What If Gen Y Wrote the Federal Budget

In Washington, Republicans and Democrats are battling over a deal to raise the debt ceiling and lower the deficit, generating heated accusations that doing whatever the other side wants will cause "financial Armageddon" or job-killing tax increases. But is there another important divide besides the one between the parties when it comes to crafting the budget that's best for America?

NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman thinks so. Several days ago he penned an opinion piece noting that from Egypt, to Greece, to America, conflict over government spending has as much to do with differences among the generations as among political parties. He writes:

If there is one sentiment that unites the crises in Europe and America it is a powerful sense of "baby boomers behaving badly" -- a powerful sense that the generation that came of age in the last 50 years, my generation, will be remembered most for the incredible bounty and freedom it received from its parents and the incredible debt burden and constraints it left on its kids.
But if public spending has been skewed to the interests of older generations, what would a budget that takes the interests of young people seriously look like? The Roosevelt Institute's Campus Network decided to find out, using a $200,000 grant to organize a group of 18-to-26-year-olds and think tanks to craft a budget that reflected the interests of Gen Y. Called the "Budget for Millennial America" the proposed spending plan has even been scored by the Congressional Budget Office.

So what does it contain? The Freakonomics blog rounded up highlights, including:

  • Automated stimulus plan where the release of funds is tied to economic conditions. "Stimulus funds would be triggered after an observed 1 percent increase in the national unemployment rate. Once triggered, the total funding would be automatically authorized for $7.5 billion per point of national unemployment. These funds would be allocated to states based on population."
  • End some $15 billion of agriculture subsidies. "Half of the annual savings will be applied to deficit reduction while the other half will be used to promote sustainable, local agriculture and fund programs that address urgent problems such as food deserts and lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables."
  • Tax carbon at $23 per ton, repeal the federal gas tax. "The CBO has projected that it will reduce emissions by 36 percent of projected levels by 2026, setting us on a path to responsible levels of emissions over the long term. We take the view that a tax is more efficient than a cap-and-trade system, as it confers more certainty about the future price of carbon."
  • Increase funding for intercity highspeed rail.
  • Implement a new income tax code based on percent of total income. "We propose a new income tax code that bases bracket assignment upon share of overall American income, rather than the haphazard reforms which currently characterize the process. Brackets will be based on the percentile of total income earned in the United States. A new bracket system amounts to a tax cut for the vast majority of working families... and our elimination of a wide range of income and corporate tax loopholes ensures that the system is both straightforward and friendly to foreign investors.
For more details, check out the complete proposal. What do you think of this Millennial budget? Love it or loathe it, remember (and here I am talking specifically to those young people who consistently fail to make it to the polls) you actually have to vote to get anyone to listen to you.

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user ItzaFineDay, CC 2.0)