It’s hard at this point to dispute the notion that a decline is happening. Wall Street numbers may be up, but Main Street is another story.
Toys R’ Us is closing. Claire’s Accessories just filed for bankruptcy. Major retailers are shutting down stores left and right — just take a stroll through your neighborhood mall, and count the vacant units. Even dollar stores are going out of business.
Take a look at all the industries and institutions Millennials are supposedly ‘killing’ — chain restaurants, golf, cereal, napkins, home ownership, motorcycles, diamonds, football. The list goes on. Even banks are lamenting a lack of engagement from our young adult population.
Of course, Millennials aren’t coordinating a systematic crusade to destroy these mainstays of American trade and commerce. They’re not buying diamonds because diamonds are fucking expensive, and because Millennials are delaying getting married until later (if at all). They’re not buying Harleys because Harleys are fucking expensive, and because Millennials are often too busy working multiple jobs to pay rent and student loan debt to prioritize flashy toys.
Millennials aren’t killing these industries. The industries are killing themselves, or more accurately, capitalism is killing itself.
For centuries, trade, commerce, and competition pushed humanity forwards in a seemingly endless race to come up with newer and better ideas, and to sell those ideas to as many people as possible. And it worked for us for a long time — quality of life improved steadily, and the rate of technological development accelerated exponentially.
But all races have a finish line, and capitalism is no exception. In a society predicated on competition, there have to be winners and losers. In a society where accumulation of wealth is the measure of success, sustainability isn’t a priority. As the fiscal fruit of humanity’s collective labor is increasingly funneled into the hands of a comparatively tiny number of (often legacy-based) ‘winners’ at the expense of everyone else on the track, the nature of the finish line becomes all too apparent, and so does the unavoidable realization that the race is rigged.
In 2017, the United States had about 1.4 million vacant homes, and about 560,000 homeless people. That’s two houses for every homeless person, with over 200,000 homes to spare. Our GDP is $19.7 trillion, but more than 1 in 10 Americans live below the poverty line. Over 30% of the food we produce goes to waste, but 14% of us are undernourished.
A society built on competition is a society built on selfishness. In order to win a race, you have to focus on the goal ahead of you, not what’s happening to the other runners on the track. You don’t win a competition by helping the people you’re trying to beat.
The only thing stopping those homeless people from living in those vacant houses is money. There’s enough of everything we need to go around, but the mathematic rules we use to allocate resources are skewed in favor of the few that have more than they could ever use.
The race is rigged, and as our young people see this, they respond in entirely understandable and reasonable ways.
They refuse to participate. They demand rules that make sense. And they will get them.
Millennials are about to become the biggest voting bloc the US has ever seen, and unlike the Baby Boomers before them, they have not been preemptively appeased by their ruling class with entitlements and opportunities. Instead, they are being told to run in a race they can see is already over, and they are quite sensibly choosing to do something else instead.
They’re choosing wellness over status. They’re choosing diversity over division. They’re choosing access over ownership, and the common good over personal greed. They’re increasingly looking forward to a world where success is measured not in dollar signs, but in actualization — and not just their own, individual actualization, but the actualization of society as a whole.
They are ready to fight for that future. They are starting to fight for it.
And I hope they succeed.