Happy 'My Two Cents Day'!
Don’t worry, it’s not another paid holiday for government employees while the rest of us work. My Two Cents Day, February 12, is a day for learning and action about the $18 trillion U.S. national debt.
My Two Cents Day is, at its heart, an unlikely budget-fixing alliance between university students across the nation and former President Bill Clinton. The Clinton Global Initiative began a competition in 2013 called “It’s Up to Us” to energize today’s college students about their uncertain future due to the looming federal debt crisis. Forty-four student-led teams from universities like Dartmouth, Georgetown, Regent, and Northwestern are competing to win a $10,000 prize, and they do so by educating their respective student bodies about the national debt and getting their peers to sign a Facebook petition demanding that Congress take concrete steps to ameliorate the debt crisis.
How bad is the debt problem? Our government’s debt stands at approximately $18 trillion. Perhaps “stands” is the wrong word. Debt does not “stand” still. Debt grows. Quietly. Inexorably. Voluminously. Debt grows and grows and grows.
At $18,000,000,000,000 (that's 12 zeros), the U.S. national debt is more than our entire 2014 GDP. Our creditors range from banks on Main Street to banks owned by the Communist Party of China.
Indeed, according to a Fox Business News article, China holds a record $1.317 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities as of January 2014. What would it do to our markets if China called in our sovereign debt?
Other countries that hold more than $1 billion of U.S. debt include Russia, Hong Kong, Brazil, various oil exporting countries as well as Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Caribbean Banking Centers. These last three are often considered as “fronts” for countries and hedge funds who want to shield their identity. In all, foreign entities hold $4.5 trillion of U.S. debt.
As a college professor, I’m often lectured to by parents and grandparents about the profligate spending of their [grand]children. I try to remind these “adults” that it was their generation who taught today’s young adults to rely on credit, and that it was the older generation who ran up these massive bills in the first place! My observations, however, often fall on the deaf ears of the Greatest Generation and their anything-goes Baby Boomer children.
Nevertheless, millenials should and do care. They have grown up in a time of simultaneous prosperity (by historical standards) and insecurity, in terms of post Sept. 11 global threats, national financial instability (since 2008), and personal uncertainties (e.g. more than half grew up in broken households). Millenials increasingly realize that their “inheritance” is a country with a voracious appetite shackled to a crippling debt. And, they are smart enough to want to do something about it.
My Two Cents Day began in 2013 with a dozen colleges and universities; now over forty are involved. I’ve witnessed firsthand our own team, at Regent University, bring experts to campus to engage students on the issue, and the willingness of students to learn. An example of this is former U.S. Congressman Bob McEwen, who gave our team a thoughtful seminar on the perils of the national debt as well as some practical advice on how to move the country in the right direction.
Across the country, tens of thousands of college students—our newest voters and taxpayers—are learning about a federal debt that threatens their future wellbeing. They are signing the Up to Us Facebook petition, demanding that our national leaders take action on the national debt. It shouldn’t just be for Millenials—it should be for every American who loves this country and fears the consequences of this irresponsible debt.
Happy My Two Cents Day!
Eric Patterson, Ph.D. is Dean of the Robertson School of Government at Regent University. This essay was contributed to by Regent graduate students Chase Bond, Linda Waits-Kamau, and Juliana Melton.
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