In an excellent article about the college-loan “bubble” — the government has made it easy for students to get loans that a large fraction of them will repay only with great difficulty — Matt Taibbi writes:
We’re doing the worst thing people can do: lying to our young. Nobody, not even this president, who was swept to victory in large part by the raw enthusiasm of college kids, has the stones to tell the truth: that a lot of them will end up being pawns in a predatory con game designed to extract the equivalent of home-mortgage commitment from 17-year-olds dreaming of impossible careers as nautical archaeologists or orchestra conductors.
I agree with Taibbi’s big point — college students are being very badly treated — but I would summarize it differently. The worst thing older people can do to young people is construct an economy that has no place for them. Humans are the only animal that specializes. We learn a specialized skill and use it throughout our life to make a living. Not allowing someone to do this is not allowing them to be human.
Due to lack of innovation, too few jobs are being created. New jobs in new industries doing new things are jobs for which young people are especially well-suited. The problem with stagnation — stagnation in new goods and services — is (a) problems stack up unsolved and (b) jobs especially suitable for recent entrants to the job market aren’t created.
Failing to provide college students decent jobs is Horrible Thing #1. Burdening them with a great deal of debt before they enter a stagnant economy is Horrible Thing #2. I have blogged many times about Horrible Thing #3: Not helping students learn and develop their individual skills.