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Have Millennials Really Been Screwed Over by Baby Boomers?

In the months preceding major elections, it’s not uncommon to hear a familiar question: “Are you better off now than you were four (or eight) years ago?” It’s meant to prompt feelings of discontent toward incumbent political leaders, and to encourage us to vote for the next big personality promising sweeping change.

But the much better question to ask is this: “Is the world better off than it was when you were born?” If the answer is “no,” and you consider yourself an informed and politically conscious adult, you have some explaining to do.

So how about it? Is the world better off than when you were born?

In many, many ways, the answer is a resounding “yes.” If you don’t believe this is the best time to be alive, you’ve probably been living in a shoebox for the last several decades.

And yet, in many other ways, it seems there are forces at work in this world that want to desperately turn back the clock on every scrap of social progress we’ve made over the last generation. Conservatism is not merely the name of a political ethos — it is a way of thinking, and frequently a substitute for rationality, and was brought into this world in its current form by our parents’ and grandparents’ generation. And it now touches every aspect of modern life. Conservatism is not “family values” and it has nothing to do with religion — it is an aversion to progress itself.

This writer is a member of the millennial generation. If our experiences over the years have been anything alike, you’ve had to deal with any number of sweeping judgments — smears, really — not just against you and I, as distinct human beings, but against our entire generation. We’re lazy. We’re uninformed. We have no work ethic. We’re selfish and narcissistic. We expect to succeed without trying.

Let’s be clear: if millennials are to be judged by the actions of the Justin Beavers, the Kim Kardashians or the Martin Shkrelis of the world, then by all means — lock us all up, because we’re all guilty as hell.

But prepare yourself, because by that logic, we’re all holding your generation accountable for the Donald Trumps, the Charles and David Kochs, the Nigel Farages and the Bill O’Reillys gallivanting around the globe spewing lies and fomenting hatred.

Get it? Generalizations cut both ways.

So, as long as we’re discussing the moral high ground here, let’s check in with Good Lady Science for a look at some of the pronouncements frequently leveled against millennials by older generations:

To begin with, there is absolutely no scientific evidence that millennials have a weaker work ethic than the generations that came after them. None. Moreover, millennials are better informed and generally more aware of the social problems in desperate need of fixing.

Whereas, under the stewardship of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, the quality of living in this country has plummeted over the last few decades for everybody but the very wealthy. Our grandparents grew up in a version of the world that allowed them a fleeting glimpse of what it’s like to live prosperous and dignified lives — thanks to a combination of progressive politics and blind luck — and yet they cast shade on younger generations for “not knowing the value of a dollar.”

If they’d received, instead of The New Deal, an earful of “just work harder” while they were growing up amidst unprecedented economic hardship, they’d be just as disenchanted as today’s young people are. Instead, they had the good fortune to grow up in a time when America actually took care of its own, instead of just claiming to do so. But even as government and other institutions grow and change in an attempt to reintroduce equilibrium and lift the standard of living, there are inevitably more conservative forces at work, desperate to return things to a different sort of status quo — one where opportunity and dignity are luxury commodities.

And we’ve always known this. Since time immemorial, philosophers and economists have been doing their sky-is-falling routine about the grotesque level of economic inequality in this world, calling attention to the fact that, in just about every “successful” nation on earth, the bottom 50% of the population has, broadly speaking, owned virtually no stake in their country, and only the tiniest share of their country’s wealth.

Go ahead and ask a Baby Boomer what their generation has done about that problem. You’ll be waiting quite a long time. We’ve not only failed to make progress — we’ve actually turned the clock back, to the point where economic inequality is just as bad — and potentially even worse — now than it was during the Great Depression.

That would be the disaster that most Boomers pat themselves on the back for surviving. The funny thing is, they never mention the extremely progressive (or liberal, if you prefer) President who helped lead this country out of that Depression and laid the foundation for America’s later greatness. They forget that the Social Security checks they rely on in their twilight years were made possible by progressive minds. The politics and priorities of Franklin Delano Roosevelt bear absolutely no resemblance to the political ethos so desperately clung to with blind brand loyalty by today’s Baby Boomers.

