Maybe we millennials should rethink socialism
If you ever find yourself driving through southeast Kansas, there is a small town tucked away off U.S. Route 169 that you might like. Its appearance and culture is one of quiet tradition, boasting no flashy distinctiveness. While it has a library, a safari museum, a few parks, and a cement factory, the town of Chanute, in all its aura of classic Americana, is pretty much your average Kansas small town. Like any small town, Chanute is home to a variety of rich life stories. One of those stories is about a man I knew named Pat.
Other than a handful of classes at the local community college, Pat’s formal schooling stopped after high school. He earned his first job at the age of fourteen sweeping floors at Caldwell Floor Covering, a modest carpet store located on West Cherry Street. As time progressed, he learned how to lay carpet, ceramic, hardwood, laminate, and vinyl. After a brief period in the National Guard, Pat returned to Caldwell, where his burgeoning reputation of trust and reliability earned him the responsibility of managing the store’s books. Fifty-six years later, he would retire from Caldwell as the owner.
Outside work, he and his wife, Billie Maxine, a nurse, raised a family. In 1972, the couple and their three sons (and later, a daughter) moved into a tiny two-bedroom house on a ten-acre hog farm. The scene was hardly picturesque: incessant grazing had stripped the pasture of vegetation, and the house was in a severe state of disrepair, complete with its own mice and roach infestation.
But to Pat and Billie, this despondent parcel of land was an opportunity. Embracing a work ethic forged in their own upbringing, they repaired the house, dug a pond, and planted grass. To make ends meet, they cultivated a large vegetable garden and raised chickens, cattle, and swine for the family's consumption. Although progress was slow, it was steady; as the years passed, Pat and Billie claimed their piece of the American Dream and built a happy life for their children.
In December 2015, the Washington Post reported that forty-eight percent of my generation (millennials) believe that the American Dream is dead. It is not a crazy belief – given the effects of wage stagnation, student debt, and a shrinking middle class, it is unsurprising the traditional benchmarks of adulthood, like getting married and buying a home, appear so far out of reach for millennials. It seems whenever our ostensibly bleak economic prospects are coupled with our teetering ability to gain the much-needed approval of older generations, we cannot help but view our futures so dubiously. Perhaps this is why millennials are the most medicated, depressed, and anxious generation in recent history.
So what should we millennials do about it?
On the one hand, we could brand ourselves "democratic socialists," blame our parents, scorn corporations, and deride capitalism. We could wallow in our apparent inability to thrive absent taxpayer-backed college, health care, minimum wages, and "safe zones." We could avoid building resilience, cling fervently to the questionable precept of intersectionality, and hand off to our children a gargantuan expansion of the national debt and federal bureaucracy.
Then again, we could acknowledge that economic mobility is no worse than it was fifty years ago and that no generation in history was as ideally situated to realize the American Dream as we are. We could take a page out of Pat’s and Billie’s book, rethink what opportunity means, and perhaps find the personal satisfaction we crave by building something from nothing, rather than chasing down the increasingly hollow credentials of "achievement" that seem to define our generation.
Indeed, we could live up to our reputation of "everybody gets a trophy," or we could find our own hog farm, roll up our sleeves, and discover a prize truly reflective of what we have earned.
I hope we make the right call.
Thomas Wheatley is a law student at George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Virginia. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.