The Scotsman, a British newspaper, features an article discussing the era of debt repayment in Europe. Tom Friedman's op-ed discusses the upcoming clash of generations, as the baby boomer generation continues to enjoy the relative comforts available today while future generations are left to service debt.
Countless government programs have made people's lives easier and more comfortable over the past 70 years. We've built roads, provided health care and income to people in need, supported children's education and health, set up mechanisms to support Americans in their retirement, promoted investment in new industries, encouraged homeownership among groups that haven't traditionally been homeowners, and fought a number of expensive wars. And some of it we've paid for along the way, and much of it we haven't. And in the coming generation, that money will have to be repaid - which is going to make sustaining the types of programs Americans are used to (and, many would argue, need) at the same time is going to be very difficult. As a young person, it's demoralizing the think about the fact that my generation will help fund the expenditures that were racked up without much attention to their cost, and at the same time try to fund our own lives.
If money is being diverted to servicing debt, we aren't going to be able to buy as many things. A bit less consumerism is probably a good think for individuals, but it's going to drastically alter the way the economy functions and produces jobs. There's already evidence of that - big purchases like cars and overs are down substantially from a decade ago, and per capita consumer spending has decreased by more than twice the maximum previous percentage in any recession, and it doesn't show any signs of turning around. The employment situation for 20somethings isn't good - even traditionally lucrative fields like law are suffering (see the comments as well).
What needs to happen to snap out of this funk? An economist I'm not, but working to reduce long term debt obligations while maintaining government programs in the present seems like a wise start. We can't afford to drastically curtail government spending right now, but we have to in the long run. A substantial part of a long-term strategy needs to include spending cuts for defense (an industry that appears to be concerned about the end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars). I know defense spending can be good for constituents, but the goals of our defense policy shouldn't include financing high-paying private sector jobs. I realize that education is a large cost for this country, but how is it possible that so many people are rallying for cuts in schools (and sneer that teachers, who only work ten months a year, are overpaid) while so few pay attention to the things that really put a dent in our wallet?