Trying to explain the culture of millennial hipsters to someone over 40 is like trying to explain space travel to someone in the 1800s. Millennials pride themselves on the art of effortless cool and shabby chic, think James Dean meets a tech savvy Bob Dylan. They rock styles from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s while simultaneously wearing cutting edge technological devices. One of their most striking attributes is their rejection of traditional ideologies. This months’ Atlantic discusses how millennials have shocked industry professionals by rejecting modern consumerism: showing a low propensity to purchase vehicles, and when they do, they seem to prefer smaller vehicles and drive them less, they have foregone or postponed home purchases and even seem to reject capitalisms sacred cow of consumer debt. The Millennial Value Survey, a survey from Public Religion Institute and Georgetown University, found that Millennials are rejecting traditional faith and are comfortable not being affiliated with any faith. The Pew Research Center found that Millennials are not that into marriage and that getting married is a very low priority. This is not your father’s counterculture.
While Millennials may seem complex and hard to understand, they are simply the result of the law of unintended consequences. Millennials have adapted out of the hopeless environment they have been thrust. They have diligently completed college only to find themselves living at home and unemployed watching their baby boomers camp at jobs they hate. They see them soaking up high salaries, completely unmotivated, while daydreaming of the day they can retire. They have witnessed countless marriages fail and completely question the validity of marriage. They see so many intellectual shortcomings with traditional religion they simply do not know what to believe. And when it comes to the economy, they see little hope in the future, as they witness the government run up mindboggling deficits to pay for their parents’ entitlement benefits which they know damn well won’t be there for them, and if there was any doubt in their minds, the government tells them this will be the case. My annual social security statement states the following message “Will Social Security still be around when I retire? Yes. (Who is this yes for?) The Social Security taxes you now pay go into the Social Security Trust Funds and are used to pay benefits to current beneficiaries. The Social Security Board of Trustees now estimates that based on current law, in 2041, the Trust Funds will be depleted.” Millennial translation: Your parents are solid, you however are screwed! Thanks for paying in! Now I understand baby boomers paid into this but seriously, if you were a 20 something how would you take this?
Millennials are fully cognizant of the absurd economic environment they are inheriting. They know they are getting screwed on entitlements. They know baby boomers are squatting on jobs. They know they are underemployed or unemployed. They understand our deficits are unsustainable. They are fully aware that for at least another 10-15 years baby boomers will control the voting block and will vote for whatever they feel is in their own interest.
So Millennials are making lemonade from lemons. They have made it cool to be broke and cheap. They have made it cool to be transient and unemployed in a coffee shop working on a tech startup. They have made it very, very cool to be frugal. Millennials feel society has told them FU, so in their own way they are telling society FU back.
The problem is this new frugality has the potential to crush the economy. Without Millennials who is going to buy all those ridiculously large houses? Who is going to buy huge Ford and GM SUV’s and vis-a-vis support the automakers’ bloated pension funds and union benefits? No house, no Maytag or Whirlpool appliances. If Millenials don’t come to value fashion who will prop up Nordstrom’s, Coach, Gap, or Abercrombie? By shortchanging the future generation we inadvertently shortchange TODAY. No spending, no GDP growth. No GDP growth, no tax revenue. No tax revenue, bigger deficits. Bigger deficits, stability and entitlements become threatened.
Millennials have come to view the world through the lens of disillusionment and YOLO (you only live once). By discounting their future, society has created a world where Millennials live for the moment and with so many values falling short Millennials have been forced to find their own truth. They have tried to get behind messages of HOPE at the political level only to watch those dreams fail to materialize and deficits get blown out. They have watched both parties make almost no effort to reform a system that clearly penalizes being young. They simply cannot take the system seriously. With this type of leadership why should they lead or even care? Why not simply live for the moment? Why should they even take anything society tells them seriously? America can continue to face its problems by kicking the can down the road, but we are really just kicking a generation that kicks back.