There is a lot of rhetoric these days about making our grandchildren pay for our spending today. Like any “deficits are always bad” argument, this one doesn’t even meet the plausible metaphor test. That is, grandparents routinely spend money (thereby reducing their grandchildren’s eventual inheritances) on things that will make their grandchildren’s lives better.
As Nancy Folbre puts it in Economix (the New York Times blog):
Think of the United States economy as a family farm in need of modernization. Energy prices are going up, but all the tractors are gas guzzlers. Some of our fields have accumulated toxic levels of pesticide, and we need to develop new and better technologies of sustainable production. Our grandchildren want to run the farm, but will need good health and a college education to do it well.
Spending money on increased energy efficiency, research and development, health, and education could increase the value of their assets, helping them repay debt.
That’s just her closing metaphor; I recommend the entire article (it’s pretty short). There is a legitimate debate about what government spending actually benefits our grandchildren and what doesn’t, but it doesn’t make sense to say that every incremental dollar of current spending is hurting our grandchildren.
I tried to make this point on Planet Money, but I like Folbre’s story more.
By James Kwak