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Federal Government Goes Deeper in Debt to Warn Young People About Dangers of Overspending


I’ve always wanted to be a writer for that satirical rag The Onion, but (sad to say) this story’s headline is not a fake.

For some time now, our local sports talk radio station has been carrying a very clever public service ad campaign warning young people about the dangers of overspending and having one’s credit score downgraded. Recently, I noticed that this campaign is being sponsored by the Advertising Council and the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Now, I had always believed that Ad Council projects of this kind were completely free; but, alas, that isn’t entirely the case. According to two different Ad Council officials with whom I spoke, when a federal agency or non-profit organization contracts with the Ad Council to do a public service campaign, only the creative talent (to come up with the clever ideas) and the air time (to broadcast the ads) are provided pro bono.

All of the campaign’s “hard costs” – for research, recording, editing, studio rental, focus group testing, public relations, etc. – are the responsibility of the project’s sponsor. According to the Ad Council, these expenses “typically run between $2.5 million and $3 million per campaign.”

While the Ad Council would not divulge (for “proprietary reasons”) the exact amount that the U.S. Treasury Department spent on its campaign to warn young people about overspending, their officials assured me that this project required a significant payout from its federal sponsor.

Now, I’m sure some would say that $2.5 million is a “drop in the bucket” at a time when our federal debt is $14 trillion and that we ought to applaud the federal government for taking up this noble cause — that past mistakes should not be a disqualifier when it comes to helping young people make wise choices today (there are, after all, many recovering alcoholics now working to help young people understand the dangers of substance abuse).

However, unlike Alcoholics Anonymous and other such programs, this ad campaign is not being sponsored by an entity that is now following the prudent spending course that it advises young people to adopt. Instead, the U.S. Treasury Department has essentially borrowed money it didn’t have to fund an ad campaign warning young people about the dangers of overspending on credit.

And in the cruelest irony of all, when the “credit card bill” for this and other federal deficit spending comes due, it will be today’s young people who will have to pay for all of these irresponsible government expenditures.

Look, I’m all for campaigns to warn young people about the dangers of overspending. In fact, our non-profit organization is about to launch a major “thrift” initiative aimed at today’s youth (without borrowing a dime).

But if one is looking for a metaphor for all that is horribly wrong about our federal government’s spending habits, I can find few better than this. For what ought to be a joke headline in a satirical newspaper is instead an all-too-real example of the legacy “we the people” are leaving our children and grandchildren. Read it and weep, fellow fans of The Onion: “Federal Government Goes Deeper in Debt to Warn Young People About Dangers of Overspending.”


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