Time to Pay Your Dues
By Isabella Marie Garcia (spookyrose.wordpress.com)
With this last week’s State of the Union address still circulating press and news articles from both political ends and the scars of the government shutdown still fresh, the way issues are addressed within the US often feels like a randomized pulling of names out of a hat. One day, it’s the need for a wall across the US-Mexican border and a need that was apparently so dire, the entire government needed to shut down. Tomorrow, the draw will focus on gun violence and the need for stricter laws on gun possession and so forth. While all of these issues are important and worth discussing, there’s an issue that has remained a creeping reality for many generations in the US and one that won’t simply go away with the passing of presidential eras and the death of political candidates.
The national debt. It’s an issue that exudes boredom and eye rolls as soon as it’s said but that doesn’t make it any less important than the polarizing issues that are the common headlines of media outlets.
With sites like the ever-churning US National Debt Clock and statistics that are hard to comprehend, like the fact that the federal government’s total debt stands at $19,845 trillion (as of July 31st of 2018), it was time to take these numbers and crunch them into a productive discussion on how to tackle the issue of the growing national debt. On Thursday, January 24th, 2019, students from FIU’s Honors College gathered at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens to discuss the national debt in a second partnership with Civic Dinners, following the Miami-Dade TPO Civic Dinner event that was a success during the Fall 2018 semester.
As stated by Civic Dinners, “To many American Millennials, the national debt may seem like an abstract concern. In an era of quickly growing debt and political polarization, the country’s national debt is consistently placed on the back burner by our political leaders on both sides of the aisle. But our generation actually has the most at stake when it comes to policy decisions made today about our country’s fiscal and economic future, and it’s up to us to come together and speak up. This conversation is geared toward college students and administrators.” (x)
With that said, and with the help of Professor John William Bailly and Lily Fonte, an undergraduate student in the FIU’s Honors College and the hostess for the event, FIU Honors students gathered at Vizcaya to discuss the national debt crisis. The students were from Professor John William Bailly‘s five courses: Art Society Conflict, Poetry Art Community, España Study Abroad, France Study Abroad, and Italia Study Abroad.
In order to break down the issue, students were divided into groups of 5-6 and then given a set of three questions to discuss amongst themselves. The questions were:
- What concerns do you have about the national debt’s impact on your future?
- Why do you think steps haven’t been taken to address this issue yet?
- What can we do to increase the sense of urgency among young Americans to take action on the national debt?
As discussion about the national debt flowed throughout the student groups, personal worries and concerns, and propositions on how to handle the crisis, emerged.
Personal Concerns About the National Debt
Taxes, affordable healthcare, and the raising of the the retirement age with each passing year. These are some of the concerns discussed within the groups and issues that are linked into the national debt and not just separate, additional issues. Along with discussing these concerns, students noted various examples of how the US’s priorities are not in the right places. One example mentioned by a student is the US investment and consumption of high fructose corn syrup, an investment that is further analyzed here: (https://acton.org/pub/commentary/2012/12/05/government-subsidies-not-so-sweet-health). Another student discussed the fact that Norway’s military is primarily funded by the United States, with further information regarding US spending on defense bills found here: (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/doug-bandow/us-to-spend-more-on-europ_b_9219754.html). With these two examples in mind, it was noted that US spending and the growing national debt mainly has to do with a mismanaging of priorities. Rather than having faith in other countries, the US has paid for good relationships and will continue to do so, at the risk of hurting its own citizens’ futures.
Blocks in Addressing the National Debt Issue
With concerns come the accumulation of reasons as to why things have not changed. Among the reasons as to why steps have not been taken to address the national debt issue, students brainstormed a list of possible explanations:
- Political candidates don’t take the issue into their campaigns, which makes voters ignorant and unaware.
- The US wants to ignore the fact that it has overextended itself when it comes to spending.
- Much of the spending goes into the Social Security Trust Fund.
- Outsourcing in order to not pay taxes, revenue, and the automobile boom help the US economy but drive up the US national debt.
- US citizens don’t want to personally pay more in order to lower the national debt.
- Capitalism is ever present and the economy wants to keep the consumer happy.
- Investment in the military drove up the total of the national debt.
A Solution to the Lack of Urgency
Without solutions, the concerns and possible explanations remain unanswered and stagnant. In order to address the lack of concern shown as a whole towards the US national debt, students proposed various ways to encourage awareness and advocacy in fixing the national debt. For one, charging taxpayers if they don’t vote would encourage many to go to the polls and cast their vote within elections. On the younger end of the American citizen spectrum, improving civic, government, and macroeconomic courses at the high school level would teach students about the US national debt and instill a sense of urgency in them as they grow.
Following the discussions, students gathered around with Professor John William Bailly and hostess Lily Fonte to discuss what they thought about the event. Caldwell Harris, one of the FIU Honors students present at the event, noted, “Overall, I found the event highly informative, and an excellent platform for our class to speak on issues that otherwise would not normally come up in conversation. Given how diverse our educational, ethnic, and social backgrounds are in our Honors classes, I found our discussion very well rounded.”
Lily Fonte, the hostess of the event, remarked, “The process from start to finish as a host felt exhilarating. Working with Vizcaya to organize everything and getting help from Civic Dinners with the content that was to be discussed made it easy to create this event. When I saw over 30 Honors College students sitting on the steps by the water at Vizcaya, all speaking about a topic with such vibrant ideas and opinions, it really felt like an awesome accomplishment not only for myself, but for the FIU Honors College as well. It’s not easy to get my generation to casually talk about national issues during lunch, but we did it, and I think it was a success.”
With our own personal debts at the forefront of our minds, the idea of a growing national debt is the last thing we want to think and worry about as individuals. Why not take care of what personally affects us first, whether it’s student loans or credit card debt? That’s a fair argument yet one that fails to think ahead into the future and the concerns that will be at the forefront as we grow individually and as a country. Let’s talk about the national debt now before it’s time to pay our dues.
Gallery from National Debt Civic Dinner at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
Isabella Marie Garcia