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
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.
- The largest private employer in the U.S. today is not General
Motors but Manpower, Inc. -- a temporary employment agency. And 2/3 of
all new jobs created in 1992 were temp jobs with hourly wages that have
no benefits, that could not lift a family out of poverty, that have no
- Minimum wage today has 26 percent less purchasing power than it had
in 1970. People are working harder but paid less. At the same time,
Social Security has grown at twice the rate of wages over the last
- In the 1980s, 20 million U.S. workers lost their jobs because their
employers either went out of business or laid them off. And today, over
half of all workers younger than 25 are paid hourly wages -- which means
no health benefits -- and earn less than poverty level wages. That's
over twice as many as in 1979.
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.
- In spending on elementary and secondary public school education,
the U.S. ranks 17th among the industrialized countries.
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.
- Net spending on new factories and machinery has slumped for more
than two decades, from roughly 17 percent of GNP in the late 1960s to
about 5 percent now.
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.
- According to the Economic Policy Institute, the federal
government is running a $125.8 billion annual deficit in the investments
critical to our nation's future, including education and training,
children, physical capital, and civilian R and D.
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.
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
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.
- 20 percent of our children are living under the poverty line. By
the year 2005, it is projected that one in three children in America
will live in poverty.
- Young people today pay 20 times more Social Security taxes (even
after inflation) than their grandparents did fifty years ago.
- Rising health care costs are making basic care a luxury item.
While every person over 65 is covered, one in eight children are without
any protection at all.
- When benefits are subtracted from tax payments -- a process called
Generational Accounting -- younger Americans have the highest tax burden
of any generation and the lowest level of benefits.
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
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
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
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
FDR launches Social Security to help elderly poor. Workers pay 1% FICA
payroll tax. Baby Boomers born. National debt: $250 billion.
LBJ adds Medicare and Medicaid to cover health costs, and a "safety net"
for the poor. Baby Busters born. National debt: $1 trillion.
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.
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
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)
From the Lead... or Leave WWW page.
No, I am not the guy who makes the movies.
I make no money off this, so please don't sue me. Have a nice day.
Disclaimer: This page is neither sanctioned by Lead... or Leave nor
does it reflect the policies or opinions of Caltech. Fair Use Notice: This
document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically
authorized by the copyright owner. I believe that this not-for-profit use on
the Web constitutes a `fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for
in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted
material for purposes of your own that go beyond `fair use,' you must obtain
permission from the copyright owner.