Friday, January 8, 2016

Abstract celebrations and concrete hungers

Drawing by Jim Benton.

David Brooks ("The Self-Reliant Generation", January 8 2016) hits his 139th career use of "amazing/amazingly":
Last month Fox News released a poll showing Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders in Iowa by 14 points. But the amazing part of the poll was the generation gap. Among likely caucusgoers under 45, Sanders was crushing Clinton 56 to 34 percent. Among the older voters, Clinton was leading 59 to 24.
Millennials overwhelmingly want a Democrat to win the White House in 2016, but that doesn't mean they're liberals. There are no signs of a progressive counterculture as there were in earlier generations, with their tie-dye, patchouli, and Donovan records. Millennials have lived through financial crisis, family instability, and government dysfunction, so they cling to their jobs and don't move or get married or even have sex very often. An abstract celebration of creative transformation and a concrete hunger for order. They don't belong to religions. Only 32% say America is the greatest country on earth. They will all have midlife crises.
Product placement:

Are you a Millennial convinced that Social Security will die before you get to your fifties, stuck in a job with no pension benefits that you're afraid to quit because the alternatives are even more terrifying, and unwilling to trust your money to a financial advisor who is allowed by law to put his or her profits ahead of the client's best interests (thanks, Republicans!)? There's an app for that!

Seriously, Brooks wants you to know you can get a robot:
Most millennials expect to see no Social Security benefits by the time they retire. But they oppose reforms to take money away from older workers to distribute it downward. They just figure they’ll take care of retirement individually, often using algorithm-based investment vehicles like Wealthfront.
(The link is to The Economist.) Because those crazy Bernie-loving kids have this idea it's "wrong" to break a promise made by society to their parents and grandparents and take their money away. I guess these distorted ideas of morality must come from not reading the right stuff. A little David Brooks would straighten them out.

Wealthfront currently manages $2 billion in assets for its 17,400 clients (mean account size of about $115,000); Betterment, $1.4 billion, 65,000 clients (mean account size just $21,540—those are the actual Millennials). That should definitely be taking care of the needs of the 53.5 million Millennials in the labor force, any day now. Like Uber is replacing the subway in New York City.

No ideas, of course, on what to do about workers that can't put together a monthly payment to a financial advisor, droid or otherwise, because they're living hand to mouth on their meager paychecks as they pay off loans. It's true (Pew 2014) that 51% of Millennials expected Social Security to go bankrupt before they retire, but not true they didn't think it should be reformed. They just don't want to "reform" it on Brooksian lines; most people of all generations think the cap on FICA taxes (where you pay zero payroll tax on income after the first $118,500) needs to be lifted:
When asked by the National Academy of Social Insurance whether Social Security taxes for better-off Americans should be increased, 71 percent of Republicans and 97 percent of Democrats agreed. In a 2012 Gallup Poll, 62 percent of respondents thought upper-income Americans paid too little in taxes. (Thomas Edsall, March 2013)
And want to expand Social Security benefits, which is one of the most popular items in Sanders's list. They don't expect it, because Republicans, but they hope for it.

Why Brooks dumps the reference to Wealthfront in particular into his column I don't know. Far be it from me to suggest he's selling advertising space. (No, I mean it: it's just another unintended consequence of bad writing that it looks as if he might be.)


One thing he says is (partly) right, for almost half a paragraph:
millennials may lean Democratic, but unless Barack Obama (or Bernie Sanders) is on the ticket, they don’t strongly attach to the party and it is not clear that they will vote. They didn’t in the 2014 midterm elections.
There is one way of saving and, I hope, expanding Social Security, and it means voting, mostly for Democrats, a lot.

Why don't Millennials vote in stronger numbers? In the rest of that paragraph, Brooks wanders off into speculating whether they might be a kind of conservative hippies:
It could be they are more interested in improving their lives by having richer experiences, and not through the sort of income transfers that come out of Washington.
Because it's such a rich experience to spend your whole life in one job and never travel anywhere or have kids (Brooks's reading of the survey data), and so unrewarding to have an opportunity to change your life through government-sponsored educational programs or an adequate pension system. They're supporting Sanders not because they like socialism but because he reminds them of Barry Goldwater. Thanks for clarifying, Brooksy.

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