The United States’ economic outlook and rising national debt were at the forefront of a recent panel discussion, “Generational Theft: How the Millennial Generation will Pay the Price for Washington’s Paralysis.”
In a packed Perella Auditorium at Rauch Business Center on Tuesday evening, Lehigh students, faculty and staff witnessed a spirited discussion of key economic and political issues facing the millennial generation. The event’s panel was comprised of Ken Langone, co-founder of The Home Depot; Geoffrey Canada, president of the Harlem Children’s Zone; and Stanley Druckenmiller, investor and philanthropist.
Lehigh alumna Stephanie Ruhle
’97, a Bloomberg Television anchor, moderated the panel discussion and the subsequent question-answer period.
Druckenmiller opened the panel discussion by sharing a series of slides that compared trends in poverty among the elderly and children under 16 over the last half-century. Data indicates overwhelmingly, he said, that while entitlement programs like Social Security have resulted in a significant decrease in poverty among the elderly, poverty among children is at a dangerous level. Over the next 20 years, he said, America’s economic situation will become more and more unstable if no substantive reforms are adopted.
“We should applaud the achievements of entitlements and what they have done for seniors,” said Druckenmiller, who says that Americans are in the midst of the biggest transfer of debt from the poor to the rich in the nation’s history.
“I love entitlements, but I want them for you guys”—he said to the students in the audience—“ when you’re 65, and not just me.”
Full Video: Millennial Generation: Paying the Price for Washington's Paralysis
Druckenmiller also said that the current estimated national debt of $16.7 trillion does not reflect the liabilities in Social Security, Medicare and other benefits owed by the federal and state governments to future Americans, which gives the public a skewed perspective on the economic climate. The obligations from entitlements, he said, amount to nearly $200 trillion.
Langone emphasized that issues involving entitlements matter more than partisanship.
“We need to get you people off your butts and into the streets,” he said. “I’m talking about the whole [millennial] generation. A 3,000-mile journey starts with the first step.”
The issue of entitlements will have a particularly adverse effect on lower-income Americans, Canada said.
“I’m not worried about you all at Lehigh,” he said. “You all are in a pretty exclusive class in America. It’s not going to be easy for you, but you’ve all got a real shot at the American dream.
“But I am terrified for the kids at the Harlem Children’s Zone and places like that all over this country. There is no way that we can leave a debt on these kids that’s going to destroy their opportunity to actually make it.”
Langone said a solution to the problem would require intelligence and political will.
“My belief is that America’s best days are ahead of it,” he said. “You are the smartest generation and you have all this technology in front of you.
“But you need to understand that it will not be fixed until you or future generations like you put politicians in a position of risk. You need to let them understand that there is a downside to pandering to people like me.”
Brad Scheler ’74, chairman of Lehigh’s board of trustees, delivered the event’s opening remarks.
“I think it's wonderful when Lehigh turns out with interest, enthusiasm and commitment to hear great speakers,” he said. "It is wonderful to see this kind of student enthusiasm and we appreciate it."
The Generational Theft talk was featured as part of Lehigh’s 5x10 bLUeprint program
, an events series with a specific focus on freshmen students. It was co-sponsored by the Class of 2017, the College Republicans and the College Democrats.
Scott Von Stein ’14, president of the College Republicans and Max Perricone ’14, president of the College Democrats, encouraged students to become more engaged in political issues that will impact their future.
Photos by Christa Neu
Follow the continuing discussion regarding these issues on social media using the hashtag #GenerationalTheft, and connect with Stephanie Ruhle ’97 on Twitter at @SRuhle.