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HORIST: America’s so-called ‘greatest generation’ leaves the sad legacy

HORIST:  America’s so-called ‘greatest generation’ leaves the sad legacy

Folks my age or a bit older have been described as the “greatest generation.”  That appellation has been largely earned for winning World War II.  What a time that was.  America united in its determination to defeat the forces of evil.  People on Wall Street, Hollywood Boulevard and on all those many main streets were filled with civic pride and a deep belief in American Exceptionalism.  Patriotism drove millions of men into the military and millions of Rosie the Riveters into the factories.

We first must remember that virtually all those young service men and women who courageously signed up to save the world from brutal fascist imperialism – and who were not among the 417,000 who died in battle — are now dead.  Barely three percent of the 16 million Americans who served in the War are still alive.  Dying at a rate of about 350 a day, they likely will be completely gone in the next 10 years or so.

After the War, those same young men and women took the reins of business, civic life and government – and produced the baby boom that has resulted in one of the oldest and largest generations of senior citizens in history.  They have been the driving force in every aspect of American life for seventy years, and THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE AMERICA WE LIVE IN TODAY.

Whoa!!!  Is that a legacy that befits the title “greatest generation?”

One of the hallmarks of America is the belief in an ever-improving nation – that “more perfect union” our Founders envisioned.  Each generation was committed to bequeathing to their progeny a better, richer and safer place to live – a better standard of living.  This is something our ancestors did as citizens and as parents.

That is not true today.  It is almost certain that we will leave to our children and grandchildren for generations to come a nation less rich, less united in a common culture of personal freedom and less safe internally and externally.

Love and respect them as we do, it must be noted that our senior citizens have consumed more natural and financial resources than any generation in the history of the world.  Their accomplishments are legendary.  They put a man on the moon, cured polio, connected the world with the Internet, produced driverless cars and brought forth unimaginable technological advancements in almost every field – especially medicine.  But, in a very real sense, it is arguable that this greatest generation was also the most selfish and greediest generation in American history.  Ouch!!

The post-War period — dubbed an era of “peace and prosperity”–  made the greatest generation one of the richest in history – and not just an affluent elite, but a middle class in which many could afford two homes, two cars and a boat.  We had cheap gas, good educations, great healthcare and great highways.  Most of which was paid for with government debt.  Nothing was out of reach as long as our government subsidized it and could borrow the money to finance it.  In other words, we spent beyond our means – and we did so at an exponential rate.

Lest this picture be too rosy, it must be conceded that accomplishments and advantages produced and received by the greatest generation during those times did not extend to black America – where Democratic Party oppression was still found in the segregated southland and in the impoverished slums of the big cities.  The greatest generation was not the most tolerant.  And even the progress we have made in eliminating the last vestiges of institutional racism seems to be receding, with the divisiveness identity politics and political correctness replacing e Pluribus Unum.

Benjamin Franklin warned that “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”  Though not one of his most famous quotes, it is one of the most relevant to the times in which we live.  So many of the benefits the greatest generation enjoyed were beyond their ability to pay for them.  So, they not only voted themselves money as feared by old Ben, but they voted to spend more money than the generation produced – something even Franklin could not have imagined.  In other words, the greatest generation became the greatest debtors in the history of mankind – and are still borrowing the money for “entitlements” to which we are not entitled.

Maybe it started with President Wilson’s income tax, that provided seemingly limitless money with very limited accountability.  Or with President Roosevelt’s New Deal tippy-toeing into the waters of socialism.  Then there was President Johnson’s Great Society that gave us what became a very expensive and failed war on poverty and government provided healthcare that is squeezing out the legitimate functions of our federal government – virtually all paid for by borrowing.

Obama’s policies put the national debt in warp speed – doubling a crushing $10 trillion debt to the current unsustainable $20 trillion debt – outpacing inflation at warp speed.  Overspending has become a political quicksand that even the more conservative Trump administration cannot seem to escape.

By opposing the restructuring and cutting of the unsustainable Medicare and Medicaid programs, the greatest generation is refusing to slow down an economic train that will crash – but only when we seniors are no longer aboard.  We are – with malice of forethought — leaving the disaster to our kids and grandkids.

