Dear Atlantic: Sure, Millennial’s Politics are Incoherent, but so are your complaints

I have the misfortune of reading Derek Thompson’s recent article on the incoherent of millennial politics.   At first, my immediate reaction was #duh (because all expressions of obviousness are #hashtags now), but then I read the complaints Thompson made:

  • Millennials hate the political parties more than everyone else, but they have the highest opinion of Congress.

  • Young people are the most likely to be single parents and the least likely to approve of single parenthood.

  • Young people voted overwhelmingly for Obama when he promised universal health care, but they oppose his universal health care law as much as the rest of the country … even though they still pledge high support for universal health care. (Like other groups, but more so: They seem allergic to the term Obamacare.)

Of the three paradoxes he immediately mentioned from the Pew Poll and his own 2014 article, one wonders if Thompson himself isn’t confused about the meaning of paradox. While I cannot account for why Millennials hate political parties and love congress–as a perfectly sensible person with any knowledge of the blood sausage that is the US congressional establishment should turn their nose up at both–the two other “paradoxes” are obvious.

The first one is simple.  The number of working class single parents among millennials is extremely high even for a generation that engaged in less pre-martial sex and reports having less affairs than Boomers.   In short, their parents, the later boomers and earlier Gen X’ers had plenty of divorces and AIDS scares to impart unto their children.  The reason why millennials are not likely to get married and working class Americans are much less likely to get married, and much more likely to get divorced when they do, than upper middle class Americans.  That is true trans-generationally, but it millennials particularly hard.   It seems like Derek Thompson, whose position at Senior Editor at the Atlantic almost mandates he is a Generation ‘X/Generation ‘Y shill for liberal boomer politics,  should know this. After all, he wrote the article on how despite Obama’s job boom, the economy is objectively terrible for most young people. 

So what is there not to get? I am not a single parent. I have no children, but my mother was for the first five years of my life. It is hard. Extremely hard, particularly when you are poor and working class.  We lived with grandparents and in cars in the 1980s when such things were much less common. My mother then re-married to my step-father, and things improved greatly for both of us. I don’t encourage single parenting either.  I see it as a fact of divorce, long-term partnerships that fail, etc., but its not a particularly good idea.  Experience would teach it that so why is that a “paradox?”

Then Thompson makes a real disingenuous complaint Obamacare.  Millennials want universal healthcare, generally single payer, like most industrialized countries. They want cuts to the cost of insurance. For millennials in particular, Obamacare is just a mandate to buy high deductible insurance that they can’t afford to use.  It is a universal insurance program that doesn’t even have price gaps and keeps exceptions to anti-Trust laws for the medical field in place.  Why would anyone with any knowledge of that want Obama’s “universal healthcare” when it has no cost controls–it’s designed not too because cost controls would hurt key Democratic donation blocs–and little mandate for care, but makes you buy a product that most people see as broken and which, outside of liberal areas like New York and California, have seen cost increases. 

Sorry, Derek, that isn’t incoherence.

Now sure Thompson may have a few points:

First, they’re young and poor, and young, poor people are historically more liberal. Second, they’re historically non-white. Non-white Americans are historically liberal, too. Third, their white demo is historically liberal compared to older white voters, as Jon Chait has pointed out. It all adds up to one cresting blue wave. For now.

But something interesting happens when Millennials start making serious dough. They start getting much more squeamish about giving it away.

You are going to try to pretend that is unique to millennials? Didn’t the same boomers that made up the bulk of the late 60s and early 70s movements also vote for Reagan in 1980? Statistically, they would have had to for that victory to have happened.  All groups tend to be less given to redistribution as they get richer. You don’t even need a Marxist like me to tell you that. That is the contradiction in the nature of Keynesian-inspired  redistribution schemes, if they work, they also undercut their own support.

