Peter G. Peterson is an American entrepreneur, investment banker and politician. He served as United States Secretary of Commerce during the Nixon administration and was Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations Council on Foreign Relations until his retirement in 2007. Peter co-founded the Blackstone Group, a private equity firm, in 1985 and retired in 2008 as its Senior Chairman. He is the author of the book Running On Empty: How The Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It. Peterson was Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 2000 to 2004 and is founding Chairman of the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics.
When I think of young people today, I think of what we’re leaving them 10, 15, 20 years from now. You remind me of that old joke from a philosophy class where the professor asks the students which is worse – ignorance or apathy. And some poor kid from back of the class says, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” Well I think it’s an interesting question. Is there an exciting way that we could get the young people of this country aware, and their parents? Because I refuse to believe that parents have suddenly become cold and indifferent to their own kids and grandkids. I think they’ve been deceived, and misinformed, and disinformed and so forth. So we have a political system today, for example, where the elderly are unbelievably well represented. The American Association for Retired Persons has 38 million dues paying members. They write more. They lobby more. They call more. And by and large, it’s not too unfair to say a lot of their programs are “We want more”, even though by any reasonable standard – as I say some of these challenges are unsustainable – we’re not going to be able to meet the promises that we’ve made. For example, in about 20 years or so . . . 25 years, I’m looking at you, your payroll taxes are scheduled to go from 15 to 30% or more, which would be a huge, huge burden on you, on the economy, on your future and so forth. So on one hand we have this culture of our ethic of “shared sacrifice” being a kind of a dirty word – not wanting to give up anything – we have political organizations who are dominant in representing one age group. And the young people who are all about the future are somehow being slipped this huge check – hidden check, I might add – for our free lunch, and nobody seems to be doing anything about it. Recorded On: 7/26/07