"My hope is that your generation will help restore virtue in our country. All our problems arise from the undermining of core principles from our founding."
- U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D., an early supporter of the Millennial Debt Foundation, in a note to MDF founder Weston Wamp.
For decades the brilliance of American entrepreneurs has outpaced the shortsightedness of our political leaders. The astounding economic power of the United States has enabled excessive federal borrowing without consequence.
A once-in-a-century public health crisis has illuminated a harsh truth of America in the 21st century: we are now an exceptional country dragged down by an often incompetent and poorly managed federal government.
For two decades, the United States has frivolously incurred public debt at an unsustainable pace — a habit shared by both major political parties. Without a true crisis in over a decade, both parties continued lavish federal spending in the name of winning the next election cycle. To be fair, prudence and stewardship don’t sell in America’s toxic, cable news-driven political climate.
Just as some were calling attention to the peril of America’s projected trillion dollar FY2020 deficit in a “peace-time,” the coronavirus rocked the economy, forced the government’s hand and expanded the annual deficit to an unthinkable $3.7 trillion.
The coronavirus epidemic has been revealing of the oft-ignored virtues of competent government management. We Americans are known for our extraordinary technologists, groundbreaking researchers and dazzling celebrities. Our nation’s exceptionalism is no thanks to our elected leaders; it’s in spite of them.
As some countries have deployed effective strategies to combat the virus, they have become the envy of the world. See South Korea, New Zealand and Germany. I see this competition among countries as one of the silver linings of this horrible pandemic. In real-time, the competence of the political systems and leaders of nations are being tested and judged.
Many have lamented America’s inability to plan and execute like the Germans or the Koreans. But we’ve rarely heard those same voices compare the financial health of nations.
As a pandemic forces us to look in the mirror, it should be noted that Germany eliminated its federal deficit in recent years as Washington's grew larger than one trillion dollars.
None of this is new. In many ways our political leadership has been impotent for 20 years. Fortunately, America's leaders of industry has disguised this sad reality, but no matter the brilliance of the Musks, Bezos and Gates, times of true crisis require the government to lead.
The stales talking point in American politics is the convenient complaint that the political party in the majority is borrowing against future generations.
Millennials will be the first generation to encounter the consequences of two decades of reckless American fiscal policy. A generational call to stewardship in Washington may be our last hope.
An important step in that process will be the work of the Millennial Debt Commission, a group of 16 millennial business leaders from across the country working on a generational framework for fiscal reform while being advised by a cohort of current and former members of the Congress, leading economists and policy experts.
We urgently need a “long game,” a patriotic commitment to the future, that will modernize entitlement programs for millennials, reform the federal budget process and force the federal government to be transparent about the harm being done to future generations by its excessive borrowing.
Founder, Millennial Debt Foundation