We could go on and on like this, poking holes in bankrupt ideologies all day long, but that’s not particularly constructive. We’ve already touched on the economic aspect of this conversation, and because it touches each of the other ones, we can give each of them only a brief mention before moving on:



Lots of folks spend time explaining how human beings are “above the fray” of the animal kingdom — we are special, precious and blessed beings who abide by higher standards. But do we actually behave that way? In the animal kingdom, the weak are subsumed by the strong, merely as a matter of course. The world doesn’t blink. So why don’t we make a fuss when human beings treat each other with coldness or malice?

Universal healthcare should be the crowning achievement of every “civilized” society. It is proof that we care for our own, for no reason other than because we belong to the same species. A great many people who fight tooth and claw against the idea of universal healthcare don’t believe in evolution, yet they’re perfectly content to let survival of the fittest hold sway in our lives. It’s not a new idea: some of the more forward-thinking countries in the world have had some form of universal healthcare for a hundred years already.



You’d expect that a generation that grew up in the aftermath of World War II would be a bit more averse to the idea of perpetual warfare.

You’d be wrong.

Young people today are far more likely to oppose armed conflict than the other generations, an attitude perhaps best exemplified by our sweeping denouncement of the use of atomic weapons during the second world war. That act of horror could have galvanized the older generation into turning this country — and in turn the world — into a safer place to raise children, and instead we elect leaders based on how many wars they’ve fought in and how likely they are to aim missiles at other countries. Young people support the recent Iran deal because they recognize the value of diplomacy in a way older folks do not.

Baby Boomers were handed the chance to make this world a more peaceful place. They said “no.”


Social Justice

Finally, briefly, we come to social justice. Pessimism about race relations is worse now than it’s been in a generation, as people seem to believe that things have either failed to improve measurably, or are actually worse than in previous years. We know this because it’s nearly impossible to criticize murderous white police officers without being accused of sedition.

We also know that, as a result of Baby Boomer leadership (or, more accurately, the lack of it), America has a larger population of inmates than any other country on earth, including authoritarian China, which has more than four and a half times as many citizens as the United States.

Under the watch of our grandparents and parents, America has become a more intolerant and hostile place. Crime has actually fallen over the years, make no mistake — but you wouldn’t know it from the way we discuss the problems facing us. And not many millennials I know begin sentences with the phrase “Black people are more likely to…” — and yet it’s a common refrain among older citizens. We’re all one species, with only superficial physical differences. The color of our skin in no way influences what we are “more likely” to do.


Things Are Looking Up

Sorry for the fire and brimstone. The truth is, things are actually looking up, despite the many spectacular failures we’ve discussed during our stroll down memory lane. This really is the best time to grow up, and make no mistake about it.

Essential commodities cost less than they did in decades past (millennials are spending, on average, $12,600 less on their first car than Baby Boomers did), poverty is very (very) gradually dropping, technological innovations arrive faster than ever, life expectancies have hit a new plateau, there’s generally less crime and war in the world, we’re feeding the world’s hungry more effectively, our population growth has slowed and human beings are becoming generally more intelligent and adaptable as each new generation arrives on the scene.

And all that good news much makes this petty blame game feel like a useless exercise. It’s true that older folks seem to cling to some ideal of the world that hasn’t existed in a long while — or never existed in the first place — and it’s true that they seem to demand two steps backward for every forward leap, but the fact remains: the world is moving on, just as it always has. We can look backwards at our failures, or we can spend our time imagining a brighter future than anyone has ever dreamed of…

…and then do the work that makes it possible.

Staff Writer
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Holly Whitman is a writer and journalist based in Washington DC. She loves to share her thoughts on the intersection of politics and culture, and writes on everything from feminism and human rights to climate change and technology.

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431 thoughts on “Have Millennials Really Been Screwed Over by Baby Boomers?

  1. As they say, one of the most important rules of writing is to know your readers. Your entire argument here is predicated on the correctness and moral superiority of your left-wing worldview, and you demonstrate no awareness whatsoever of the existence, much less the content, of any arguments against the highly debatable assumptions you’re making. You’re writing as if you were preaching to the choir, but you’re not. I think this would probably go over well at a site with an overwhelmingly or exclusively left-wing readership, but this is not that site.


      • You know what would happen… re-litigating the entire progressive project from arms control to LGBT rights would turn this thread into something unmanageable.

