The United States’ economic outlook and rising national debt were at the forefront of a panel discussion held at Lehigh in October, as leading business minds encouraged students to get involved in a debate about their financial future—a future that, according to many experts, could push the nation to the brink.
In a packed Perella Auditorium at Rauch Business Center, Lehigh students, faculty and staff witnessed a spirited discussion of key economic and political issues facing the millennial generation. The event, “Generational Theft: How the Millennial Generation will Pay the Price for Washington’s Paralysis,” featured Ken Langone, co-founder of The Home Depot; Geoffrey Canada, president of the Harlem Children’s Zone; and Stanley Druckenmiller, investor and philanthropist.
Stephanie Ruhle ’97, a Bloomberg Television anchor, moderated the panel discussion and subsequent question-answer period. Brad Scheler ’74, chairman of Lehigh’s board of trustees, delivered opening remarks.
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. “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.”
Druckenmiller 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. “We need to get you people off your butts and into the streets,” said Langone. “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. ... There is no way that we can leave a debt on these kids that’s going to destroy their opportunity to actually make it.”
The Generational Theft talk was part of Lehigh’s 5x10 bLUeprint program, an events series with a specific focus on freshmen. It was co-sponsored by the Class of 2017, the College Republicans and the College Democrats.
Story by Karl Brisseaux '11
Posted on Thursday, February 06, 2014