Americans are rejecting capitalism — because capitalism rejected them

My latest is for Foreign Policy:

Imagine that you’re twenty years old. You were born in 1996. You were five years old on 9/11. For as long as you can remember, the United States has been at war.

When you are twelve, in 2008, the global economy collapses. After years of bluster and bravado from President George W. Bush — who encouraged consumerism as a response to terror — it seems your country was weaker than you thought. In America, the bottom falls out fast.The adults who take care of you struggle to take care of themselves. Perhaps your parent loses a job. Perhaps your family loses its home.

In 2009, politicians claim the recession is over, but your hardship is not. Wages are stagnant or falling. The costs of health care, child care, and tuition continue to rise exponentially. Full-time jobs turn into contract positions while benefits are slashed. Middle-class jobs are replaced with low-paying service work. The expectations of American life your parents had when you were born — that a “long boom” will bring about unparalleled prosperity — crumble away.

Baby boomers tell you there is a way out: a college education has always been the key to a good job. But that doesn’t seem to happen anymore. The college graduates you know are drowning in student debt, working for minimum wage, or toiling in unpaid internships. Prestigious jobs are increasingly clustered in cities where rent has tripled or quadrupled in a decade’s time. You cannot afford to move, and you cannot afford to stay. Outside these cities, newly abandoned malls join long abandoned factories. You inhabit a landscape of ruin. There is nothing left for you.

Every now and then, people revolt. When you are fifteen, Occupy Wall Street captivates the nation’s attention, drawing attention to corporate greed and lost opportunity. Within a year, the movement fades, and its members do things like set up “boutique activist consultancies.” When you are seventeen, the Fight for 15 workers movement manages to make higher minimum wage a mainstream proposition, but the solutions politicians pose are incremental. No one seems to grasp the urgency of the crisis. Even President Barack Obama, a liberal Democrat — the type of politician who’s supposed to understand poverty — declares that the economy has recovered.

You wonder when the economic recovery will reach your family. You have been wondering for eight years.

Read the whole thing, Why young Americans are giving up on capitalism, at Foreign Policy

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