Monday, October 17, 2011

The Gimme Generation

For one of the few times in American history, Robert Samuelson opines, a generation of young people is facing the very real possibility of downward mobility.

Some of the young are depressed to the point of inanition; others are outraged to the point of revolution. Some soldier on in menial jobs; others have moved back into the room where, as Noreen Malone so aptly puts it, they prepared for the SATs.

Many young people are being suffocated by their student loans. Some have figured out that their parents have saddled them with a mountain of debt. They believe that the better part of their salaries will be consigned to paying off debt.

However small the number of protesters camped out on Wall Street and in other world capitals, their most significant demand involves having the nation solve its debt problem by taking on more debt.

Apparently, they did not learn in college that the country is really flat broke. By drawing attention not the richest of the rich, the protesters are denying that the country is broke.

Today in New York Magazine Noreen Malone provides us with a picture of the real lives of members of the younger generation. It happens that this is her generation.

Regardless of whether they are outraged by Wall Street bonuses, they are more likely to be preoccupied with their own diminishing prospects.

Other generations have faced daunting challenges. Think of the generation that grew up during the Great Depression and fought World War II.

The new generation is unique for not knowing what to do about it.

American culture, in the person of the therapy industry and the educational establishment has produced a younger generation that suffers, as Malone analyzes it, from an infernal mix of sky-high self-esteem and low achievements.

Called upon to clean up after an extended parental binge, they are ill-equipped to solve the problem.

Malone characterizes her generation correctly: “And so we find ourselves living among the scattered ashes and spilled red wine and broken glass from a party we watched in our pajamas, peering down the stairs at the grown-ups. This is not a morning after we are prepared for, to judge by the composite sketch sociologists have drawn of us. (Generation-naming is an inexact science, but generally we’re talking here about the first half of the Millennials, the terrible New Agey label we were saddled with in the eighties.) Clare has us pegged pretty well: We are self-centered and convinced of our specialness and unaccustomed to being denied. ‘I am sad, jaded, disillusioned, frustrated, and worried,’ said one girl I talked to who feels ’stuck’ in a finance job she took as a stepping-stone to more-fulfilling work she now cannot find. Ours isn’t a generation that will give you just one adjective to describe our hurt.”

Malone tells the story of a young man who did very well in high school math but who, when he arrived at college, discovered that he would have to compete with students who were much better than he.

He did not want to face the challenge. He did not want to work harder to catch up. He chose to drop math and major in poetry writing. When he graduated he took a job as a woodworker’s apprentice.

Since Malone has not found a moniker to describe her generation of twenty-somethings, allow me to offer my own: The Gimme Generation.

If you feel that you should be rewarded according to your high self-esteem regardless of how much value you add, then you must be demanding wealth that other people have earned. Today’s young people seem to want to live in a culture of permanent entitlement.

It is almost not worth belaboring the point, but our current president the best example of someone who was rewarded for his own unique combination of high sell-esteem and low achievement.

If America made Barack Obama president, if it rewarded him so far beyond his qualifications or achievements, why should it not do the same for the Gimme Generation?

Young people voted for Obama because he was just like them. They had expected that he would reward their inflated self-esteem with an endless stream of entitlements.

Malone sounds a somewhat hopeful note when she explains that many young people are disillusioned with politics. After the failure called Obama they no longer expect the government to solve their problems.

Hopefully, they will look to themselves and try to develop a strength of character that will help us to solve our current problems, not by redistributing income, but by allowing the free market to get back in the business of creating jobs and prosperity. But that would require them to overcome their upbringing and education. It would also mean that they would have to get over the unfortunate tendency to accustom themselves to being mediocre. 

One young man explained to Malone that while he did not have as much money as his parents, he had more  access to free or cheap culture... meaning music, movies, and reading material. 

I would like to think that Malone is correct to find cause for optimism in his statement, but it feels more like he is waving the white flag of surrender.


Dennis said...

This may offer a lot of comic relief. Here we have those who would steal from the 53 percent of the productive class being preyed upon by the thieves in NYC and I suspect other cities as well. One poor baby on their, who knew, legal team had a MAC valued at $5,500 taken. Damn that capitalism. The thieves are redistributing food, and other valuables to those who might even like the "wages" of capitalism.
In a story, that seems to have been checked out by a local media outlet, thieves stole the truck containing Obama's teleprompter and other equipment. A redistribution advocate having his, ours, equipment being redistributed. If one was a cynic one might be excused for thinking "Thief meet Thief." There is a part of me that thinks that the hunted (productive individuals) become the hunter and do to these people as they would do to us, but I cannot bring myself to step down to their level.
It does seem ironic that the "Gimme generation" is falling prey to those who are much better at using "Gimme" to take from others such as SEIU, unions and every fringe Leftist group.
It will be interesting whether these people will be able to sustain, given how bad life has treated these poor little babies, when the weather gets rainy, cold, snowy and just generally miserable.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

A wonderful irony... the thievery going on on Wall Street was reported this morning in the New York Post.