We all love our children. Yet we are creating a world guaranteed to crush their dreams. The last half century has seen the development of a society so fixated on its own atomistic desires that it has lost sight of the fact that its children and children’s children will inherit a damaged world. Our generation acts as if our needs take priority over everything else, and if our children pay for it, too bad – that’s their problem.
We have made the future unattainable for all but the children of the rich. We want to preserve the status quo for our own benefit rather than sacrifice in the present for the kids’ future. We sacrifice for our children with one hand but rob them with the other. We despoiled the Earth that made us the wealthiest generation in the wealthiest country that ever existed. But, sooner or later, we will die, leaving our children with a toxic environment because fixing it might cost us some money. When anyone suggests that we make relatively minor changes in the way we live, we scream about a loss of our freedoms.
In fairness the current older generations must deal with an increasingly unstructured life in the United States. Our national mythology teaches us that we earned everything we own or have achieved without anyone’s help; we have no responsibility for the generations that follow. Because we have no guaranteed access to housing, healthcare, and education, we fight hard to preserve what we have earned. We do not realize that holding tight to the status quo excludes the next generation from their benefits. Right-wing politicians continually rant about ‘socialism’ as they work to dismantle the system that facilitated access to these social goods. They conceal their real objective: to facilitate the rich becoming richer and keeping income taxes low. Traditional left-wing institutions focus on short-term fixes, i.e., more medical insurance, forgiving student loans, and keeping gasoline taxes low. Unfortunately, this is only a band aid on a deep wound.
Housing has become increasingly unaffordable for the young, except for those able to inherit houses from their parents. Freddie Mac, the agency that finances most housing in the United States, estimates that between 2018 and 2020 the gap between supply of new homes and demand for them rose from 2.5 million to 3.8 million units. The shortfall will continue to grow into the indefinite future unless something changes. Freddie Mac cites several reasons for the housing shortages: most importantly NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard). We don’t realize that maintaining the status quo that makes us comfortable robs the next generation.
Our country has fixated on the idea that success means we are entitled to live like country gentry in mansions surrounded by verdant lawns. Americans have fooled themselves into believing that building more row houses, apartments, or God Forbid, rezoning to allow more stores within walking distance, will destroy property values. That mindset drives suburban sprawl that consumes forests, farms, and pastures. Then we pave over even more of the forests, farms, and pastures for highways to drive our cars to even the smallest errand which is too far to walk to. When I was a kid, my Dad would take us for a drive in the country, which was rarely more than twenty minutes from our downtown home. Our kids will never have that pleasure.
We talk about university education as the essential gateway for our children’s future but apparently do not care why this vital necessity has seen tuition spiral beyond the reach of any child not lucky enough to have multi-millionaire parents. Instead, the current generation forces its children to borrow more and more, so much more that most will go into social security still owing student debt. Cancelling student debt works for now but does not solve the problem.
Public education was the backbone of this country. One wonders why parents resist paying taxes to fix public schools but grudgingly turn over huge fortunes to pay for private education. Today’s adults stand by silently while right-wing politicians systematically undermine public education, aided and abetted by short-sighted teachers’ unions. Florida Governor DeSantis has become the poster boy of a movement to transform public schools into institutions for grooming racists and homophobes. He has no interest in schools that provide students the intellectual tools to prosper in tomorrow’s world. Except for the relatively few children residing in a few hundred immensely wealthy counties, the only kids getting a good education will have graduated from outrageously expensive private schools (where DeSantis sends his own kid).
Finally, the older generation may talk a good show but will not sacrifice today to prevent a climate disaster in the world our grandchildren and great grandchildren will inhabit tomorrow. We need a large dose of government money to fund research on how to prevent the disaster, whether by converting existing natural resources or smoothing the transition for those whose livelihoods depend on fossil fuels. But what politician wants to raise the taxes to pay for it? It’s indeed a pity that the movie Don’t Look Up was such a bust.
No one suggests that fixing these and many other problems that will crush the dreams of our children and grandchildren comes easy or cheaply. We do try to guarantee the future of our own children, but it will not help them if we have made the future dark for all children.