Why do millennials like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez embrace the most disastrous economic philosophy of the 20th century? Because millennials have suffered more than the generations that have come before them. At least this is the takeaway of the author of a new fawning cover story of the socialist congresswoman in Time magazine.
“[email protected] and I were born the same year. She was a Dunkaroos kid—I liked fruit roll-ups,” Time reporter Charlotte Alter tweeted. “People our age have never experienced American prosperity in our adult lives—which is why so many millennials are embracing Democratic socialism” (emphasis mine). Alter also claims that Ocasio-Cortez’s “adulthood was defined by financial crisis, debt & climate change. No wonder she and her peers are moving left.”
The idea that millennials have toiled in uniquely grueling economic conditions exhibits a delusional and extraordinarily narrow understanding of history. Whether the majority of millennials believes this myth or not, I don’t know. I tend to doubt it. Alter is just repeating AOC’s contention. But, historically speaking, the only thing millennials have seen is relative prosperity, most of it provided by free markets and American political stability.
Although every generation has its struggles, if the world continues on its present trajectory, American millennials will have collectively lived the most peaceful, wealthiest, safest, most educated, and most globally connected lives in the history of the world.
For starters, millennials had the world opened to them like no one else, benefiting from the perhaps greatest technological revolution in information and commerce–even more consequential than the printing revolution. As one clever tweeter noted, Alter “typed ‘never experienced American prosperity’ on her new MacBook and sent it to her employer on her high speed internet then tweeted the story from a new iPhone X while sipping a latte from an avocado.”
Do we always use the technology for good? Of course not. For most millennials, however, any book, any piece of music, any great work of art—virtually any nugget of human knowledge—has been at their fingertips throughout their entire adult lives. And today, more Americans have access to high-speed internet than ever. This is a manifestation of prosperity.
Sometimes, it’s true, the United States experiences recessions. Like in 1928, 1937, 1945, 1949, 1953, 1958, 1960, 1969, 1973, 1980/1981, 1990, 2001, and 2007. I don’t want to sound like an old man carrying on about the bad old days, because they were never bad; but if you think growing up in the 1970s was easier than the 1990s, I have some news for you.
Now, some recessions (or more specifically, some recoveries) are worse than others for various reasons—including the overreaction of the political class. But since Ocasio-Cortez graduated from college—her “adulthood”—she has only seen a single quarter of negative GDP growth, and 13 quarters of more than 3 percent growth. The quarter she graduated, the United States economy grew by 4.7 percent. Her formative adult experience with the economy is far better than most.
Here’s a good rundown of the economy during AOC’s adult years from National Review’s Jim Geraghty:
But the U.S. economy has added jobs for 100 consecutive months, and there are seven million unfilled jobs in the country. The housing market either quickly or gradually recovered depending upon your region, and auto production recovered, both at companies that received government bailouts and those that did not. There’s not too much inflation or deflation. Energy prices declined as U.S. domestic production boomed. Wage growth has been slow, but some research indicates this reflects companies hiring more young workers, who generally earn less than older, more experienced workers. Scott Lincicome lays out how more Americans households can afford more products. The stock market hit newworld highs last year. In late 2018, the World Economic Forum ranked the United States the world’s most competitive economy for the first time in a decade. Even the more pessimistic economists concede that the U.S. economy’s problems are smaller and less severe than anyone else’s.
More broadly, no group of Americans has ever had more of an opportunity to achieve personal prosperity. In 1965, there were only 5.9 million Americans enrolled in college—mostly rich kids. The year Ocasio-Cortez was born, there were 13.5 enrolled in institutions of higher education. In the year Ocasio-Cortez graduated, 21 million Americans were enrolled in college. According to the Federal Reserve study, millennials are the most educated generation, with 65 percent of them possessing at least an associate’s degree.
It’s often claimed that millennials have “lower earnings, fewer assets, and less wealth.” This is because many of them are still young. Getting a college education defers financial success to later years. The average earning potential of a college graduate is higher than for trades that don’t need it. Moreover, more millennials choose to live in expensive urban areas—where they pay high rent and rarely own houses—and get married later than previous generations. The longer you defer getting married, the longer it takes to realize your potential earnings, generally speaking.
The idea, though, that millennials get less for their dollar than their parents did is risible to anyone who lived more than three decades. Working adults before the 2000s understand how difficult it would be, for instance, to separately buy all the functions available on a simple smartphone. Wages have also grown (long-term and short-term.) Living standards have increased. Put this way, millennials live better than John D. Rockefeller.