This reckless and irresponsible spending of recent years has been largely bipartisan.  Although, the last years of debt reduction were the 10 Republican years of the Harding, Coolidge and Hoover (first two years) administrations.  In each of those years, the debt was reduced, dropping it from $26 billion in 1920 to $16 billion in 1931.  Since FDR, it has been up, up and away with little regard for those who would get stuck with the bill – which, of course, are those future generations of Americans.

The debt is directly related to the national budget.  We pay for it with taxes and borrowing – piling on more debt.  Today, more than 40 cents of every dollar spent by Uncle Sam is borrowed.  At the close of the War, the federal budget was $92.6 billion.  With the obvious reduction in military spending, the budget dropped to its modern low of $29.4 billion in 1948.  The butter and guns policy of Johnson’s Great Society soared the budget over $100 billion for the first time.  This was also when the gap between federal revenues and spending grew wider and wider.  This was when reckless deficit spending became part of the national fabric and not coincidentally when the greatest generation was at the cusp of its greatest political power.

The greatest generation was taking more and more benefits and services from Uncle Sam despite the lack of money to pay for them.  In his first year in office, President Obama and congressional Democrats passed the first ever trillion-dollar annual deficit at more than $1.4 trillion – more than doubling the deficit of $642 billion of the previous year.  At current rates, the federal government borrows approximately $1 million per minute.

Of course, none of this deals with the reckless state and local spending that is placing an additional burden on those future taxpayers – you know, all those public sector retirees with those lucrative underfunded government pension plans that are bankrupting states and municipalities.

Since the end of the War for which we praise that greatest generation, the federal deficit – our legacy to our children – has grown from about $200 billion to a staggering $20.5 trillion.  That is a 10,000 percent increase.

When we die, we leave an estate to our children.  If that estate has more debt than assets because of our purchases, the kids get nothing – but at least they do not have to assume the debt not covered by assets.  As parents, burdening our children with such debt would be offensive, unconscionable, immoral.  Yet, on the much grander social scale, that is exactly what greatest generation has done – and are continuing to do.  Despite Franklin’s admonition, we seniors voted ourselves the benefits of all those trillions of dollars we call the national debt – and we continue to add more every time our annual expenditures exceed our income. And yet, our demands for more government money goes unabated.

We are incurring debt that we seniors have neither the interest nor ability to pay off.   One of our Founders’ definitions of tyranny was “taxation without representation.”  What could be a worse example than to impose the burden of taxation on those yet unborn – who have neither voice nor representation?

To understand the cultural problem, one merely has to listen to the politicians and the interest groups. No matter the cause and no matter the economics, the constant mantra is for more money – more money for education, healthcare, highways, medical research, food stamps, the arts, military and on and on.  It seems that there is no problem in America that cannot be solved by more money – no matter how many times more money has failed to solve problems.

The seniors have set a bad example for succeeding generations – making them believe that government can fulfill all their every wish and desire.  As a result, half the youngest generation believes socialism is a viable option.  Socialism is a Ponzi scheme in which the initial participants – we seniors – may make out pretty well.  But eventually  the socialist system collapses because, as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher pointed out, you eventually run out of other people’s money.  That is the sad future the greatest generation has imposed on their progeny.  We have not only left them with the humongous debt, but with a growing belief in an economic philosophy that will only worsen the situation.

There are enough good people and younger people in America to restore the American Dream for everyone.  It will not be easy.  There will be tough times as they wring out the excesses of the past.  There will be sacrifices.  The problem the Millennials will face in their lifetime cannot be solved even for their total benefit.  It is too late.  The $20 trillion-dollar debt is beyond any ability to solve the problem in one lifetime.  The Millennials can only alter the trajectory for THEIR children and grandchildren even as they bear the full impact of their parent’s and grandparent’s reckless and selfish spending.  If they rise to the occasion, then the Millennials will truly be the greatest generation.

So, there ‘tis.

