By Andrew Beeler
To understand why we so often see policies that kick the proverbial can down the road we should look no further than to the leaders we elect and the natural motivations under which they prioritize policy. Federally, we see this in increased debt ceilings to fund the insatiable spending appetite of Congress. At the state level, funding today’s projects with tomorrow’s money invokes this same sentiment. Why does this happen, and what can we do as citizens to reward public servants who address the issues that improve the longevity of our state and nation? The answer in part is to elect young leaders who have greater incentives to plan for our future.
Predictably elected officials from older generations have fewer incentives to advocate for policies that will benefit the future because put frankly, they will not be here to deal with the consequences. It is our future children and grandchildren’s school system that needs to be fixed; our pensions that need to be responsibly funded; and the roads that we will drive on for the next 50 years. The planning horizon under which older generations of elected officials assess cost and benefit is too short to plan for these eventualities. This is evinced through the continued failure to address the long-range policy problems plaguing Michigan.
This is not an indictment of all elected officials or of one particular political party. Rather, this is an indication that human nature reasonably inclines politicians from older generations to plan for shorter range policy challenges; however, foresight in understanding when public issues need to be addressed is imperative. More and more, we see these long-ignored issues beginning to affect us, and before long, they become problems that require immediate solutions.
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How have we seen this here in Michigan? The failure to continuously address the status of programs that require a sustained investment of resources is a symptom of public reluctance to make sacrifices in the present in order to plan for the future. We see this locally with unfunded pensions in the City of Port Huron that went unaddressed for a decade. This inaction was a result of discounting the future and placing greater importance on addressing more visceral policy priorities, and it took the ingenious action of local leaders to prevent bankruptcy.
To fill our elected offices with leaders who are ready to take on the policy challenges of the next decade, we must choose wisely. We must both be grateful for the service of previous generations and be prepared to change the guard of public leaders. We have seen these changes of the guard throughout history with the Greatest Generation turning over the watch to the Baby Boomers in the 1980’s and 90’s. Now it is time for the next generation of Americans to assume the watch and start developing pragmatic and creative policy solutions. To do this will take leadership, energy, and fervor, but with this changing of the guard, we will begin to see the tough decisions being made to secure not just the next two years but the next two decades.