Lead or Leave: Invest in the Future

Boasting almost one million members, a network of over 200 universities and chapters in all fifty states, this grass-roots GenX political campaign is aimed at forcing legislators to take responsibility for the current social, environmental, and economic crises before they become irreversible. Based on the premise that no generation should be asked to suffer the burden of the excesses of another, the "Lead or Leave" manifesto demands an end to the generationally inequitable policies and seeks to replace them with a national commitment to protect the rights of all citizens without age discrimination and foster growth into a sustainable future.

We Need More Jobs and More Education

"...Years of neglect have left America's economy suffering from stagnant growth and declining incomes... They have left a mountain of debt and a Federal Government that must borrow to pay more than a fifth of its current bills. Perhaps most sadly, they have left the great majority of people no longer dreaming the American dream. Our children's generation may be the first to do worse than their parents." (source: President Bill Clinton)

Running Out of Gas

Our economy is the engine that drives American life - no engine, no progress. And today, America is slowly running out of gas. At the rate our economy has been growing, it will take 12 generations to double our standard of living. Before 1973, it would have taken only one and one half. And unless we get a rocket boost of productivity soon, interest on our debt is going to reduce future living standards by another 2.5 to 3 percent.

You Get What You Pay For

The result: 5 million adults and almost 15 percent of all 17-year-olds in America are functionally illiterate, placing them on the outer bounds of American life. 12.5 percent of all 16- to 24-year-olds in America are high school dropouts. And every year, another half million kids walk away from high school -- forever. The cost to the nation in lost earnings and foregone taxes alone is $240 billion a year. The result: According to banking experts, the U.S. will slip to the world's number 2 manufacturing power for the first time this century. And by 2004, Japan's overall economy will be larger than ours -- even though we have twice as many citizens. The result: A quarter of our homeless population in the U.S. is children -- meaning conservatively that there are over 100,000 homeless children living on the streets of America. The U.S. ranks 20th among industrialized nations in infant mortality rates. And we lead the world in deaths of kids under age five due to preventable causes.

Investing in the Future...

America's economic pie is shrinking, and it won't start growing again until we begin to close the "investment gap" that has left our workforce underproductive, our children undereducated, and our cities crumbling. It's time to shift spending from current consumption towards long-term investments in people, education, health care, child nutrition, civilian R and D, and infrastructure.

Generational Equity

What does "generational equity" mean? It means fairness and equality in the way the government asks each generation to pay for the benefits they receive. No single generation should be asked to suffer at the expense of another.

A Generational War Can Be Avoided...

"Lead or Leave" is not advocating a generational war. We're simply warning that one will occur unless we change course real soon. Generational inequities are creating major problems and must be addressed. "Lead or Leave" is actively mobilizing younger generations, but it is an organization for Americans of all ages. Only an alliance across generations can save our nation's economic future.

...If We Act Now

America is dangerously shortchanging younger generations. The federal government spends twelve times more on the elderly than on children, yet 7 percent of the elderly are poor while almost a quarter of all younger Americans live in poverty.

What Are Entitlements?

Entitlements are the largest piece of our national budget pie. Entitlements are all government programs for which we automatically pay out benefits like Social Security, Medicare, farm subsidies, some student loans, and veterans assistance. The three largest entitlement programs (consuming over 40 percent of the total budget) are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The fastest growing entitlement is Medicaid -- almost doubling in the last three years.

What is the Problem?

Entitlements were first established primarily as a means to help people out of poverty. Today, however, the largest chunk of entitlement spending goes to those who live above the poverty line. And with the budget pie shrinking, there's growing debate over who deserves government benefits -- and how much.

The Truth About Social Security

America's Social Security system is in trouble. It has become an unfair, unsound program -- relying on younger, less affluent and less numerous workers to support an older, more affluent and larger segment of the population. Despite years of warnings, the Social Security Board of Trustees projects Social Security will go bankrupt as soon as 2020, even sooner (2000) for Medicare. And although Social Security is the largest single expense in our national budget, it has become a political "untouchable" for reformers who fear angering older voters.

Myth: Any reduction in Social Security benefits will hurt poor Americans.
Fact: Social Security and Medicare pay $75 billion a year to households with cash incomes over $50,000.