        But Brandon is right – the tl;dr of this is “polls show younger people agree with me more” with very little additional content. A cynic would turn it around and re-phrase this as “I tend to agree with my peers more than my parents’ peers.”


      • If a person of Holly’s age could write such a blatantly blindered piece, I think it is a reasonable assumption she lacks either the aptitude or the desire to absorb and address opposing arguments. I will allow her to decide which it is.

        Seriously, this reads like a piece of propaganda for a partisan political party, with everything aimed at rhetoric and persuasion and nothing aimed at understanding or enlightenment for either the author or the reader. It reminds me of a written version of the non-stop stream of partisan political commercials running all day long as the election approaches – chalk full of emotional hot buttons and rhetorical triggers.


          • My guess is it would be as useful to address Holly’s nonstop stream of partisan shots as it would be to yell at the TV set during a political ad.

            Neither is in any way intended to inform or enlighten. Just influence, even deceptively if necessary.

            Holly wraps herself in a veil which calls itself “progressive”, but everything in her style and rhetoric is the antithesis of the concept. Orwell would be proud.

            If she disagrees, she should say so and ask for honest feedback and open up to a dialogue. We could address her narrow concept of conservative, her blatant obfuscation of generation issues with ideology, her misunderstandings of the cause or escape from the Depression, her errors on trends of median well being, her confusion on the multifaceted nature of equality, her ignorance on crime rates by race, the relationship between incarceration and crime rates, or the long term trends in violence and warfare.


        • and and

          Is Holly wrong? If so, why? Even if you can’t change her mind, maybe you can change the mind of people who might be convinced by this post?

          The assumption seems to be that Holly could have ONLY written this piece if she was “blindered” and “demonstrat[ing] no awareness whatsoever of the existence, much less the content, of any arguments against the highly debatable assumptions [she’s] making.” But maybe she actually fairly considered all of those arguments and STILL reached the conclusions she did.

          It seems like your collective response is, “Someone wrote a really opinionated piece that I completely disagree with so I won’t engage with it.” Is that really the ground your staking out?


          • Kazzy,

            I respect your opinion and would gladly discuss any of the subtopics that I laid out (immediately above) with YOU, or with of course Holly if she was actually interested in a dialogue. I will let her respond if she is interested. Otherwise I will assume I am just talking to a political ad.

            So are you interested in discussing any of the issues of disagreement I pointed in my final paragraph above? There are quite a few (and I only listed out the major ones) so it may be best to narrow it to an area of interest to you.


            • I’m not particularly interested in the argument Holly put forth one way or another because I don’t see much value in saying one group simply has better ideas than another. So if the argument is, “Which group has better ideas (and, therefore, isbetter): Millennials or Boomers?” I would likely quietly bow out of the conversation. Just not my cup of tea. And that is even assuming we have an accurate representation of the two groups in question, which I tend to reflexively assume we don’t regardless of who is making the argument.

              So… if the question is: “Is Holly right or wrong?” I respectfully abstain.

              Now, if the question is: What is the preferable position on Topic X? I find that a much more interesting conversation.

              But as I see it, Holly wrote a piece in which she essentially said, “Millennials have it right and Boomers had/have it wrong.” And you, LTL, and BB seem to have responded by saying, “You don’t understand the Boomers and/or conservatism and took a myopic, self-serving view in your analysis.”
              I can’t say if Holly is right. I can’t say if you/LTL/BB are right. I simply don’t know enough about the topics at hand to weigh in.

              But I guess what I struggled with was the notion that arguments like Holly should be reserved for preaching to the choir. I generally find preaching to choirs to be of minimal value and the sort of thing that limits understanding and curtails constructive dialogue. So to encourage her to do that felt… wrong. Holly is offering her (very likely ideologically-informed) analysis to a rather ideologically diverse audience in which people can disagree, pick it apart, submit counter-arguments, challenge her assumptions, and refute her arguments. To me, that seems like a very good thing… even if (perhaps because!) she is very wrong.

              I’m not saying you have to engage with her. I guess I’d just rather see a response like, “You are wrong and biased and here is why…” than “You are wrong and biased and should just go talk to other people who are similarly wrong and biased so you can be wrong and biased together.”

