Bernie Sanders offers free stuff and makes socialism look cool. After all, all the rad kids are down with Democratic-Socialism. I hear tons of 20-somethings are totally dressing as the late Michael Harrington (a famous Democratic-Socialist thinker for you squares out there) this Halloween. What these young whippersnappers need to remember and learn is that they’re not entitled to anything and there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Just because they can #FeelTheBern for free and legal marijuana and Xboxes doesn’t mean socialism suddenly makes sense.
Of course, when we remove ourselves from the rhetoric of Baby Boomers and even Generation X (the last generation to have a shot at the American Dream), the support for Bernie Sanders among millennials does make sense, even if it’s misguided. What people fail to understand is that the world for someone who is 20-something years old isn’t the same world for a 20-something year old 20, 30, or 40 years ago. 40 years ago students could work a full time job at minimum wage and pay for a college education while also paying for rent at an apartment. Back then minimum wage was $2.30 an hour, or about $9 by today’s standards. That’d earn a minimum wage worker $4,784 (give or take) for the year. Going to school full time would have run a tab of about $2,600, or half their income. So even for those who couldn’t squeeze that full amount, a small loan could take care of their education and, even in a worst case scenario, they’d be able to pay it back relatively quickly after graduation. Of course, earning a college education back in 1976 would have guaranteed a middle class job with a middle class income. And the average rent in a big city ran around $220.
Compare that to today’s standards. If a student works full time while going to college at minimum wage, she’ll earn $15,080 a year (give or take). The average four-year degree at a public institution will run $17,500 a year, which is more than her income. Also, the average rent in a big city has jumped to well over $1,500 a month (assuming she’s not in government housing). And all this for a degree that won’t necessarily guarantee a much higher income. And I know, we can say, “Well go get a trade school degree,” aside from ignoring implicit idea of creating a servant class, trade degrees are very susceptible to new technological advances or even market saturation: If everyone has a trade degree, then the value of having a trade degree drops. The overall point is that the economy today for those entering college, leaving college, or who have been out of college since 2000 is in a dire situation.
What’s more is that there’s no hope for millennials. The trend we’re seeing in the economy right now is that as Baby Boomers retire, rather than younger people taking the vacant positions, the positions are either being eliminated, rolled into another position, or shipped overseas. Even those lucky few who do get to take the positions are typically treated to significantly lower wages than their predecessor, because of “experience.” While not typical in all situations – especially in upper management – it’s very true for the average worker. Ideally, as Baby Boomers retire it should create a job vacuum, which would naturally increase wages and decrease unemployment and underemployment. But instead, we’re seeing absolutely no increase in wages or progress for those under the age of 30.
What the above means is as follows: As Baby Boomers retire, the younger generations are not inheriting better jobs and better wages. In fact, already we’re at a point where the majority of Americans are no longer in the middle class. Since 2000, even though Baby Boomers have begun to retire, we’ve seen no real progress in wages and no high demand to fill those jobs. That means over the next 10-15 years, as the last of the Baby Boomers begin to enter into retirement, we’ll watch the complete disappearance of the middle class. People will either be rich, or they’ll struggle. There will be no one who just lives comfortably, who while not rich or wealthy, can still put money into savings and retirement. What that also means is that in the next 10-15 years, the US tax-base is going to shrink considerably. Even if we taxed the top 10% income earners at a 90% rate – which is almost too heavy a burden for most people even in the top 10% of income earners – that still wouldn’t be enough to fund our government. Historically in the 20th century the United States was able to grow, create highways, run mostly efficient projects because of the large US tax-base. After all, it’s better to collect hundreds to thousands of dollars from hundreds of millions of people than millions of dollars from hundreds to thousands of people.
As it is, we’re looking at a situation where within 20 years the United States is going to struggle to pay for some pretty basic things. Already we’re watching our infrastructure completely crumble because there’s not enough revenue being pumped into necessary projects. Many police departments are underfunded, leading to legalized corruption in civil forfeiture. In the states, most schools – especially low-income schools – are significantly underfunded. Imagine how these things will work 20 years from now. Most government money will likely go to wealthy areas of the country, while the rest of the country is ignored or remains underfunded. As it is, 1 out of 5 Americans is on some form of government assistance, or welfare to use the pejorative term (medicaid, SNAP, housing assistance, Supplemental Security Income, and Temporary Assistance). You can’t just mismanage funds to get on those programs as they’re based on your income, not how you use your income. That means21% of the country earns somewhere around or below the poverty rate. When compared to other industrialized nations, it’s pathetic. If we increase the number to include social security, veterans’ benefits, unemployment, and other social services, that number increases to 49%.
