MILLENIALS AUGUST 26, 2013
Ron Fournier, a Baby Boomer writing in the Atlantic, is worried about what will happen when millenials are in charge of the political world. "[T]hey have no patience for inefficiency, stodgy institutions or the status quo." This is, apparently, a bad thing. "Consider what they could do to politics and government," he warns direly.
Fournier talked to some 80 millenials for the story, but quotes mostly fellow non-millenials, like noted youth-whisperer Michael Steele. (Steele explains millenials using an "Iron Man 3" analogy: “They are going to destroy the old silos, scatter their elements to the wind, and reassemble them in ways that make sense for them and the new century.”) Fournier is worried because students at Langley High School, "an elite public school in suburban Washington that caters to the sons and daughters of U.S. congressmen, ambassadors, and Cabinet members," do not want to go in to government work like their parents. (High school students: famous for getting along with their parents.) He quotes stats that show young people think politics are too partisan and that politicians are motivated by selfish reasons and that our political system seems ill-equipped to effectively deal with the current problems facing the country.
This is more or less what any sentient being who has followed the political debate over the past few years (or heard Michael Steele quoting "Iron Man 3") would think, and that's why the argument Fournier builds to—that millenials are a mass of secretly libertarian nihilists who, when given our chance to govern, will instead opt to continue starting companies and looking for private sector solutions—irked me.
First, he is worried about enough Millenials pursuing the workaday government jobs that Boomers will vacate when they retire. But the reason millenials haven't pursued those jobs is that Boomers are squatting on them! Surely he has read enough trend pieces on twentysomethings in the gig economy living at home with their parents to realize we will not turn up our noses at a government pension, should they ever become available.
Secondly, people have always built fortunes and connections and forged their worldview outside government before deciding in middle age or later to try for political office. In fact, it seems as if it's often those who displayed a precocious interest in a politics career above all other worldly interests who have driven much of the partisan gridlock and increasing polarization. Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz come to mind.
"The trouble is that Millennials believe traditional politics and government (especially Washington) are the worst avenues to great things," Fournier frets. "They are more likely to be social entrepreneurs, working outside government to create innovative and measurably successful solutions to the nation’s problems, even if only on a relatively small scale." It's highly doubtful that, in a few years, an entire generation of adults will look at positions promising vast influence and power and say "no, thanks." That's simply not the way human nature works. So if in the meantime some young people aren't learning at the feet of the very people who've broken the system and are instead trying to learn how to fix problems in a new way, I'm not sure that's such a bad thing.
Noreen Malone is a staff writer at the New Republic.