FEATURE — Why Millennials are Forging a New New Liberalism

The supposed death and rebirth of liberalism has been written about time after time. With each new Republican electoral win or through the republicanization of Democrats the media has tried to bury the fiery will to make progress; each time declaring that America just wants to return to its “traditional” values, I suppose this is the natural position of the old guard in any era. But like the death and return of Superman has been ingrained in the cultural consciousness of America, the death and return of liberalism has been a topic of glee for conservatives and angst for liberals since The Great Society.

My next statement is biased (what article isn’t) and a reflection of all that is supposedly wrong with Millennials; but we are the generation of a new age. We’re a generation whose formative years had the backdrop of (now) three two-term presidents with each president governing in the shadow of another recent two-term president whether they liked it or not. While many Millennials like myself weren’t even alive during the Reagan years (I personally was only alive for the last year and seven days of Reagan’s presidency – you do the math) we grew up in the Ronald Reagan Era. A more apt description may be the Reagan narrative.

The Political Backdrop
Lower taxes, less spending, smaller government, strong military, traditional values. These are the rhetorical talking points that appears to have been ingrained into every republican since birth. For the rest of us, especially for the old guard liberals who have fought against these their entire lives we have been reactionaries instead of the articulators of liberal ideals and ideas.

And as much admiration and respect we have for the old guard liberals, there are some truths to the conservative message that I think many Millennials have adopted into their own worldview. During the 2012 presidential campaign a lot was made of the fact that the top marginal tax rate was around 90% under Eisenhower and that was a period of economic boom for much of the country. But during the height of election season I never heard a single liberal commentator, pundit, writer, or blogger defend a tax rate of 90%, or even 70% for any bracket. The reason is that no single mainstream liberal supports a policy like that.

The Reaganites have largely won the idea of lower tax rates but that argument has run its’ course, there is only so low taxes can practically go and we’ve hit that point. The New New Liberalism, maybe we should call it Millenialism, is a vision of restoring balance to the economic classes. Not eliminating, or rendering class divisions completely meaningless through the tax code, like some liberals may have argued in the past; but of addressing the issue of income equality in a way that doesn’t hinder the lifestyle of the few, or bar a lifestyle advancement to the many.

And this is how I think Millennials view the issue of income inequality. It’s inane to disassociate the issue of income and salary from lifestyle; this is the inherent problem of discussing benefits/entitlements, because the conversation rarely veers towards the practical effect changes to these programs would have on the lifestyle of recipients.

Millennials think about lifestyle a lot, I’d argue most of the choices Millennials make are about moderate lifestyle changes, it’s the reason we’re willing to accept lower salaries for increased benefits and flexibility more than previous generations. This is also the practical effect of more and more of us pushing off marriage and having children. We have taken the idea of living in the here-and-now to heart and want lifestyles that satisfy us and give us rich experiences instead of pursuing the dream of being rich. And that’s the inherent difference between Millennials and previous generations and why we are in fact forging a new political consensus. Our opinions are not so much about ideology anymore, as they are about opportunity to have a lifestyle filled with rich experience. We want tax rates and policies that allow better lifestyles for the poor and the middle class while not penalizing too harshly people at the top rates. We recognize that people at the top rates don’t see any significant lifestyle reductions by increasing the tax rates on them by small amounts as was recently done during the fiscal slope battle.

Millennialism is not about makers and takers, rich and poor, or the overlap these things often have had with racial politics. Millennialism is about ways of making everyone’s lifestyles a bit better than they previously were and the method of getting to that outcome is close to irrelevant to us.

The Millennial Connection
Reaganism won in a certain sense; we now collectively (at least rhetorically) dislike big government. But liberalism won as well because we now collectively (at least rhetorically) reject big business due to the unappealing chase after ever-more profit and ever-more extravagant lifestyles. This stems from a deep desire of my generation to reject inauthenticity, shallowness, and ruthlessness. Big business, especially publicly traded businesses primary goal is profit for their shareholders and thus long term responsibility is often shucked for short-term profitability. We grew up in the era of the Enron and Worldcom scandals and more importantly the era of the great recession caused by greed and the rejection of long-term responsibility on Wall Street.

While previous generations distrusted big business but were eventually pulled in by it because there was no other way to make money, in our era, the Millennial era, we have alternatives and we’re running with it. And the few big businesses Millennials flock to are those that are progressively changing how big business operates like Google and Facebook.

What I propose as a paradigm through which to view the world is by looking at these two entities we distrust, big government and big business, as checks on each other. They are larger than life jaegers (Pacific Rim reference) doing battle with their heads in the clouds while the rest of us just try not to get stepped on.

The Future of Millennial Entrepreneurship
So, while the jaegers are battling it out amongst the clouds of ideology, what are Millennials to do? Where are we going as a nation when Millennials truly start to drive the narrative and changes we see in the country? If Millennials largely reject big government as well as big business, through what vehicle will they make an impact? The answer to this question, and the question of how we will address our unemployment problem, is through entrepreneurship.

The traditional view of the entrepreneur was of someone who starts a brick and mortar store selling some sort of tangible product, the next evolution of the entrepreneur in the modern age was someone selling some sort of financial or real estate service. I argue that the next iteration of the entrepreneur is someone selling themselves. Get your mind out of the gutter, I am talking about selling themselves as a brand. Perhaps ironically I believe this shift began with Myspace but I think we’re only now starting to see the model adopted more widely.

Myspace was originally conceived as a platform for bands to do an end-around music publishers and reach their fans directly. As we all know it quickly devolved into a space for tweens and teens to post every unsolicited detail of their lives, and share so much multimedia content that a visit to their personal page would crash any consumer laptop of 2003. This was largely the reason of its’ collapse and I was no exception to the Myspace fad. Despite it’s downfall, the model Myspace pioneered was taken up by other companies, namely Facebook. And today artists have continued the Myspace tradition by publishing their own content directly on the internet through sites like Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and their own personal sites. Not to mention the ability to publish content through Spotify, Mog, and Rdio. Musical artists are more entrepreneurial than ever before because they have had to be, and that spirit is being adopted by Millennials with other skill sets.