We’re heading towards a nation that, within 10-15 years, more people will be taking money from the government than putting money into the government. Not because they’re lazy, not because they’re “moochers,” but because that’s how we’ve set up our economy to function. Such a government simply isn’t sustainable, so cuts will be made, meaning benefits will be cut. That always leads to unrest and can harm a nation.
So the above is exactly what millennials have to look forward to. And along comes a crazy-eyed, wild-haired, tough-talking guy pointing to other nations using Democratic-Socialism, pointing out how it’s succeeding, pointing out how it works, pointing to a brighter future, and you wonder why millennials are drawn to him? I know enough about the Nordic system to know that what Sanders says it is and what it actually is are two different things. I know enough to know that his plans are really a bastardized version of the Nordic system. And I know enough to know that his plans, while significantly flawed, are still better than our current system. The dark future that awaits us is why millennials are willing to look at Sanders and hold out hope. Personally, I like what Sanders offers and will probably vote for him, not out of hope, but out of, “Well, our current path leads to doom and some of his ideas have worked elsewhere, so let’s try it.”
What’s worse is that all of this could have been prevented. A person who earns a livable wage, who can save up money, who has good healthcare, who has a secure retirement plan, and who knows that they’ll continue to be promoted and advanced with hard work doesn’t want to pay higher taxes, doesn’t want multiple government programs to solve for poverty, and doesn’t want socialism. It’s why Baby Boomers – who have spent most of their lives in the middle class – are so opposed to Bernie Sanders. It’s why millennials – who will never be in the middle class – like Sanders. Not because he’s cool, different, or hip, but because he sees the problem and offers a solution. But if the problem didn’t exist, then they wouldn’t need Sanders’ solution. The problem does exist, and it’s caused by greed.
Contra Gordon Gecko, greed is no good. Greed is a cancer, but worse than cancer. Cancer is random and not celebrated, so everyone fights it. Greed, however, is intentional, chosen, and celebrated, so it spreads and consumed everything in its path. Millennials don’t care that millionaires exist or that corporations have made massive profits; what they care about is that these profits haven’t been dispersed to the people who earned them, the workers.
US corporate profits after tax have increased dramatically since the early 90s. But when we look at income…
Income has failed to match corporate profits. Which, to a certain extent, who cares if a CEO earns millions of dollars a year? I certainly don’t. If I can pay for the necessary things in life and lead a comfortable middle class lifestyle, not worry about my future, know that one day I can retire, why do I care that the CEO makes millions? But when his millions come at the expense of my paycheck? Well, now I care.
See, millennials don’t care that there are rich people, what they care about is that greed has essentially collapsed our society and economy. We’re just waiting on the other shoe to drop from 2008. If you want to know why millennials are turning to a self-avowed socialist, it’s not because they actually want socialism so much as it is they hate greed and what greed has done to our system. Greed is a horrible thing, a destroyer, and it’s causing the collapse of our nation.
Millennials, right or wrong, support Sanders because no one has supported millennials. Because we’ve allowed greed to run rampant, because we’ve celebrated greed, because we’ve created a system where the greediest people reap all the rewards, we’re looking at the decomposing flesh of what could have been a great nation. Greed is killing our nation and the masses are growing restless. This can either be settled through the wealthy giving up their greed and sharing their wealth voluntarily (ideal situation), or it can be given up through a political revolution by electing a far-left candidate (not ideal). Or, if the political revolution is stopped, one can only wonder when people will become so desperate that they’re willing to take to the streets in massive protests and riots (really not ideal). We came close in 2008, so it’s not difficult to imagine another shake up causing a more violent response.
So stop with the belief that millennials want free stuff. They don’t care about stuff. They just want a future. And if the wealthy business owners and CEOs don’t see fit to give them that future, they’ll vote for anyone who can promise it to them.