As readers (and colleagues) know, I have sometimes been hard on millennials. But recently, I’ve done some self-reflection on this score. That is partly because at the ripe old age of 49, I’ve begun to feel a bit like one of the parents in The Graduate who just hasn’t a clue what the young people are up to. I don’t want to get caught at the next dinner party telling anyone’s kids that they should go into plastics — or, god forbid, media.
But more importantly, I’ve been hanging out with a lot of young politicos lately, and I’ve become convinced that they need to take over, and sooner rather than later. In some sense, you could argue that they already are. Following the 2018 midterm elections, there are five times as many millennials in the House of Representatives than in the previous session. But that still only makes for a total of 26. And Congress in its entirety remains much older than the population as a whole.
That’s one reason that the cognitive divide between our political past and present is growing sharper all the time. Much of our national conversation is still taken up with old-school debates about things such as immigration, trade, healthcare, deficits and such. But the younger generation has such a different perspective. They’ve come of age with crushing student debt, diminished employment prospects and political polarisation and technological disruption. As I cover in my column this week, they see all the hypocrisies of capitalism, which have been front and centre as they’ve come of age. That’s the big reason they have no problem with formerly third rail, “socialist” sounding ideas like Medicare for all, universal employment guarantees, or a moon shot industrial policy based around solving climate change (which aren’t really even all that radical in the global context, as my colleague Janan Ganesh has argued).
I recently attended a dinner with a bunch of young progressives, and some older, more centrist Democrat financiers, and I was struck by how the “kids” wanted to rethink the big ideas — like the role of the public sector in market decision making (reasonable, given that many of them have to crash on their parents’ couches following the longest bull run in history) or whether we should be thinking more about “citizens” rather than “consumers” when crafting policies. The “adults” were stuck in more predictable patterns of problem solving. The Green New Deal in particular was polarising, as I’ve written, but it really shouldn’t be. It’s not so much a single policy but a wish vector — an economic system based around workers rather than consumers, and growth strategy built around clean energy. Nothing wrong with that — in fact, these are things that many economists of all stripes would say are necessary and desirable. This isn’t socialism people — it’s smarter, more sustainable capitalism.
In any case, we need more blue-sky thinking (on that note, see my Lunch with millennial trustbuster Lina Khan in the Weekend FT). And I suspect we need a generational turn, too — just look at the new popularity of Mayor Pete. Did anyone think that a thoughtful, 37-year-old, Norwegian speaking, openly gay, married, Afghan veteran mayor from Indiana could be so popular? This is the most hopeful thing I’ve heard in the past two years. Frankly, I’d be thrilled to have him in the White House.
I am also finding it refreshing when I attend dinner parties where old people tell millennials that certain things possibly can’t be done and they say, “why?” I hope this younger generation will put the “can do” back in a country that has become all too “yes, but . . . ”
Ed do you agree? Or am I being overly optimistic
- I will begin this week’s readings section, uncharacteristically, by talking up our own book. In the FT, my colleague Robin Wigglesworth, who heads our financial markets coverage, has done a really fabulous profile of the secretive and influential hedge fund DE Shaw. I can’t decide who in this piece is the Kevin Bacon of global markets — Eric Schmidt or Larry Summers. Both seem to be less than 6 degrees separated from everything. I have told Robin he must do a book on this company — fascinating stuff here.
- I’ve thought for a while now that California would — ironically — lead the way in the US and perhaps even the world in the crackdown on Silicon Valley. This article in The Information, about the new US attorney for the Bay Area, would seem to lend support to that idea.
- More on the scandal of college admissions in the US, and how it reflects something larger, which is the way in which complexity creates opportunities for capture and obfuscation by the wealthy and powerful, be they individuals or corporations. This is a topic I keep coming back to in one form or another (see my Monday column). So crucial that we fix this.
- And in the Really Depressing Things category, see here. Yet another reason for a digital detox.
Edward Luce responds
Pessimism can be self-fulfilling so I would never criticise you for being too optimistic, Rana. That said, I find it hard to believe that a 37-year-old mayor of a town of 105,000 people is ready to be president. The obvious retort to that is that Buttigieg would be infinitely better than Trump. He is thoughtful, knowledgeable, intelligent and empathetic. It is quite possible to imagine him becoming the nominee — and then going on to defeat Trump.
America tends towards the opposite character type of its last president. Think of cerebral Obama following gut-instinct George W. Or the stylish young JFK as antidote to grandfatherly Ike. Mayor Pete is as far to the other end of the spectrum from Trump as you can get. So this could be his time.
But I would have two caveats. No one in US history has gone from being a mayor of New York, Chicago or LA to the White House, let alone South Bend, Indiana. There is always a first time, of course. Perhaps this is it. Second, I wouldn’t necessarily see Buttigieg’s youth as a plus point. Trump has legion of faults but being 72 isn’t one of them.
In my view Mayor Pete would make a great running mate. It might be a little premature to give him the most powerful job in the world.
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