Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Letter to My Entitled Generation

Note:  The following letter was written by Matthew (Matt) Miller, a longtime friend of the Augusta Metro Youth Foundation.  Matt was born and raised in Augusta, Georgia.  He is currently attending the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY where he is studying marine engineering while also holding down a spot on the academy's basketball team.  

The USMMA is one of the five federal service academies in the United States.  The other four are West Point, the United States Air Force Academy, the United States Naval Academy, and the United States Coast Guard Academy.  Gaining an appointment to any of these fine institutions is, in and of itself, a testament to the character and ability of the appointee.  

Enjoy the first installment and go Mariners!

When did we become so entitled? At what point will we stop thinking jobs are below us and take pride in earning an honest day’s pay? At what point did we stop believing that we should reap the reward for our work? When will we take personal responsibility for our actions? When will we realize that there is no such thing as a free lunch?

Long ago, in 1776, our great nation declared independence from Great Britain in pursuit of freedom. We sought freedom from tyranny and the right to pursue our interests. The founding fathers decided that the role of government was to protect our natural rights to life, liberty, and property. The people who came to America did not want the government to take care of them. They simply wanted the right to pursue their self-interests. These men and woman possessed the tremendous personal responsibility to provide for themselves and their families. They took pride in earning money as a result of their efforts.

Hard work and knowledge have always been cornerstones of success.  Accordingly, the people from America's early days who decided to educate themselves and work hard were often more financially successful than those who chose a simpler lifestyle. Still, since no social safety net existed yet, no one was dependent on government support.  As America grew though, government programs such as welfare, which was enacted to support people temporarily in times of struggle, were brought into existence.  But in those early days, people were still driven by a sense of responsibility and accountability to provide for themselves and their families.

Today, it appears that many of us are satisfied with living off the government whenever possible. It appears that we have lost pride in working hard and earning an honest day’s wage. Further, far too many young people frown upon jobs requiring physical labor as if they are below them. It seems some people would rather take a welfare check than take a minimum wage job because they are “owed more” or “deserve more money.” What happened to our pride?

We all face choices daily. At this point in our lives, probably the most important decision a young adult makes is whether to enroll in college? Where to attend? And what discipline to study? Education is an investment. As tuition costs continue to rise, attending college may be one of the largest investments we make.  And college is not for everyone. With that said, the return on investment must exceed the initial cost. The fact is we can’t have everything. Everyone faces tradeoffs. Trade-offs are unavoidable due to scarcity. The sooner we realize that student loans aren't free money, and college is simply a stepping stone to more than 70% of our life, the better off we will be in the long term. Sometimes, we have to sacrifice our dream school for one that is more affordable. We must select degrees that have the best return on investment. Far too often we behave in an inconsistent manner, choosing immediate gratification rather than long-term success. This quest for gratification applies not only to choosing a school but deciding to forgo certain activities to study and excel in college.

Watching Neil Cavuto, a Fox News anchor, interview a leader of "One Million StudentMarch" caused me to write this letter. She is starting a college student movement for free public colleges, cancelation of student debt, and a $15 per hour minimum wage for all college workers. She demands a "fair system of education." When asked how this was going to be paid for, her answer was "the people in society who are hoarding the wealth." She was referring to the top 1% of Americans. I almost don’t blame her for this response because politicians say this often. Mr. Cavuto brings up the reality that even if you tax the rich 100% for a year, this would barely cover the 1.3 trillion dollars in student debt. Aside from the math not adding up and the unintended consequences of taxing the rich 100%, why should others pay for our college when they receive no benefit other than maybe self-satisfaction? Who says others owe us something? We do not have to attend college. We do not have to take student loans. We do not have to choose the most expensive school. This mindset of “you owe me” is detrimental to our generation and the American economy.

Here are the facts: We must stop living at the expense of others. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Capitalism and the free market are great and not evil monsters, nor are rich people. We need to stop scorning rich Americans and saying that they don't pay their fair share. The reality is, according to data collected from 2011 Federal Income Tax reports, the top 1% pay over 35% of all income taxes. The top 10% of earners (making over 120K) pay nearly 70% of all income taxes, while the bottom 50% of earners account for only 2.89% of all income tax revenue. Further, the free market, which largely includes “rich people”, creates the jobs and revenue to support the government. The government does not create anything. It only reallocates the money created by individuals and businesses.

Social safety nets and support programs are not necessarily bad. However, we must make educated choices. It is unrealistic to have low taxes and a financial safety net through government programs. In a balanced budget, low taxes and excessive government programs do not co-exist. We need to become responsible and make rational economic choices aligned with our long term best interests. We must either cut programs, raise taxes, grow the economy, or all of the above. Encouraging the government politicians, by use of votes, to tax the rich because they “owe us” is not a long term option. We must also keep in mind that taking more from the private sector has a negative impact on economic growth. The higher taxes are raised, the less incentive people have to invest. At a certain point, higher taxes will become such a disincentive that companies/individuals/capital will begin to move elsewhere.

Nevertheless, there is hope for us. America remains the brightest beacon for hope and opportunity in the world. America is an exceptional place, and we have the potential to be exceptional people. However, we must become more self-reliant as Emerson wrote, and self-sufficient. An extraordinary effort by ordinary people will bring exceptional results. History exhibits the American way, and that is the way of “American Exceptionalism.”

Respectfully Submitted,

A Concerned Member of Generation Y
MIDN Matthew J. Miller
United States Merchant Marine Academy
Class of 2017
Marine Engineering and Shipyard Management

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