Tuesday, August 9, 2011

On the politics of the Millennial generation

One of the more interesting facets of having friends from all walks of life is being able to watch as disparate views converge in the same place. Since we live in a perpetual election season nowadays, I've been finding myself commenting on politicians, laws, and our political system more and more often. In the context of one such discussion (regarding the twitter-esque nature of a new Obama campaign website), I got to thinking about how my generation (the Millennials) got to where we are right now (which is increasingly anti-PC and libertarian).

I think our generation all pretty much *want* to be good govt. liberals, I suspect (I know I still feel like one), but through a combination of PC bullshit that's gone way too far, and the epic fails of the Democratic party (and W's "Compassionate Conservatism"), much of our generation has become jaded of the political process. I think we're becoming libertarians not for the traditional old reasons (we're high achievers who don't want to pay taxes), but for new ones (we're not incompetent, but don't want the govt. taking our tax money to pay for people who are). Much of our current "great recession" has been caused by well-intended legislation that has had horrifying unintended consequences; I would wager that unemployment would be down a solid 2-3% if it weren't for stuff like sarbox, Obamacare (sorry, can't call it "the affordable care" bill if it's never going to resemble something affordable), and Dodd-Frank. People aren't all idiots, and anyone with a job in the private sector (especially the financial sector, or healthcare) is likely to realize that these bills - passed as panaceas to our national ills - don't work the way they're supposed to.

Where a Millennial starts to go libertarian depends on the individual, but it matches a pretty simple pattern. When a Millennial cares deeply about an issue and the govt. passes legislation on that issue, that Millennial has a better than good shot at becoming disenchanted with the govt. For example, if one is inclined towards granola and organic produce, the thought of facing jailtime for a garden, might make one skeptical of the intentions of local governance. Now, there's no amount of money you could pay me to get me to drink unpasteurized milk, but wtf is the govt. (federal, state, and local!) doing raiding a dairy with a SWAT team? When people see this sort of malarkey, they get (rightfully) disenchanted with the competence of all levels of govt. The same sorts of things are happening in every corner of our lives; govt. gets involved and makes a giant mess of things.

Even things that should be unambiguously positive, like increased access to higher education, get screwed up when the govt. gets involved. The cost of a degree has gone up faster than inflation, and faster even than the rate of increase in housing prices during the housing bubble. If you look closely at that graph, you'll note that the curve leaps upward during the George W Bush years, when his "compassionate" brand of stupid poured money into Pell grants. Basically, govt. spending on education (which is good, right?) only results in two things. Firstly, it raises the price of getting even the most valuable of degrees. Secondly, it subsidizes useless degrees. The cost of getting a degree in underwater basketweaving is comparable to an engineering degree. The govt. guarantees student loans, and student loans cannot be defaulted on, even through bankruptcy. Which means that there is no risk for a school to increase its costs. It makes sense to take out a loan to get a degree in accounting (or engineering, etc.), since that degree leads to well paying jobs. It doesn't make sense to take out a loan to get a Womyn's studies (or comparative religion, etc.) degree since it will take a lifetime to pay off that same loan. If it weren't for govt. guaranteeing these loans and giving out Pell grants, it would be financially irresponsible for most institutions of higher learning to even offer degrees in many of the humanities. Thanks to the govt. we all get to subsidize the most idiotic of studies.

The govt. gets involved, and things get screwed up. We all see it with some regularity, and so when a politician says that a new law will do X, Y, and Z, we either know better, or we get bedazzled by his florid prose. One might fool enough of the people for one election, but I suspect that we've wised up since then....

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