Will The Debt Commission Listen to Young Americans Who Didn’t Go to Phillips Academy?

By Ryan McNeely

Caroline Matthews, daughter of MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews, is getting some media attention for her work with the group “Concerned Youth of America.” Billed as a “nonpartisan group dedicated to promoting fiscal responsibility at the local, state and federal levels,” the group purports to represent young people concerned with the budget deficit. Chris Matthews featured the group — wearing prison costumes to symbolize how the youth of America are being “imprisoned” by government debt — on an MSNBC segment during the 2008 campaign, and interviewed his daughter about the group’s mission seemingly without telling viewers that she is, in fact, his daughter.

Normally, this type of thing would just be another case of harmless nepotism. But the group has some credibility, as its leadership was recently invited to testify before the President’s federal deficit commission (where Caroline is interning this summer). And in an age of deficit hysteria, the larger problem is the elite media and political class’ tendency to listen to the voices of the well-off and highly educated — people who, like them, are least affected by the current economic downturn — about the need for immediate austerity measures.

So here you have Concerned Youth of America Founder & Executive Director Yoni Gruskin (U-Penn student, summer intern with the Peterson Foundation) being interviewed on CNN about the lack of job prospects for people graduating from Ivy League Universities, complete with his unchallenged claim that young people, despite being affected by the recession, are “more concerned” about the “bigger dangers” on the horizon:

The Daily Caller recently described the organization’s founders as a group of “concerned high school seniors,” and that’s technically true. The problem is this group was created in the halls of Phillips Academy, a highly selective private high school with a yearly tuition of $41,300, and the leadership currently attends such diverse universities as U-Penn, Yale, Harvard, Duke, Georgetown, and Johns Hopkins. Now, there’s nothing wrong with going to Phillips (I have a cousin who went there) or a well-respected university (I go to one), but an outfit with five or six leaders (out of eight) who attended a single tony prep school can hardly claim to represent “the youth of America.”

I would focus on the policy prescriptions of the Concerned Youth of America rather than the socio-economic status of its leadership but for the fact that they don’t have any policy prescriptions. Rather, they run a scary “Gross National Debt” ticker on the front page of their website and say explicitly that “we are not here to…prescribe specific policy recommendations.” So it’s just concern for concern’s sake. They do worry, though, that “soon, 20 cents of every dollar we pay in taxes will not go towards building highways or schools or a 21st century defense structure” but will go “into the pockets of our creditors.” I’m all for education and infrastructure, which is why instead of worrying about the debt clock I think we should be taking advantage of record-low interest rates to spur much-needed public investment. And If I were running an organization dedicated to looking out for the interests of young people, I would take a hard stand against any attempt to raise the Social Security retirement age while exempting all non-young people from benefit cuts, rather than vague deficit concern trolling. But that’s me.