What If? | Opinion | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

What If? 

It's vital to prepare kids for the future, whatever it may bring.

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Let’s play a little what-if mind game.

We’ll begin with seven assumptions. For the sake of the game, suspend any disbelief for a few minutes and agree that the following propositions are valid:

  • Human activity has screwed up the biosphere.
  • The interest on the national debt is $1 trillion a year in 2020.
  • Oil prices double by 2035.
  • China becomes the world’s largest economy in 2032.
  • Obesity kills more Americans than smoking.
  • Nature Deficit Disorder afflicts more and more kids.
  • Politicians will continue to act solely on self-interest.

Now, put yourself in the role of Fulfillment Consultant (FC). Your clients are Generation Y parents. They want their toddlers to grow up and lead happy, fulfilled lives. Given the seven assumptions, however, it is clear that it won’t be business as usual for their kids. The game requires you, as a strategic thinker and certified FC, to list the exact steps parents should take to prepare their kids to cope with the coming changes.

Some recommendations spring immediately to mind. Learning to speak Chinese seems a no-brainer. Substituting a soccer ball for an Xbox is another. But after that, it is substantially harder because of constraints as unyielding as demagogic Republicans on tax increases. For example, no one can single-handedly impose term limits to fix the systemic problems of Congress, and no one can find enough oil to keep prices as low as we have been accustomed to having them.

But, parents do have the ability to send the kids to college. And so they should. A college degree is worth 80 percent more in annual earnings than a high-school diploma. (As FC, it is your patriotic duty to promote engineering degrees.) The wording of the line item might read: “Divert as much of the household budget as possible into a college fund for each child.” According to the Department of Agriculture, the cost of a college education will be $127,683 in 2009 dollars.

That’s a lot of money, especially after spending $475,000 just to get each kid safely through puberty and graduated from high school. Besides, parents who are attuned to the future realize money isn’t a panacea. The FC has to come up with some high-payoff ideas that are not yoked to dollars.

Gardening is a prime example because it offers outsized returns on a tiny investment. Growing carrots, tomatoes and lettuce in a backyard garden teaches kids about food production, nutrition, cooking and biospheric cycles. It has the added advantage of getting little hands off electronic gizmos and into the soil. That simple act may help alleviate the anxiety associated with Nature Deficit Disorder that afflicts housebound kids.

Growing vegetables has another practical advantage. Because the availability of grocery-store food is inversely proportional to the cost of petroleum, expensive fuel will be sand in the gears of the globalized food machine. Clients’ grandkids won’t be eating out-of-season produce: Brazilian oranges and mangoes from India would be too expensive. The cost of gas will also affect housing. The 5,000-square-foot manse will go the way of the Hummer and the three-car garage. Outlying suburbs will lose their luster. You might be able to buy a big house in Eagle Mountain for less than a bungalow in Sugar House, but commuting costs may make Eagle Mountain unaffordable. Herein lies an opportunity for an FC to dazzle the client by conflating noun and verb in a single stroke: Bicycle!

But, here’s the rub. No matter how hard you try to get around it, money keeps elbowing its way to the foreground. Money does buy happiness—up to a point. According to a study by Princeton University, you need $75,000 a year (in 2010 dollars) to be content. However, earnings above that figure do not deliver any more happiness. The upshot is that kids are going to need to know a lot about the nuances of money. They should understand debt service, inflation, compound interest, credit and the like. They should be disabused of the notion that shopping is a legitimate form of recreation. A savvy FC would recommend an online stock-market game as the focus of family home evening. For birthdays and Christmas, parents should gift their kids with shares of stock so they can learn to manage a real portfolio.

Socket wrenches, vise grips and other hand tools would be another thoughtful gift. We rely on machines, but most of us don’t know how they work, let alone how to fix them. Owning tools would be a step in the right direction. The future belongs to the self-reliant, and sweat equity may well be the order of the new day. So, start the kids on bicycle maintenance, lawn-sprinkler repair and bulb replacement in the family car. The Internet is awash with how-to information. Where there are gaps in knowledge, guys like state Rep. Jack Draxler, R-Logan, are working hard to fill them. Draxler is sponsoring the Mineral and Petroleum Literacy Act which would create a public-school curriculum to teach the benefits of mining and other extractive industries. He sees a need for balance to the current emphasis on conservation and recycling in Utah classrooms.

And so our little what-if game runs its zigzag course. That it relies on worst-case scenarios may offend you, but by contrast, the rosy lens of optimism may be as distorting as a fun-house mirror. What if the seven assumptions are only partly true? Then, Generation Z will still need all the help it can get in order to have a life as fulfilling as their parents’. 

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