase and birth rates fall, the ratio of pensioners to active workers falls toward one-to-one,” Barone warns.
“That’s not enough to support the elderly in anything like the style to which they have been accustomed, unless tax rates are sharply increased. And sharply higher tax rates, as Western Europe has shown over the last three decades, reduce long-term economic growth. That’s the problem, often abbreviated as ‘entitlements,’ facing our political system.”
Still, many of today’s political leaders oppose slowing the size and scope of federal entitlement spending. In May, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told the Washington Post she would fight to ensure “no benefits cuts” in Medicare. “It is a flag we’ve planted that we will protect and defend. We have a plan. It’s called Medicare.”
As for Social Security, “Two decades from now, I’m willing to take a look at it,” Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid told MSNBC in March. “But I’m not willing to take a look at it right now.” Earlier in the year he declared that changes to the program were “off the table.”
Keep in mind that, because parents are having fewer children, each of those youngsters is on the hook for a steadily-growing share of the federal budget deficit. “Our social insurance programs have slowly created a massive and immoral shift of wealth and obligation from today's middle class to future generations,” Stuart Butler of The Heritage Foundation warned in 2007. “Medicare alone now has a $32 trillion unfunded obligation -- a tab that is being passed to our children and grandchildren. Medicare and Social Security together now constitute an unsecured ‘mortgage’ of $170,000 placed in the crib of every newborn American.” The tab Butler cites has only increased in the last four years.
When the time comes to pay that “mortgage” off, however, some of today’s youngsters might decide to change the laws instead. “If, for instance, Congress were to adjust the formula by which Social Security cost-of-living increases were calculated or change the age of eligibility, future federal liabilities would shrink by trillions of dollars instantly,” John Steele Gordon noted recently in the Wall Street Journal.
The lesson? We can either put our own fiscal house in order by reducing the amount we’re promising in entitlement benefits to future retirees. Or we’d better be nice to today’s children, since we’re counting on them to be nice to us when they’re running the country in the decades ahead.