Derek Thompson at the Atlantic yesterday posted “Millenials’ Political Views Don’t Make Any Sense,” a brief reflection on a number of research studies into the political orientation of Americans born between 1985 and 1996 (or so). It’s something to which I’m dying to write a long rebuttal, but unfortunately I have actual work to do. So for now all you’re getting is my thesis and a couple of points.
I’ve previously expressed my exasperation with any piece predicated on sorting Americans into “generations.” In general it strikes me as lazy, sloppy, and arbitrary. It’s also a favorite pastime of every ‘generation’ to complain about the lazy, narcissistic kids who’ve had everything handed to them, and it’s tiresome. That said, Thompson’s piece is at least based on actual research, and doesn’t once use the term “selfie culture,” so I’m only half-annoyed by the premise.
What I’m more annoyed by is how the piece ascribes political views to Millenials that seem shared by nearly all Americans.
Young people support big government, unless it costs any more money. They’re for smaller government, unless budget cuts scratch a program they’ve heard of. They’d like Washington to fix everything, just so long as it doesn’t run anything.
So Millenials want the government to provide everything they need, but they don’t want to pay any taxes? Funny, I think that’s the platform of an entire political party. And a fake grassroots movement.
Thompson then points out that Millenials start out liberal, but get more conservative as they earn more money. This is a bit of conventional wisdom that has generally applied to every person in America going back to the Founders, as far as I can tell. OK Cupid actually did a great piece on this on their OK Trends Blog back in 2010. Sure, they’re not Pew, but they know their numbers.
Finally, Thompson arrives at the Millenials misunderstanding of economics, and the fact that while 42% of Millenials think socialism sounds pretty good, only 16% could accurately define what socialism is. In his defense, Thompson calls out the fact that, in general, Americans don’t understand economics.
…and why is this, I wonder? Might it be because as a nation, we’ve been intentionally confused by our politicians and our media?
Maybe it’s because most of the “experts” from whom we learn about economics are politicians who’ve never taken an economics class in their lives.
Maybe it’s because the GOP, in the interest of advancing it’s “more government, less taxes” platform, has invested thirty-plus years in propaganda to advance an economic model that is demonstrably, conclusively, and utterly failed.
Maybe it’s because part of that propaganda campaign has been to weaken our system of public education, sewing false dissent and reducing resources until many young Americans are left on their own in the jungle that is politics and economics.
In short, while it’s popular and fun to poke fun at young people and their ignorance (“haha, a third of young Americans can’t find Iraq on a map!”) we would do better to realize that ignorance reflects our failure as a nation and a society. Millenials don’t understand economics because American education doesn’t teach them to understand economics–and I would argue this is deliberate.
American education doesn’t teach economics, it doesn’t teach politics and government, and it doesn’t teach law. In short, it doesn’t teach almost any of the things students will need to be empowered, participatory citizens. What it teaches us is how to be good consumers and effective workers, because that’s what the people in power find least threatening.
So there you go, I guess you got a little more than a thesis after all. Bottom line: It’s fun and easy to poke fun at Millenials, but young people aren’t alone in their ignorance, and personally I find that much more worrisome than entertaining.