I’ve been thinking about the Roman Empire. And not just because people keep asking me if I am. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Ray Dalio, listening to too much of the All-In Podcast, or watching too many elected officials transform into a food processor away from mashed potatoes — but I’m worried the American Empire will soon go the way of the Roman.
The average years of prior service in Congress has doubled over the last century; the median age of senators has increased by five and representatives by three over the past 15 years; Boomers currently make up 50% of Congress, and President Joe Biden is so old that he’s actually in the Silent Generation.
Our leaders are old. So what? You may argue that Americans are also the oldest that they have ever been, which is true, so it is only natural that our politicians should reflect this trend. And I would agree with you — it is natural. AARP politicians representing AARP Americans is natural, but a danger to our livelihoods. Like an earthquake, or a tsunami.
Old people are human and act in accordance with their interests — politicians more so. Not only are they not fundamentally incentivized to work for the long-term prosperity of the country, their voters aren’t either. People who qualify as Boomers or older currently make up roughly 40% of voters, and if you include Gen Xers who are less than 10 years away from receiving Social Security benefits, that percentage increases to nearly 70%.
No politicians are willing to cut Social Security because a majority of voters are receiving it. If you’re wondering why Social Security is often called the “third rail of American politics”, this is the answer. If you’re wondering why Republicans, the party of fiscal responsibility, have blown out the budget worse than Democrats in the past two Republican administrations, this is why.
If we think of the United States government like a company, the impact of Boomers’ fiscal irresponsibility is as clear as their reading glasses. The government’s revenue from taxes was $3.97 trillion in 2023 while its current annualized interest expense is $970 billion, meaning that about 25% of the government’s revenue is going towards paying for our debt.
To put this in perspective, 0.9% of Apple’s revenue goes toward paying its debt. And unlike Apple, the U.S. government’s largest expenses are projected to increase significantly faster than GDP over the next 10 years. In fact, our health and social security spending are projected to grow 3.6% and 2% faster, respectively, than GDP over the next 10 years because of all the old farts we have to keep from pooping themselves.
The spending on these two services is growing so fast that it will equal the income the United States receives from taxes within the next 10 years. But keep in mind, these aren’t the only expenditures of the government — health care and social security currently account for about 37% of spending, how are we going to fund the other 63%?
If you still aren’t convinced, consider the interest payments on our debt. In 10 years, assuming the same annual growth rate for debt from the previous 10 years (an extraordinarily conservative assumption), we will be paying $3.25 trillion per year in debt service payments assuming a 5% interest rate. With only three government expenditures — health care, Social Security, and debt service — we will be spending 165% more than our revenues on a yearly basis and 210% of our revenues including all other expenditures.
Okay, we’re done with the math. If our spending doesn’t change, the American Empire will go bankrupt within 10 years. That’s a tough pill to swallow, even for Boomers who have quite a bit of practice with pill swallowing. We are in this position because self-interested Boomers decided they could vote for themselves all the money. So the next time you see a grandfatherly figure with wire-frame glasses, stooped over, clutching his crossword in one hand and his morning coffee in the other — don’t hold the door. Thank him for ruining our country’s future.
We need Millennials and Gen-Zers who have a vested interest in America’s future to show up on Election Day and demand answers. The Boomers’ self-interest created the “third-rail” of American politics, only the youth’s self-interest can destroy it.
When I think of the Roman Empire, I don’t think about the battle strategies, togas, or the mouse brain toothpaste. I think of the ruling empire 2,000 years from now.
I think of a young man, a citizen of that empire going to college and throwing on his VR sunglasses as he walks out of his dorm room. As the door closes behind him, a text message pops up in his glasses from his friend Melissa which made him chuckle because it has been a viral trend on social media for the past few weeks.
It reads: ”How often do you think of the American Empire?”
BRETT SEATON is a Wharton junior studying finance, real estate, and computer science from Manhattan, Kan. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.