They’re ungrateful and greedy, they don’t understand what it is, Instagram makes us covet other people’s stuff, or, my personal favorite, millennials pick dumb and unemployable majors in the liberal arts when they should study math or learn to code.
It might feel good saying these things, but none of them pass muster. They’re half-baked, and taken together, reflexive, not a little bit contemptuous, and wildly dismissive of actual problems.
This is especially true in the disdainful eye-rolling from the right. “The problem is not that millennials have not been given enough, but that they have no idea how to receive,” huffed on author at The Federalist. Um, OK.
The first point, though, is true. We live in an incredibly wealthy society, where a typical American still earns 10 times what our global neighbors do. Channeling self-interest into capitalism, allowing free consumer choice, letting the market respond naturally to demand, has served us well.
But there are cracks. And it is incumbent upon us to acknowledge that people—especially millennials—are falling through those cracks, and that scoffing that the system is fine, and they should stop whining and read more Milton Friedman, ignores the problem that parts of the system may indeed be out of whack.
There are legitimate economic reasons that a majority of my cohort thinks the current economy under capitalism is screwed up — and it’s not because we’re ungrateful little rubes who think being a billionaire is immoral (though, undoubtedly, some of us are). It’s because it’s screwed us.
My generation came of age just as the economy was slipping over the cliff of the Great Recession. We watched as the government took pains to care for the billionaire bankers and auto giants, but not the 401(k)s of our parents and grandparents. The left told us to Occupy All The Things, and the right told us to sit down and mind our betters. Neither made sense.
But we dutifully completed our degrees, graduated with an average of $32,731 in debt, and walked straight into the brick wall of the worst job market in 80 years. And we’ve never really recovered.
“For adults between the ages of 22 and 38 … the last recession never really ended,” The Atlantic’s Annie Lowrey writes. “Millennials got bodied in the downturn, have struggled in the recovery, and are now left more vulnerable than other, older age cohorts.”
We are very likely the first generation who will not create more wealth than our parents. In fact, we’re struggling to even make it to the middle class. After years of being told that college was the ticket to success, we’re drowning in debt, thanks to tuition increasing over 100% since 2001. We still can’t afford health care.
In fact, we can’t even make enough money to get married, have kids, and buy a house — the very steps conservatives say will save us, and save civil society. Perhaps relatedly, suicide is now the second leading cause of death among ages 10-34. And we’re killing ourselves on opioids.
Given all of this, is it any wonder even a vague understanding of socialism sounds better?
Socialism is no cure, but if we’re going to win back millennials, it has to start acknowledging the problems. Saying “free market” really loudly isn’t going to suffice when much of what plagues millennials is linked to government manipulating the so-called free market — in many cases, with backing from the right.
The hikes in tuition can be traced back to federal involvement in student loans. The tax code continues to be manipulated in favor of corporations, and less toward individuals and families. Health care is an uncompetitive cluster made worse by the government. Financiers on Wall Street benefit and manufacturing jobs disappear as our economic policies allow China to use the dollar against us. The government-backed housing giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, egged on by lawmakers who did nothing in response to their role in the market crash a decade ago, are again loading up financial markets with subprime mortgages.
Protecting the status quo is a wholly inadequate answer to the socialist surge when it’s the status quo that has utterly failed millennials.
John Della Volpe, a pollster who interviewed young people about their attitudes toward capitalism, summed it up thusly: “They’re not rejecting the concept. The way in which capitalism is practiced today, in the minds of young people—that’s what they’re rejecting.”
Capitalism has made us the richest and freest country in the world. But those on the right need to confront the flaws and excesses in the system — and posit means to address them — if they have a prayer of defending it with the rising generation.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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