Then Thompson gets particularly obvious:

This just barely makes any sense. Here is a generation that trusts peers enough to meet random strangers in bars on Tinder, ride in cars with strangers on Uber X and Lyft, visit strangers’ apartments through Craigslist, sleep on their beds through Airbnb, and we’re also the least likely to say “most people can be trusted”? Put your theories in the comment section; I don’t know what to believe anymore.

Do you not understand how alienation works? The more connected you are to people in superficial ways, the less likely you are to the communities and long term responsibility to social groups to built trust. Again, this is not a paradox of millennials.  Similar themes go back the science fiction of the 1960s: boomer and lost generation writers like J.G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick were illustrating us the logic of this before we even had social media and the “sharing economy” (which turns many non-fiscal transactions into fiscal ones) to hyper-accelerate those trends.

This isn’t surprising. It’s not a paradox about generational attitudes. It’s utterly predictable counter-trends of a liberal society.  None of which are even that unique to the young.

Let’s go onto more:

I predict that any readers over the age of 30 will absolutely love this fact about voters under the age of 29. Forty-two percent of Millennials think socialism is preferable to capitalism, but only 16 percent of Millennials could accurately define socialism in the survey.

Given that most of the boomers I know–both left and right lately–talk about police and snow plows as “socialism”? How is this a generational problem? In the absence of even a failed and deformed socialist state like Soviet Union and when people calling Nordic countries socialist even though they have a market economy and fair amount of “inequality”–although lower than the US and the Anglo-speaking world–is this surprising?

I can go on and on. The main point here is the astonishing “contradictions” of millennial politics either aren’t contradictions or they aren’t unique to millennials. I mean looking at the hip authors of Generation X: Doug Copeland’s or Irvine Welsh’s or Chuch Palahnuik’s politics were all maddening.

(And before you go off on me for protecting “my generation”–I find the life style and identity politics to be silly, but they didn’t start it. I am also published in Gen X poetry analogies. I am in the “Generation Y” gap of those old enough to remember the cold war and a time before not only smart phones, but CDs and cell-phones but don’t remember a time when there was only three television channels or party-lines rotary phones. In short, I am in the gap between as I am 35.)


3 thoughts on “Dear Atlantic: Sure, Millennial’s Politics are Incoherent, but so are your complaints

  1. The marriage part always irritates me.

    Studies have shown that poverty increases divorce. It’s stressful being poor and marriages suffer. That isn’t complicated to understand. Plus, if both people are working and one has to move to find work while the other has to stay to keep their job, it isn’t going to be conducive to staying married.

    Then there is the police state oppression of the poor. Ex-cons can’t receive welfare or live in public housing, and so if their spouse is in public housing they can’t live with their spouse. The government actively discourages the poor from staying married.

    As for confusion about socialism, that is just plain stupid.There is also confusion about capitalism.

    If the existence of markets in some areas of the economy is proof that socialism doesn’t exist at all in a country, then it would equally apply that the existence of large non-market parts of the economy would prove that capitalism doesn’t exist either. In that case, most social democracies especially Nordic countries are neither socialist nor capitalist. Or else we can simply say they are mixed.

    Norway has state-owned corporations. Obviously, that isn’t socialism. But is that capitalism?

    It becomes a pointless language game. The point is there are no ideologically principled governance anywhere. Very few politicians care about ideological purity. The same goes for most capitalists. They are perfectly happy taking subsidies, bailouts, accepting below market priced public resources, and using government provided infrastructure and services.

    There isn’t much about human society that is consistent. Why would we expect most people to have consistent views about any of it?

    • I find that “most problematic” parts of millennials politics to either be in the activism around culture (which I find infuriating as well as vapid) and in the inconsistency around economic politics, but the latter isn’t REMOTELY unique to them. It’s a post-European capitalist trait, period.

      • I agree on both points. In response to the latter, I’d add that few people probably understand capitalism in the way you mean it. Most think of capitalism as merely an economic system (theoretically a free market), not a social and political order.

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