Myth: Social Security is a pension program. The money that comes out of your paycheck is saved safely in a bank for when you retire.
Fact: Today's retirees get their benefits directly from the paychecks of working Americans. The so-called "trust fund" to be put away for the baby-boomer retirement has been robbed to finance current overspending.

Myth: People put into the system their entire lives and deserve every check.
Fact: People should get back what they put in, plus compounded interest. Yet, many of today's retirees get three times what they contributed, regardless of need.

What Can We Do To Ensure Generational Equity?

America must adopt generationally equitable policies -- using need, not age, as the guideline. We must commit to protect the poor, whatever their age, and we must begin to invest more in the future, and less on current consumption. This should be our national commitment.

Then, Now, and In the Future

1935: FDR launches Social Security to help elderly poor. Workers pay 1% FICA payroll tax. Baby Boomers born. National debt: $250 billion.

1965: LBJ adds Medicare and Medicaid to cover health costs, and a "safety net" for the poor. Baby Busters born. National debt: $1 trillion.

1993: Living in poverty: 7% of elderly, 20% of children. FICA rate is 15%. 1943 workers receive 300% of what they put in. 54% of federal entitlement spending goes to the elderly. National debt: $4.3 trillion.

2020: Social Security near insolvency. FICA rate is 40%. 1993 workers get 76% of what they put in, if any. Benefits for the poor are cut drastically. 70 million Boomers retire. National debt: $13 trillion.

Living Within Our Means

What rises $1 billion a day, $40 million an hour, $11,000 a second? The national debt.

How Bad is Bad?

America's national debt is $4.6 trillion dollars -- enough to pay Michael Jordan's basketball salary for 1.5 million years.

What Is the National Debt?

The national debt is all the money the U.S. has borrowed since 1776, and hasn't yet paid back. It's so big that even if every sesame seed on every Big Mac ever sold was worth one dollar, it wouldn't come close to paying off the $4.6 trillion debt.

Think of it like a giant credit card with your name on it. You, and everyone else in America, owe a share of the national debt: $17,000. Over the course of your life, you can expect to pay $100,000 in taxes just for interest on the national debt.

The national debt and our rising annual budget deficits will have a huge impact on your economic future -- how much you'll pay in taxes, your chances of getting a good job, owning your own house, or receiving good health care.

Everyone pays a steep price for our runaway deficits -- particularly the poorest Americans who rely on government programs and steady economic growth, both of which are crippled by big deficits. Everything is hurt: jobs, homes, student loads, and chance to invest in a stronger future.

How Did the Debt Get So Big?

For most of our two hundred years, we've borrowed responsibly, running deficits only in times of national emergency, such as a war or a depression. But that ended in 1969, the last year America ran a budget surplus. Since the 1970s, our debt has grown steadily, skyrocketing from under $1 trillion in 1980 to $4.4 trillion today -- and the debt is expected to top $6 trillion by the year 2000.

And a massive debt means massive interest payments -- $300 billion a year to be exact -- eating up 25 cents of every tax dollar, or twice the earnings of all the Fortune 500 companies combined. Money spent to pay off interest on our debt is totally wasted: it's money we don't have to invest in cleaning up our environment, rebuilding our cities, or investing in education.

Dealing With the Debt and Deficit

In 1992, the Presidential candidates hotly debated who had the best deficit reduction plan. President Clinton won office promising to tackle this national issue. After a tough political battle, Clinton passed his budget plan. According to economists, the plan will help reduce the deficit but will also add over $1 trillion to the national debt in the next five years.

America can no longer wait for serious deficit reduction. The government predicts "economic and fiscal catastrophe" if we don't get the problem under control in the next few years. Without dramatic change, we will have hyper inflation, Wall Street panic, or a debt crisis like a Third World country.

This is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. Both parties share equal responsibility for causing America's fiscal crisis -- and for the solution. Everything except programs that protect the poor and disadvantaged must be on the table. No more sacred cows.

There are only two ways to reduce the deficit -- cut spending or raise taxes, or both. Here are a few key steps to deficit reduction: deeper cuts in defense, limiting cost-of-living increases, means-testing entitlements, scaling back tax breaks like mortgage interest deductions, and cracking down on special-interest subsidies.

Maintained by Adam Rifkin, adam at xent dot com (last modified February 1, 1995)
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