The key point about social networks is that they allow anyone to post unsolicited writings, musings, art, opinion, movies, scripts, novels, and any other piece of material one can think of for the world to see. So what if all of this unsolicited material, which is unofficially solicited by social networks, became officially solicited content. We’re moving to a place where Millennials (like myself) are trying to take ownership of their content by leveraging what we produce. We are selling ourselves as content creators. Entrepreneurship in the web 2.0 and 3.0 era looks like Kickstarter projects, looks like WordPress blogs, looks like Twitter comments, and looks like Youtube videos.

The truth is that many of us may have no choice except to become entrepreneurial, as traditional jobs just are not there anymore. Even after we “fully recover” to pre-recession unemployment levels there will still be millions of our generation chronically underemployed, working at jobs that don’t utilize our knowledge, skills, and abilities acquired through college and graduate school.

So what specific skill sets do liberal arts majors have to market? Well if I knew that then I’d be making money. The truth is that there is no clear path for any entrepreneur, that’s sort of the definition of being an entrepreneur but I will offer some key points.

First, Millennials must support fellow Millennials. The website and movement Our Time, not to be confused with the dating website of the same name devoted to the complete opposite age demographic, has been pushing a Buy Young initiative for the past few years. The campaign aims to get young people to buy from businesses that are owned and operated by people under 30.

Second, Millennials must change our mindsets from being consumers to content creators. Personally I didn’t have this revelation until fairly recently and I kick myself in the butt whenever I’m not creating by reading this inspiringly candid article. I cannot say it enough, create content.

Finally, on a related note, at many businesses and organizations content creation is currently supplementing traditional internships. I argue that in the near future the question businesses will ask won’t be how many internships one had but what sort of content did a young person create. The reason is that content and our brand is what will drive innovation and creativity at organizations. You know the old saying about Millennials being self-absorbed, well it’s true, but we’re only starting to realize how to market that. In a future article I will discuss Facebook and the road to attempting to monetize self-absorption. I believe it is marketable, we’re all just trying to figure out how, and Millennials will be the ones to answer that question.

So get out there and create something because your will to create is what will define the New New Liberalism.

Agree, disagree? Are you an entrepreneur? Tell your story in the comment section below. Share this article with your social networks if you like it!

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5 thoughts on “FEATURE — Why Millennials are Forging a New New Liberalism

  1. […] an earlier post I argued that the political system is so dysfunctional at the federal level, that the likelihood […]

  2. […] my last post I talked about entrepreneurship as the vehicle through which we’ll get a youth economic […]

  3. Rachennial says:

    To me, this article really drives home the point that Millennials are pragmatic idealists, and I think we’re just now starting to see it. I think it’s illustrated by our dislike of big business and big government. We are too idealistic to look over the immorality (yes! I said immorality, sooo unmillennial) of Wall Street, but too pragmatic to rely on government to solve all or problems.

    I’m probably the most excited to see where Millennials will take entrepreneurship, business, and technology, more anything else. I think Millennials are brimming with ideas, and have the wherewithal to pull the ideas off. I think we’re going to see a lot of profound change for the better.

    I agree that we’re a generation so tired of the empty ideology. I consider myself a true centrist, although i’ve always voted Democratic sonce they’ve been the most forward-thinking. I’m not sure the Republican party knows we exist yet, lol. Maybe that’s what Romney meant by 47% of America being victims? He was talking about Millennials?

    • Thanks for the comment! I consider myself a proud progressive and I’m probably liberal on 95% of the issues out there, but one thing that sort of always appealed to me deep down was the republican message of not relying on government.

      It’s ironic because I believe in public service, I have studied for the past 2 years to become a professional public servant and have deep admiration for the work they do, but my view is that the best way to utilize government is to have it INVEST in people and businesses. So things like student loans, grants, small-business loans, procurement projects for green technology, etc… are the best utilization of public money imho.

      I also strongly believe in a basic social safety net and on those things I am your typical old guard liberal that I described in the piece. The dark side of entrepreneurship is that most businesses fail and if someone fails I believe that failure shouldn’t ruin their entire life. They should still be able to eat, put a roof over their head, and dream like the rest of us. I also believe that government can play a crucial role in encouraging potential entrepreneurs. Why should I have to rely on a big business/bank to start my own business? I’d rather trust an entity (government) whose primary motive is the public interest than big business, whose primary motive is short-term profit.

      I think our whole conception of entrepreneurship and government needs to change. Government is part of the solution to our problems, but the main role they can play is as investor. Part of me believes that the New New Liberals may accept reductions in non-discretionary spending for significant increases in discretionary spending like investments in the arts, in business, in R&D, etc…

      In 40 years (when Millennials are approaching traditional retirement age) then gains in average lifespans will have increased for the poor as well as the rich so saying we’ll increase the retirement age to 70 in 40 years is not unreasonable. But I’m very wary of chipping away at the social safety net and I do not subscribe to the idea that government needs to get smaller. Government simply needs to get smarter and our generation will be the one to make it smarter. Like you said, we’re practical idealists.

      Thanks again for your comment 🙂

      • Rachennial says:

        Yep no problem. “They should still be able to eat, put a roof over their head, and dream like the rest of us.” This reminded me of a post I did about It’s a Wonderful Life… http://tinyurl.com/b6btovr. I’m not always sure where I stand politically. Maybe you can analyze this post and let me know, ha. I was annoyed w/ Republicans at the time.

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