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Why are we not investing in young people?

Jobs — but no lives and not much education

One consequence of our dumb-as-rocks political and media culture is that the pig circus intentionally distracts us from talking about things that matter. To her credit, Hillary Clinton has proposed a plan for making it possible for young people to attend public univerities debt-free. As for Donald Trump, the scam of Trump University (now defunct, of course) tells you all you need to know. To Donald Trump, young people are just a natural resource to be exploited for profit. As for the voters, the mean and ugly me-first issues of old white people are dominating the 2016 presidential election — when we even talk about reality at all.

If you asked a hundred random Americans to name in one word what young people today need most, probably “jobs” is the answered you’d get most. That’s the centrist answer. The liberal answer probably would be “educations.” And the right-wing answer probably would be “Jesus.”

If you asked me, I’d do my best to come up with a more radical answer. How about lives for what young people need? We Americans rarely think beyond earning and consumption. We train people to be cogs in the economy and to be submissive citizens (which is part of what religion is for).

Thus I was intrigued this morning, while making my daily check of the Irish Times web site, to come across a story saying that the European Union is considering giving all 18-year-olds an InterRail pass so that they can explore Europe and expand their cultural horizons. An advocate of the idea said, “But the fact is that a lot of people and especially young people do not get to travel as much and explore Europe first hand and so they go to Front National and join right wing parties.”

I live in a poor, rural county politically dominated by Republicans and culturally dominated by nasty little white churches. Our young people pay a huge price not only for the poverty, but also for the small-mindedness and the hatreds instilled by the Republican Party and by the churches. The smartest of our young people leave for college and never come back. Many leave for dead-end jobs in urban areas and never come back. Though a very few black sheep buck the process, most succumb to the various forms of impoverishment that make them pretty much just like their parents — ignorant, Republican, racist, primed for resentment, and completely unequipped for a life in the 21st Century world.

Sometimes, standing with liberal friends and observing these local young people at events such as outdoor music festivals, I notice their lack of social skill, the early onset of obesity and bad health, the total lack of vitality and style, the dying-inside looks on their faces, and I feel sorry for them. More than once I’ve said something like, “If only we could give them a passport and send them on a trip to Copenhagen. They’d never vote Republican again.” Yes. And it also would bring us some cultural rethinking and cultural renewal. And we probably should send them to France as well to learn about food.

But small-mindedness and small-heartedness, of course (preferably with a wall around us), are exactly what Republicans and white preachers want in their customers — empty, dead-end lives of work and consumption. A vote for Trump is the only outlet for anger and for the shame of failure. A Confederate flag in a trashed yard is the only source of pride, except maybe for a big pickup truck.

There are vast amounts of money in this country. It continues to flow up to the rich. The rich, of course, invest heavily in their young — tomorrow’s 1 percent. As for everyone else, forty-five percent of 25-year-olds are in debt. The net worth of 35-year-olds averages one month of expenses. Shouldn’t we be talking about this?

P.S. Eventually, as older generations die off, all wealth, of course, is transferred to the young. A study in 2000 for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland found that 92 percent of Americans will receive no inheritance at all. Of the 8 percent who inherit something, half of them will inherit less that $25,000. Only 1.7 percent of the population stand to inherit more than $50,000. This is how oligarchies and aristocracies are built and sustained. The Republican Party wants to make this much worse by eliminating inheritance taxes on the super-rich. It has been two years now since Thomas Piketty told us pretty much everything we need to know about inequality. But what are we talking about? Overweight beauty queens and Bill Clinton’s infidelities. And our low-investment young people, like older white failures, can’t really follow a conversation that’s more complicated than that.

One Comment

  1. Dan wrote:

    I doubt the old really believe enough in the youth to invest in them, be it jobs or education. “Millennials”, they say, are a product of excess and entitlement that do little to prepare for a future that is only becoming more grim with each passing day. You better believe that. Young conservatives and young liberals have more in common that either side would admit, mostly that they’ve been handed a place in time that is without a doubt the most lavish and leisurely in history.

    For what it’s worth, inheritance will play a minor role in many people’s lives that I know, albeit a house that may be paid off, what little may be left in a retirement account, and maybe a little cash. It’d be nice if those people didn’t have to worry about any taxes on things that have already been taxed time and time again. $50,000 ain’t a whole lot of money, especially if you start spending on it. If someone can realize that it took some reserve to save and keep it, they won’t be as tempted to squander it. That goes back to how they were raised. Some of the poor like to stretch a dollar, while some like to burn ’em. Same can be said for the wealthy. With them, it depends more on how they value credit.

    Friday, October 7, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

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