              Does that make sense? I’m not defending Holly’s arguments as much as I’m defending Holly making those arguments in a space like this to an audience like this. I think Holly getting challenged (as she is by many people down thread) is a much better process than Holly talking to other likeminded individuals in one echo chamber and another echo chamber emerging wherein it is discussed how wrong Holly is.

              But maybe I’m just whacky like that.


              • There was a pretty clear “She’s wrong, and partisan, and biased, and totally wrong, and should shut up” with no actual explanation of how she’s wrong, totally biased, or partisan.

                Just disagreement with a bit of an implied “She’s young and stupid, so what’s the point of discourse with someone like her”.

                It was…weirdly combative a response, like she’d peed in their cornflakes or something.


                • I fully understand and appreciate how conservatives can be made to feel on their heels here. While we aim for ideological diversity — and I think achieve it better than just about any site out there — we do have the ways in which we lean and we aren’t always welcoming to conservative viewpoints. So I get Brandon’s initial response to a piece like the one Holly submitted. But then when invited… encouraged!… to offer a different viewpoint, I’m not sure I understood the response from there.


                  • You are assuming either of us are conservatives. I certainly am not, but I am at least somewhat aware of the nature of conservativism and its pros and cons. Can she?


                • I never accused her of being too young, I never asked her to shut up, I specifically laid out the areas of disagreement to Kazzy and I ENCOURAGED engagement if she or anyone else is interested. Yes, I suspect she isn’t interested. But I could be wrong.


                  • I suspect, and I have absolutely no idea where I get this idea, that if she wants to discuss certain topics, they’re healthcare, warfare, and social justice.

                    Feel free to talk about whatever you want (heck, I am below), but not sure why she has to talk about your partially-overlapping list to have a “serious discussion.” That said, if you want to talk about something, talk about it. The only thing you’ve said this whole thread is that you don’t like the author’s politics. Which is nice for you, I guess, but otherwise matters little without showing your work.

                    Also, though I would wish it otherwise, post authors don’t have to engage in the comments on this site at all.


                    • The central argument here is that the current days are much improved from times past.
                      Healthcare, warfare, and social justice are examples cited in support, as distinct form the support itself.

                      There are a number of underlying assumptions, not the least of which is that optimal conduct from limited information may be adequately assessed from a position of more comprehensive information while disregarding the limitations on information at both points.

                      Frankly, that is one thing that I learned from parenting– to forgive my own parents their shortcomings.
                      They were much younger than my own memory gives them credit for, and they were doing the best they could as they tried to figure things out while making their way.
                      That is, I learned to forgive.
                      From there, I learned to reserve judgment.
                      It is that same tendency that gives me hesitation in condemning the piece.

                      There are general tendencies that are shown in generations.
                      The big one that separates the Boomers is lack of valuation of work/life balance, while subsequent generations tend to value this progressively greater.

                      The piece suffers from hyperbole and peevishness, and would be stronger without those elements.
                      My 2¢.


              • If Holly is interested in any serious discussion, then she can say so, and I will engage her.

                Would she like to discuss:
                1). The nature of conservative ideology?
                2). The nature and methodology of progress?
                3). The causes of the Great Depression?
                4). The complex nature of equality (beyond simple notions of equality of outcome regardless of contribution)
                5). The relationship between incarceration and crime?
                6). Racial disparities in murder or violent crime?
                7). Median well being trends over the past generation?
                8). Long term trends of violence and warfare?
                9). The differences between generations and ideology and the obfuscation that results from mixing the two?
                10). The scale and explanations for improvement in human prosperity and flourishing over the past two hundred years (which she actually underestimates)?

                I am assuming she is not really interested in a dialogue on any of these. This assumption comes from the way the article was written. Her rhetoric showed all the nuance of partisan speaking points, and no sign of any understanding of any of the above topics or contradictory views.

                A simple comment to the contrary from her would correct me.


          • She doesn’t make much of an effort to prove that Millennials are right – it’s an “arc of history” argument in which generational differences are ipso facto decided in the favor of the newest idea. I don’t even think she’s wrong on the benefits of universal healthcare and reducing incarceration. She just failed to make the case.