About The Author

Larry Horist

So,there‘tis… The opinions, perspectives and analyses of Larry Horist Larry Horist is a businessman, conservative writer and political strategist with an extensive background in economics and public policy. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman. He has served as a consultant to the Nixon White House and travelled the country as a spokesman for President Reagan’s economic reforms. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress. Horist has lectured and taught courses at numerous colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northwestern, DePaul universities, Hope College and his alma mater, Knox College. He has been a guest on hundreds of public affairs talk shows, and hosted his own program, “Chicago In Sight,” on WIND radio. Horist was a one-time candidate for mayor of Chicago and served as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago, where he led a successful two-year campaign to save the historic Chicago Theatre from the wrecking ball. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He is praised by readers for his style, substance and sense of humor. According to one reader, Horist is the “new Charles Krauthammer.” He is actively semi-retired in Boca Raton, Florida where he devotes his time to writing. So, there ‘tis is Horist’s signature sign off.


  1. Kyle

    Great read I’ve been saying this for many years. And for many years I get dirty looks.

  2. Dave Dyer

    The argument falls apart with the statement of the warp speed movement of debt attributed to Obama. The cause was not defined as decades of abusive banking and financial dice rolling. Had Obama not initiated the “bailouts” our economy would have rapidly deteriorated
    into a full and decades long depression. There is no mention of the rapid removal of restraints on finial folly restored as soon as possible by a reckless Congress. I suspect the point being made is the economy should have been allowed to crash.

  3. Richard

    Unfortunately, the Millennials have been too dumbed-down to know what to do other than to vote for more government to “solve” the problems. The baby boomers protest that they paid into the system, socialist security and mediscare, that they deserve those benefits even though both programs will go bankrupt before most boomers are laid to rest.

    • Mike Weaver

      Bullshit. Get your head out of the sand. People who paid in are entitled to the benefits. It the people who did not pa a thing and the rich who are not paying there fair share that is the problem. I have paid into the system since I was 14. I am no 72 amd still paying in. Are you ? People who have millions of dollars are collecting SS. and Medicare. Is that rite. Then we elected Trump dumbest mistake the people of the US ever made.

  4. ROSE

    I would leave this at the foot of the Democrats as they were in complete power for 40 years and the party of the give always. They made sure that people became dependent on the government to keep us under their thumb, there agenda is being played out to this day
    Republicans have always been the party of fiscal responsibility always having to fight for it. As for my generation, we worked most of our lives to have something to fall back on but the dems robbed our kitty to make sure their give mes we funded. The greatest generation has nothing to apologize for It is the lazy people and politicians that have lived off the dole for years that are to blame. That is who Ben Franklin was speaking of.

  5. Shelley Wright

    Wow couldn’t disagree more. I’m a boomer and know many of my age. We raised our kids to be fiscally responsible, we didn’t live on credit cards, taught our kids to save money and most of us lived below our means as savings were important. Our kids which are not the boomer generation became the problem here. Easy credit, thinking that they were entitled to what we worked and scrimped for years to obtain, spoiling their kids with anything they wanted and also placing great importance over things not people has gotten us where we are. Don’t blame us boomers. If you must assign blame please blame our politicians. Most of us had no control over the laws that they passed.

    • Larry Horist

      Easy credit has posed some problems, but not the national debt. That has been caused by we the people electing politicians who would give us our every wish. Many of we conservatives have been speaking out against excessive government spending and expensive over-regulation. The the senior generation has spent decades putting the tax (borrow) and spend politicians. Of course, it was the politicians, but they got there because of the people who voted them in office. Collectively, we did have control over that. When you talk about the credit cards and “easy credit,” remember that the biggest easy credit scam was federal deficits and debt — $21 trillion and counting.

  6. Dale

    I thought that teaching your kids that hard work was paramount. Teach them to pay cash for everything. And yes, reach for the stars.

    Yes at my age, 69, I’ve used more resources than my grandchildren but come on I’m 50-60 years older. Common sense tells one that you should have used more resources.

  7. Louis Valiante

    I am one or those survivors. Was in Army from 1942 till 1949. Ended up in Air Force. We went thrugh a depression and a war. We were probably too generous to our children. But we wanted them to have what we never had. Peace and prosperity. We almost succeeded until the Democrats were in power. Then the cold war started. And the demos scammed us. We also voted them into office. I do hope now people wake up.

  8. Marvin

    Wow, where have you been hidden all this time ? Under a rock? Spot on writing! Keep up the good work.

