As a 20-something just trying to get by in a world where everyone seems to think my generation is nothing but a bunch of selfie-taking, government-bashing, reality TV-addicted fine arts majors, I feel the need to write an open letter to one Jesse A. Myerson.
You might have heard of the guy by now.
Myerson, a Rolling Stone contributor, recently published what is nothing short of a call to arms to millennials, in which he sought to rally us around “Five Economic Reforms [We] Should Be Fighting For”.
Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version:
- Guaranteed jobs for everyone. “The easiest and most direct solution is for the government to guarantee that everyone who wants to contribute productively to society is able to earn a decent living in the public sector.”
- Social Security for all. “A universal basic income, combined with a job guarantee and other social programs, could make participation in the labor force truly voluntary, thereby enabling people to get a life.”
- Institute a land tax. “By targeting wealthy real estate owners and their free rides, we can fight inequality and poverty directly, make disastrous asset price bubbles impossible and curb Wall Street's hideous bloat.”
- Create a sovereign wealth fund. “Hoarders blow.”
- Put a public state bank in every state. “Let's try to change [Wall Street] by allowing state governments into the banking game.”
Of course, Myerson’s plea sent media outlets into a tailspin, conservatives running for their heart meds, and liberals’ tongues wagging.
It gave me a tiny migraine.
I do not pretend to be an expert in either policy or economic reform, but I do know a thing or two about being a moderate as well as a millennial — yes, we do exist — in today’s America.
I won’t bore you by picking Myerson’s piece apart word by word. I found about half of what he proposes to be really thought-provoking, but some of his points (not to mention his delivery) were borderline moronic.
Guaranteed jobs and Social Security for everyone? Woah buddy.
Myerson opens his case for universal employment with the astute observation that “unemployment blows” (so do jobs, by the way, according to Myerson). Well said, my friend. Young people do happen to have the highest unemployment rate in the country, after all.
But you will need to find some seriously compelling data to convince a young person today that a world where everyone and their brother can get a job and/or a free ride to “get a life," as Myerson puts it, is one they’d like to live in.
For starters, they don’t call us the “Me” generation for nothing.
We are a competitive and ambitious generation who need to believe that we landed our covet-worthy jobs because somehow we were smarter, more talented, or better-connected than everyone else — whether that's true or not. How else could we justify the tens of thousands of dollars we put into our education, our rent, and the fact that the new American dream for us is to develop an iPhone app that will one day fund our retirement?
My guess is that we young people would sooner camp out on Mom and Dad’s couch for a few years, biding our time until we could pursue our true passion, than be forced to hit up a job bank for a temporary gig we probably don’t want anyway. More than any other generation, we've proven we are increasingly picky about where we clock in each day, flocking to fledgling start-ups with ping-pong tables and free snacks and bending HR teams to our demands for more relaxed, creative work environments.
And I’m assuming the funding for the universal basic income Myerson suggests will come from the government, and in turn, from taxes paid by working Americans. What if someone actually has nothing to contribute to society? Should our new “voluntary” labor force really have to pay them to sit around painting fruit bowls and trying to touch their elbow to their tongue?
Which brings me to my last point:
Like we’d trust government to achieve any of this anyway.
That Myerson is attempting to shake young people out of their post-Occupy Wall Street malaise and get them more involved in the greater political landscape is admirable. I’d argue that we could use even more of this kind of conversation-starting discourse from young people.
But Myerson's plea is so extreme it's a wonder he expected anyone to take him seriously. Not to mention the fact that he is asking us to put a LOT of faith in government, advocating things like municipalities as large-scale landowners and state governments functioning as banks. We may be a nation deeply divided by ideology and income, but one area where Americans are overwhelmingly in agreement is the fact that our lawmakers are pretty incompetent.
Fewer than one in five people trust the U.S. government, according to an October 2013 survey by Pew Research. And a new Gallup poll revealed that a record high 42% of Americans consider themselves independents. That’s not exactly the mentality of a nation who’s willing to let the government take charge of their investments, their land, their job, and their bank account.
Yes, the majority of young people may be in favor of finding a job they love, a secure retirement, honesty on Wall Street, and cheaper rent. But if you’re trying to sell me on the idea that Capitol Hill is the only road we can take to get there, I’m sorry. We'd rather get there on our own.
Contact Mandi Woodruff here.