Social versus fiscal priorities

Red-Equals-Sign-300x300The United States is almost $17 trillion in debt, entitlement spending is completely out of control, and North Korea has made multiple threats to our national security. But these critical issues are rarely discussed by our youngest voters, who have been busy arguing, posting, and blogging about gay marriage.

The Supreme Court is discussing Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, so it is no surprise that the issue has the spotlight. According to an article on, 2.7 million people  recently changed their Facebook profile picture to a red equal sign, showing support for gay marriage. The highest rate of participation was among young people, who made their overwhelming support for same-sex marriage clear.

College students love to debate hot-button social issues like gay marriage, abortion, and drug legalization. But debates about social agendas have been taking precedence over other critical issues, which get little attention from young voters. Ask them about the crisis in Benghazi, the economic implications of budget sequestration, or the coming entitlement tsunami that will bankrupt the country, and they often have little to offer of substance.

I personally counted over 40 red equal signs on my Facebook newsfeed last week in addition to dozens of statuses regarding gay marriage. But I probably only see one or two posts per month about other political, non-social issues.

When an enormous percentage of my Facebook friends are passionately promoting marriage equality, but never comment on other vital political issues, it shows a disjointed priority list. It makes me wonder if young people are ignorant to what is happening in our country, or if they just do not care.

I asked several Emerson friends why social issues are so important to them. One explained, “We’re more passionate about gay marriage than the debt because it’s just easier to understand and get behind. We all have friends who are gay, and changing my picture on Facebook was just an easy way to show support.”

Another student told me, “I don’t want to think about the debt. That’s all gloom and doom. I like supporting gay marriage because it is more positive. I’d rather show support for an important cause than just complain about government spending on my Facebook.”

They make good points. Supporting gay marriage makes us feel good. We all know friends and faces behind the issue. It doesn’t require much effort to comprehend marriage equality and to give a feel-good opinion. We can then all smile and revel in our self-righteousness.

But sequestration? Yawn… Budget debates? Meh… That’s too complicated to think about, and after all it’s almost happy hour at Sweetwater.

This blissful ignorance worries me. If Washington’s out of control spending continues, our national debt is projected to be over $20 trillion when Obama leaves office in 2016. Young people will carry the burden of this debt for decades to come.

Many of my peers worry about their own student debt, but do not express concern over the ever-growing federal deficit. These graduates are in for a rude awakening when they start paying taxes (assuming they can find a job). If we paid off the $17 trillion debt today, every man, woman, and child would owe more than $50,000. And this statistic is misleading because children do not pay taxes, nor do the poor.

And if another major war breaks out, it could profoundly affect us all. North Korea, an ardent foe of the United States, is believed to have nuclear weapon capabilities. It could soon have the technology to launch and detonate a bomb on an American territory like Guam.

Monetary policy and national security threats may be boring and depressing to discuss, but these issues are important to understand. Instead of simply showing an interest in causes with an easy Facebook picture, students should engage in debates about many problems facing this country (both social and fiscal) and how positive changes can be made.

This article was originally written for The Berkeley Beacon


blog pic 3Kristin Tate is a political and economic journalist. Follow her on Twitter @KristinBTate.

3 thoughts on “Social versus fiscal priorities

  1. Karen Howe says:

    Young people had better wake up and realize the importance of these fiscal issues. It won’t matter whether or not gay marriage is legal when the country is bankrupt!

  2. BardicHeart says:

    Kristin, you bring up an interesting point in your article. One of the reasons many are more passionate about things like gay marriage is they feel the can do something about it, they can have an impact. But on issues of fiscal debt, government spending, etc. they’ve given up because the problem seems insurmountable and incomprehensible. That makes sense, most of us don’t like feeling like we’re wasting our effort tilting at windmills.

    But that also suggests that if Libertarians want to generate more support the key is to make the issue approachable, understandable and also to show a way real change can happen. Give people hope and they’ll supply the muscle. Look at part of how Pres. Obama succeeded in his initial election campaign, he put out a message of “hope and change”. Never mind the debate of whether there was any substance to it, that’s not the point. The message alone was that appealing and it motivated people to vote for him. Imagine if Libertarians could put out a message of hope and change regarding America’s fiscal problems that also had real substance.

    Certainly food for thought.

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