  9. APB

    There were 190 million people when I graduated in 1963, congress has dumped millions since then. 75,000 factories and plants closed when NAFTA was signed or moved off shore….The only problem the older generation made was not voting out the scum from congress but left them there for 20 and 30 years, something I hope young people will correct. Obama was the worst president of our lifetime. Catch and release ruined the border. Want to save this country? we need a National ID card, encrypted with birth certificate or naturalization and resident alien information. Without it you get nothing. No job, no vote, no healthcare, no welfare, no education, car loans, home loans, apartments, etc. NOTHING. they won’t come if they can’t get those specially encrypted cards.

    • Connie

      You took the words right out of my mouth!! We definitely need a National ID. It is the only way to stop the influx of illegals who are greatly responsible for our National Debt….but even more responsibility lies in our politicians’ reckless spending. Obama’s lack of any economic experience lead him and his political cohorts to simply throw our money away on failed ventures. He just discovered, after the fact, that “There is no such thing as a shovel ready project”. “Cash for Clunkers”, GM bailout so poorly structured, Cash billions to Iran and the list goes on and on. It almost seems as if he and the democrats planned to severly weaken the USA so that the world playing field could be more level and the politicians would eventually rule, not just America, but the world. Meanwhile, in a long 8 years, they ran us into the ground and doubled our National Debt. Those same people are trying desparately to discredit the only President that has tried to reverse the trend. Their lies and plots border on treason in their efforts to unseat a dully elected President. And through all this, President Trump is addressing every problem that they left us. He doest shirk from responsibility or pass the buck to the next guy. But after 50 years, the swamp is very, very deep!

  10. Knobby

    Horist has a point, but I believe the mistake made by The Greatest was believing the candidates they were voting for were honest, hardworking, sincere and having their number one priority to be the long term strength, growth, and financial security of the USA. This is NEVER the case.

    The Greatest Gen were naive in the extreme. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. This naivete is likely due to the typical hardscrabble life most of the voting public was accustomed to in the 30s, 40s, and even the 50s. With no personal experience to relate to, they did not relate to the natural course of events. No power over anyone equals no notion of the syndrome.

    Dwight Eisenhower warned them all in 1960 in his farewell address to the nation, carried live on TV. He could see it building and taking hold with the growing legions of un-elected government bureaucrats that form what some call the Deep State. I was 3 years old at the time, but seeing what we have established since then is absolutely terrifying. As the Deep State grows, the elected “Masters” are more corrupt and self-serving in direct proportion to the extent of the power there is to be used and abused.

    The Greatest Gen could hardly be held accountable for projecting this result at the inception of the course of events. Hell, we are now in the middle of the Heyday of unparalleled abuse of power, with an equally unparalleled ability to communicate and access to far-flung events, and we (the electorate) are STILL are seemingly unable to make anything above a minor course correction.

    Now for the bad news: The Gen X and Millenials have been affected (programmed?) by the public school system to a great degree – AND they are disconnected from the Power-to-corruption cycle that was the same blind spot for the Greatest Gen, as described above (but due to different circumstances).

    The Baby Boomers (my cohorts) have been so successful (mostly – but I am a white, male, engineering grad, consider my biases) that their kids are not familiar with work-save-study-fail-persevere-repeat cycle, because they were too young and distracted with things (that we never anticipated that would disrupt the normal progression of maturity, video games, smartphones, Facebook) to observe the cycle and realize the validity and benefits that accrue to the individual practitioner thereof.

    If the above makes any sense to you, then please restate it so everyone else can understand. My writing style is hopelessly obtuse.

  11. WC

    Deficit of uS, was best given ownership by Alexander Hamilton, He wanted corruption to be part of the constitution, he got his way. The “constitution” is a slippery slope, and the machiavelian Federalists won over the federalists: No error, The Federalist papers are well known: check out the anti-Federalist Papers, written by federalists, rather than proto-collectivists. John Mason got placed into Sup. Court, and created potential to purchase indulgences, in an attempt to keep himself out of jail. Congress, what quality did they ever have: the first acts were the alien and sedition acts. many federalists actually related that a civil war would soon be.

  12. TJT

    This article is so factually inaccurate as to be laughable — except for the fact that it will be read by a large number of “conservatives” who are so blind to the truth that they won’t check the facts and find the lies, but will take this garbage reporting as absolute truth. Who is the “fake news ” here — YOU are!!!! Be ashamed. Very Ashamed.