I’ve recently seen a lot of people kicking the ‘millennials,’ the generation born between roughly 1983 and 2001. The complaints suggest they don’t want to work, they still live in their parents’ basement, they are overly sensitive, they are morbidly self-involved, and they’re zombified with iGadgets. Such commenters prattle on about the virtues of the baby boomers and the so-called “Greatest Generation,” but they see the millennials as falling far short.
So, let me start by saying this clearly:
The millennials have been wronged. They are living in a putrid mess that the boomers and the Greats left for them.
Casting millions of people into generational groups is silly, of course – in the end we all stand or fall as individuals – but since these groups do move together through time, there’s at least some relevance to this. And the millennials have been wronged.
Are some millennials self-involved zombies? Of course they are. So were plenty of boomers and Greats. If you want to pick a handful of examples out of millions, you can paint any picture you like.
The millennials are struggling to get ahead with thick chains around their ankles and sometimes around their wrists as well. That they are not producing great results is no surprise. And to criticize them for this is cruel, especially when it comes from the same people who helped to forge those chains.
What I Want to Tell the Millennials
I was born during the baby boom years and I’ve spent lots of time in discussions with people born before even World War I. So, beyond my reading, I have a lot of actual human experience to go by. Based upon all of that, I have three things that I’d like to tell all my young millennial friends:
#1: You are by no means inferior to the generations before you.
Great-grandpa started with nothing and finished a wealthy man. You’re stuck working at a coffee shop. Does that mean grandpa was somehow a better man than you? Hell no… you’re practically the same guy!
Great-grandma raised six kids, mended clothes, fed the neighbors during the depression, and was beloved by all. You, on the other hand, hustle your kids off to day care and pray that it isn’t the one where a maniac works… if you can even afford to have children. Does that mean grandma was a better woman than you? Again, no. You’re practically the same woman.
The truth is that you are every bit as talented and capable as your parents and grandparents. What has changed is the ambient, the conditions that surround you. Great-great-grandpa and grandma paid no income tax (federal or local), no sales tax, or a dozen other taxes. When they made money, they pretty much kept it. And it was far, far easier for them to start a business. In multiple ways, your grandparents had it easy compared to you.
#2: You are paying the price for the prosperity of the boomers and Greats.
Here I must repeat that we are all individuals, and that many boomers and Greats are fine human beings. That said, the section title is true: you are paying for their ease of life.
The boomers and Greats prospered by piling up debt. As a result, the entire modern economy is weighed down with it. For example, depending on whose numbers you prefer, total US government debt and obligations is between 70 and 220 trillion dollars, an unconscionable figure. It was the generations before you that dumped that on you. (And I’m not even counting the intentional slavery of student loans.)
Debt affects just about everything. And it is very definitely a chain around your life. And just to illustrate the immorality of this, here’s something George Washington wrote to James Madison:
No generation has a right to contract debts greater than can be paid off during the course of its own existence.
And here’s something Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Taylor:
The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling posterity on a large scale.
Bottom line: You’ve been swindled.
#3: The status quo is choking you and won’t let go.
Your grandparents generally had what Aristotle would call a life that afforded them scope. They faced obstacles, as do we all, but they weren’t hemmed in on every side by regulators and enforcers. Your generation in the West may be the most regulated in all of human history. There are permissions required for every business activity, every profession, and almost every move you make. The control freaks have gorged themselves on the fear and obedience of the populace.
Because of this and other things, the status quo can no longer deliver prosperity… and they’re making you think it’s your fault. It isn’t. The scarcities you face are artificial – most of them would fade away if the lords of the status quo would get out of your way. (They won’t of course; they’ll watch you die before they give up power.)
I Could Go On…
But I won’t. Longer and more detailed arguments don’t really help. The facts here are fairly simple. Those who disagree don’t lack intellectual ability; they lack emotional ability. In particular, they are emotionally unable to consider that the status quo is flawed, failed, and oppositional.
On this point turn a great many things. We often see more and know more than we have strength to admit.
But it’s time to start facing this truth squarely. You don’t owe the status quo a perpetual benefit of the doubt. It’s time to hold yourself above them.