Boomer Socialism versus Millennial Neoliberalism

By Murphy, Ryan | Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), May 14, 2019 | Go to article overview

Boomer Socialism versus Millennial Neoliberalism


Murphy, Ryan, Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)


At an academic conference I recently attended, the leadership announced that the theme for next year’s meeting would be the socialistic path millennials are careening the world toward. With the new political support for figures like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and others, this might seem perfectly explicable.

The Economist even proclaimed “Millennial Socialism” in the title of a recent lead article. And soon, millennials are set to become the largest voting bloc in America.

Others in senior positions at the conference seemed happy with the choice of topic. But I, along with just about everyone else under 40 in the room had the same reaction: “What? Really?”

I am a free market enthusiast, but I am unmoved by the notion that millennials will suddenly move us to socialism. Why? Because although previous generations, especially baby boomers, supposedly share my support for free markets, they demonstrate little interest in them in practice. Even while millennials will emphatically declare a preference for more state intervention in the economy, I am not convinced they are actually less receptive to markets.

Boomers are the prime beneficiaries of an array of goodies that are unsustainable at current tax levels – and they voted for them. The Medicare prescription drug benefit (Medicare Part D), passed under the George W. Bush administration, was the largest increase in entitlements or welfare spending since Lyndon Johnson, and was in the long-run for the benefit of Boomers. Social Security is the third rail of politics because boomers are gonna get what they “paid” into the system, future generations be damned. There is a reason that Bill Keller called the boomers “The Entitled Generation” back in 2012.

And these are our guardians of the free market?

Boomers are also the generation that moved into growing, successful metroplexes on the coasts (and once others tried to follow them, they erected zoning regulations to stop it). They proceeded to swallow up the value the economy subsequently produced through the appreciation of housing values, as the regulations they constructed forced wage increases to simply flow to skyrocketing rents.

In my mind, the core set of institutions and policies of capitalism are the protection of property rights and the freedom to trade, not whether the government transfers 10% versus 20% of GDP from one group to another. After all, the thesis in the founding document of economics, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, was the importance of free trade, not the relative size of government.

How do the boomers rate here? …

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