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Economic Literacy and Young People

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Economics is hard. Most Americans have a tenuous grasp of basic economic concepts. Even economists and journalists, professions steeped in daily interactions with economics, are susceptible to misconceptions. It may not come as a surprise then, that Millennials’ views on economic policy are muddled.

For example, in a 2014 Reason Foundation survey of people ages 18-29, a majority said the government should “do more” to solve problems and spend more on financial assistance to the poor. Interestingly, this same group opposed the implementation of Obama’s universal healthcare law. Throughout the survey, there is a constant, unsupported shift back and forth from policies that would expand the scope of the federal government to those that would limit it. This poses an interesting challenge for lawmakers of our two established parties who don’t represent this new blend of political and economic beliefs. The good news is younger generations have fiscally conservative inclinations. They just need to be sold on policies that are consistent with economic freedom.

Communicating the importance of economic freedom may be challenging, but it is a pressing issue that deserves our attention. The U.S. has been slipping down in the various Indices of Economic Freedom for more than a decade. Just last month, The Heritage Foundation released its 2017 Index of Economic Freedom, indicating that the U.S. has fallen to number 17 among the world’s freest nations – our lowest ranking to date. For the sake of all Americans, especially the poorest among us, the U.S. must become a world leader once again in the areas of property rights, free trade and free enterprise.

Earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office released its preliminary economic outlook for the period between 2016 and 2026. The CBO’s baseline projections indicate that growth in spending will outpace growth in revenue over the next 10 years. Projected deficits will continue to push debt to an unsustainable level, which will have serious effects on the economy and our wallets. We need to make significant changes in fiscal and legislative policy to correct our current budget path – the trouble is; our youngest generation doesn’t realize it.

Teaching future leaders about economics is at the heart of The Fund for American Studies’ mission. All of our students, regardless of field of study, take a course in economics. Year after year, these students report their shock and delight at discovering that economics isn’t boring or full of unattainable concepts that only elected official can understand and must regulate. Our outstanding professors use relatable examples – from pencils and toothbrushes to iPhones and the sharing economy – to showcase how the free market works to improve our everyday lives, if we would only just let it.

We believe it is imperative that young Americans know that it was our free-market economy that led to American prosperity and human flourishing in the United States. We cannot expect to continue to enjoy the freedom and the level of prosperity to which we have become accustomed if our citizens don’t cherish the principles of a free society and economy.

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