Monday, May 23, 2016

Kids, I Think You're Going To Have To Take Your Future Into Your Own Hands

Has there ever been a phrase more inviting of abuse than, "for their own good"?

People with power like to invoke that phrase to justify what they do to those without as much power. Things get done for, and quite often to, others "in their best interests." The powerful like to do that because they get to define "their own good" and "their best interests" almost invariably in ways that closely mirror the good interests of the powerful themselves.

In this way people with power justify clinging to power long after it should have passed to a new group, perhaps the next generation. After all those calling the shots are only acting in the youngsters' "best interests" and "for their own good."

Governance, however, is not parenting. Those who wield and broker power rarely meet any recognizable fiduciary standard. What is paramount to any government is to still govern after the next election.

Now there's your problem. The kids are still looking to the horizon. They're wondering what they can expect when 2050 or 2060 or 2070 rolls around. The more they look the less they like what they see.

For those in power, their horizon is the current term in office with an option to renew. They see things differently than the kids see things because the kids have to visualize the future, their future. Those in power, snicker among themselves, knowing they'll be taking the eternal dirt nap before the future descends.

Think of it in the context of a commercial airline flight. The passengers are all youngsters. The cockpit crew, however, they're geezers. They're not going to be around for the landing, they won't make it. How does that make you feel if you're enduring the torment of a centre seat in cattle class?

Wouldn't it make sense for all the passengers to get up and toss out the captain and first officer before they managed to get that aircraft off the ground? Shouldn't they demand a flight crew who would at least be around to handle the landing?

In these perilous times that we're entering, that's the predicament facing today's young people, the under 40s. They have to wrest power away and into their own hands. We have shown, time and again, that we're as responsible as drunken sailors when it comes to planning for the future and meeting our fiduciary obligations to our younger generation. We are showing no sign that will change, really change, either.

Time, as the near unanimous chorus of scientists reminds us, is not on our children's side. The Big Bad Wolf is coming and all we've got is a house made out of straw. The kids are going to need something a lot better than what we're planning to bequeath to them. If we're not going to provide it, then it's up to them to take it.

I don't know if they have a sense of their steadily worsening predicament and how urgent it is that they move us out of power and fill our positions with their own. For their sake, the sooner the better. For, once they displace us, they're bound to find they define "their own good" and "their best interests" much differently than we chose to for them.


Deadthoreau said...

The Death Bet by Ian Welsh

The horizon is as far as we can see. A time horizon is as far as we plan for, as far as we care about. The ancient Greeks had a proverb which runs as follows: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.”
The middle aged and old run society. They make up the bulk of senior executives and the bulk of powerful politicians.
The men and women who lived through the Great Depression always planned for the future. They built power plants which produced more power than needed, bridges which could handle more traffic, water purification plants which produced more water. They made sure infrastructure would last for decades, and then built it so well it outlasted even their specifications.
Their heirs, the Silents and the Boomers, thought this was absurd. Why not party now, and let the future take care of itself?
Call this the “death bet”. In it’s pure form, the death bet is just that, a bet that when the bill comes due, you’ll be dead. If you live a good life and die owing millions, well, what do you care?
But someone will pay that bill. Maybe it will be your creditors, who might even go out of business, unable to collect what they are owed. Perhaps it will be your heirs, if the millions adhere to property. Perhaps it will be someone you don’t even know.
But someone will pay. The good life, bought by debt, is always paid for.
The death bet is why we are not dealing with climate change, even though we know that it is coming and we know it will kill hundreds of millions and might even destroy our entire society. The death bet is why our governments make huge tax cuts today knowing that either taxes will have to be increased in the future or spending will have to be drastically cut. But in the meantime the government can borrow, or print money, so who cares? The politicians who make the tax cuts won’t be in power, and many of the people who receive the cuts will be dead, so what do they care?
The death bet is why America had a 2.4 trillion dollar infrastructure deficit as of 2009. It is why Californians voted in 1978 to disallow property tax increases of more than 2% per year. And it is why tuition rates have increased by hundreds of percentage points more than inflation in many countries.
A death bet always come due. It just isn’t always paid by those who made it. The GI generation who voted Reagan in are mostly dead, they won the death bet. Most of the Silents will win as well.
Only about half of Boomers are going to win the bet, though, and if you’re a Gen-X’er or below, unless you die young, you might want to stop taking death bets.
No society will remain prosperous if the time horizon is only so far as our grasp. rather than so far as we can see. The future always arrives, and the bill we’ve put off is always paid by someone.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks for that, Deadthoreau.

I have long argued for the reinstatement of posterity to its rightful place as a core component of both policy and planning. It is the alternative to what Welsh calls the "death bet" yet, despite how critical it is for the maintenance of civil society in generations to come, it's been abandoned. Many years ago Bill Moyers did a multi-segment documentary on posterity, how it was lost to us, what that foretold and the prospects it would make a comeback. I have tried to hunt down a copy but cannot find it anywhere.

For decades we have made policy and organized society on the basis of "because we can" without considering "whether we should." In the process we have, in the remarkably brief span of just four decades, stripped the Earth of major resources, overpopulated the place and fatally wounded the environment. What did we expect?

Owen Gray said...

The time is coming when the young will have their revenge, Mound. And, if we had any foresight, we'd be worried.