Because of those technological advances, almost everything is cheaper today. In the last 50 years, spending on food and clothing as share of family income has fallen from 42 to 17 percent. At the same time we have countless choices—many of which would seem exotic to an average person in 1989.
On an average night in the United States, a nation with a population of somewhere around 350 million, only 193,000 people have no access to nightly shelter. Home ownership has remained incredibly stable at around 65 percent.
It’s true that health-care costs have risen for millennials. That too is a reflection of prosperity, as Americans have generally enjoyed longer life expectancy (though it has fallen for a couple of years) and better care in every imaginable way. Millennials have never had to worry about measles, rubella, mumps, diphtheria, or polio. The cancer death rate has fallen over 27 percent since Ocasio-Cortez was born—which equals more than two million deaths averted during that time period.
In the year Ocasio-Cortez was born, 45,582 Americans died in vehicular accidents (18.5 per 100,000.) The year she graduated, it had fallen to 32,479 (10.4). In 1970, around 14,000 workers were killed on the job. Although the workforce had more than doubled by the time Ocasio-Cortez went to Congress, the number of workplace deaths had dropped to 5,170. Fewer young Americans are forced to work dangerous jobs. These are all signs of an increasingly prosperous society.
There are other signs as well, like personal safety. Although you’d never know it from the news, millennials grew up in a world of low crime. When I turned 20 years old in 1990, my hometown of New York had just hit another record high with 2,245 murders for the year. Almost every adult I knew growing up had been mugged. When Ocasio-Cortez turned 20 in 2009, her hometown of New York achieved a historic low of 461. By 2017, there were 286 homicides in America’s largest city.
There was a comparable drop, with occasional fluctuations, in criminality across the board—rape, burglary, assault—in most big American cities. Gun crimes have fallen by nearly 50 percent since 1994. The number of mass shootings has dropped. The number of school shooting has dropped. You’d have to go back to the early ’50s to experience safer city streets. Young Americans have been grumbling about gentrification ever since major urban areas finally shook off the decay of the 1960s and 1970s. Prosperous Americans would rather live in safe areas than ones with cheap rent.
Millennials grew up and will live in the most peaceful era known to mankind, at home and abroad. There is less war. There is less genocide. Young people talk about the Iraq War—which was certainly an important event—as if it is the most destabilizing conflict in American history. Until very recently, great powers would engage in massive conflicts every few years, resulting in huge causalities of young people, and mass material destruction. It was only in the past couple of generations, mostly due to American uberpower status, that ended this cycle.
Perhaps Ocasio-Cortez didn’t have any relatives to speak to who experienced these conflicts (in Europe, or elsewhere) but 409, 399 Americans soldiers lost their lives in World War II. (The overall death toll of that conflict has been estimated as high as 70 to 85 million.) Another 33,686 Americans died in the Korean War. The Vietnam War ended when I was five years old, by which time there had been 58,220 U.S. casualties. During Ocasio-Cortez’s entire lifetime, there have been fewer than 6,000 fatal combat casualties.
The lower totals doesn’t suggest that wars don’t matter or lives lost aren’t important. It simply offers some context. And by no measure is the millennial generation experiencing any unique unrest—unless by unique, you mean especially peaceful.
“In order to understand @aoc, you have to look at what she experienced— and what she didn’t. Red Scare, Reaganomics & prosperous 90s were all before her time,” Alter subsequently tweeted.
“Climate change” has effected millennials in about the same way nuclear winter, global cooling, overpopulation, and other Malthusian scares have affected previous generations—which is to say, not at all. Every generation has its End of Days myth. In the real world, the imperceptible change in climate during Ocasio-Cortez’s lifetime has done nothing to diminish prosperity here or abroad.
According to the World Bank, because of the spread of trade, capitalism, technological advances, and plentiful energy, the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty has fallen below 10 percent, there are fewer hungry people than ever, fewer people die in conflicts over resources, and deaths from extreme weather have dramatically declined over the long term. Over the past 40 years, our water and air are cleaner (notwithstanding population growth).
Now, I’m somewhat confused what Alter means by “Red Scare”—I am assuming it’s not the Joe McCarthy days but a fear of nuclear war. So she might be arguing that since Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t really lived through socialism’s many mass starvations, wars, and genocides, she is more open to collectivism. That might be true.
Historical illiteracy, however, is no excuse for radicalism, because you can always check your phone.