How Lawmakers Have Betrayed Our Children, and How We Can Fix It

Published December 14, 2015

Review of Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America’s Young, by Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Jared Meyer, Encounter Books, 2015, 152 pages; ISBN-13: 978-1594038099: $14.65 on

As time marches on, the current generation cedes ground to the next generation.

Instead of preparing our children to succeed by setting up opportunities for them, our government’s economic policies penalize the younger generation to benefit the incumbent generation currently in charge of political affairs.

Barriers to Success

Manhattan Institute for Policy Research scholars Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Jared Meyer deftly explain, using real-world stories of millennials, how crushing regulations and federal entitlement programs controlling health care and education inhibit nearly all of everyday life.

Furchtgott-Roth and Meyer explain how government control and restrictions are making it unnecessarily difficult for young people to travel down the path of adulthood once traveled by their forbearers in days past.

The problems encountered by millennials today, Furchtgott-Roth and Meyer write, are caused by the government’s self-interested resistance to reform, which unfairly limits the nation’s future and restricts the next generation’s economic and social progress.

Success for Me, But Not Thee

By creating artificial barriers to entry, such as worker rules and occupational licensing policies, the incumbent generation makes it harder for millennials to start careers doing the jobs they love and to develop new skills.

Professions such as hair braiding or tourism, as well as any of the hundreds of jobs restricted by occupational licensing laws, increase the cost of learning new skills and developing talents. These laws and regulations, found in every state’s legal code, keep new workers out of the workplace, protecting existing members from competition.

Few people recognize how lawmakers are standing in the way of the average young person’s career path by banning or restricting opportunities for internships in the U.S. job market. Lawmakers have given themselves exemptions from anti-internship rules, exempting their government agencies from bans on unpaid internships.

Intergenerational Welfare

In a succinct 152 pages, the authors explain how government policies don’t just hinder young people’s progress but actively siphon assets and opportunities from the young to the old.

Instead of benefitting all people equally, the authors write, entitlement programs created by the Affordable Care Act are designed to function as generational transfers of wealth, forcing young people to bear the costs of their parents’ and grandparents’ health care.

Government education policies also function, by design, to benefit the incumbent generation, instead of serving to give the young the best possible foundation upon which to build a life and career. For instance, for decades teachers unions have fought to protect poorly performing educators in the classrooms. By pushing through rules to maximize pay and minimize responsibilities, teachers unions have caused a dramatic increase in the number of nonteaching administrative personnel in schools, leading to increases in operating costs and cuts in funding for extracurricular activities, all while failing to foster academic success.

Failing the Children

Furchtgott-Roth and Meyer say when lawmakers aren’t hindering students’ success themselves, they’re actively punishing those who dare to implement policy reforms intended to help students succeed.

When Michelle Rhee served as chancellor of the Washington, DC public school system, her reforms led to a better and more effective educational system. As a reward for advocating for parents and students, political pressure from the local teachers union ultimately forced Rhee to resign.

Higher education, another dysfunctional sector of the educational complex, is also addressed by Furchtgott-Roth and Meyer. The authors also highlight schools that have implemented positive reforms.

The present trend of rising, crippling student debt, they write, is tied to the current fashion among university administrators to spend taxpayer and tuition money on trendy absurdities, such as climbing walls in fitness centers and other amenities and unnecessary services, which is done in an effort to better compete for students, who now often pay their bills using taxpayer-subsidized student loan money.

On the opposite end of this spectrum, Kentucky’s Berea College trades the benefit of free tuition for students’ time and labor, requiring 10 hours per week of community work to qualify for the aid. A fiscally responsible institution, Berea College’s endowments and investments rival those otherwise found only in Ivy League schools.

Reality Check

Although this book may seem depressingly bleak, Disinherited provides a well-documented and tightly focused primer of the uphill trek facing the coming generation, and it will better equip our youth, and all other generations, to understand how government interference and regulation make our lives more difficult and less fulfilling.

By reaching out to millennials and educating them in how government is an obstacle to be routed around and minimized, we can ensure future generations will have the best possible opportunities for personal success, just as prior generations enjoyed.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is science director of The Heartland Institute.