            When it comes to specific issues, the author is very light on specifics and heavy on assumptions. Universal healthcare, we are told, “should be the crowning achievement of every ‘civilized’ society.” by her own say-so. “Forward thinking” countries have universal healthcare. They’re forward thinking because they have universal healthcare. The fact that ACA was passed by a boomer President and a mostly boomer Congress is immaterial.

            As for the atomic bomb, the fact that millennials are more opposed than boomers doesn’t do work the author says it does. “Group opposes war-related thing” and “group is more in favor of peace” are not the same. Perhaps boomers, who spent more time with the WWII generation, understand the necessity of using the bomb in a way the Millennials don’t. Perhaps boomers saw, over the course of many Cold War conflicts, that using the bomb once to end a war contributed to the fact that it hasn’t been used to start one.

            The presence of more misery p*rn on your Facebook feed doesn’t mean that the world is getting more dangerous. It just means that open wounds and dirty, crying children are as still effective clickbait. I would argue that the management of the end of the Soviet Union, the re-unification of Germany and the destabilization of puppet states worldwide could have been handled much, much worse.

            In the social justice section, we see more lack of historical perspective. The author may not have been around when there was a murder in New York every six hours. The Bronx was not burning in most Millennials’ lifetime. Mass incarceration isn’t cheap, it wasn’t done for sh*ts and giggles. Things were very, very bad and people had good reasons to believe that it would help.

            Besides, it’s not like Millennials have a more coherent view on the issue either. The “non-violent drug offender” mantra is low-hanging fruit and accounts for a small percentage of the prison population. Millennials can talk about rehabilitation until their faces turn blue, but the second you get a rapist or a hate crime in the mix, they’re baying for blood like it’s mid-day on AM talk radio.

            All that taken into account, the millennials v boomers conflict misses the point. Any positive social change that happens now does so within the framework of boomer-dominated leadership of most institutions (except for the mostly pre-boomer SCOTUS) and most of the bad things that happened when boomers were growing up (when things were supposedly getting screwed up for millennials) were done by their parents’ generation.

            What we’re left with then is a “turnabout is fair play” appeal to stereotypes of varying levels of accuracy.


      • @kazzy:

        Sort of? The problem is that there’s really no argument to rebut. Her whole argument, as points out, is that millennials are great because they tend to agree with her. I’m not a big fan of generational wars, and I’m a borderline millennial myself, but it’s kind of funny how much that plays into the stereotype.

        Anyway, she’s not actually making an argument for any of the things in here that I object to; she’s just throwing them out there as if it were obvious that any reasonable person would agree that those are obviously points in millennials’ favor. And there are so many that I don’t know where to start. If she had written a piece trying to make the case for one or two of those points, that would be a good starting-point for a discussion, but as it is, I don’t know what to say, other than what I said.

        There’s also the fact that she doesn’t really have a record of meaningful engagement with commenters on this site. I’m not complaining, especially since I’m not so great with follow-through myself, but there doesn’t seem to be much point in putting a lot of work into a response to someone who’s not likely to reciprocate.


  2. And yet, in many other ways, it seems there are forces at work in this world that want to desperately turn back the clock on every scrap of social progress we’ve made over the last generation. Conservatism is not merely the name of a political ethos — it is a way of thinking, and frequently a substitute for rationality, and was brought into this world in its current form by our parents’ and grandparents’ generation. And it now touches every aspect of modern life. Conservatism is not “family values” and it has nothing to do with religion — it is an aversion to progress itself.

    C’mon, this is just being abusive

    And poverty eradication? Its only gradual if you don’t look beyond your own borders. The drastic reduction in poverty in east and southeast asia brought about by boomer generation policies. Major contributions for that include free trade agreements as well as international institutions like the world bank and the IMF. We also shouldn’t underestimate the role the vietnam war played in buying time for a number of countries south of indochina to rid themselves of communist threats. If the vietnam war hadn’t been fought, places like Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines would be a lot like Venezuela now. To the extent that China’s opening up its market was a reaction to and imitation of the success of Hong kong and Singapore, then China would still be a gigantic maoist hell hole. So, there has been far more progress on a number of fronts that you understate.

    Race relations seem particularly bad now, but that is only because you are unaware of how bad it was before twitter. In all probability the only difference between now and 10 years ago is that 10 years ago white people didn’t know how badly blacks were being treated by the cops. And surely the falling crime rate can be owed to something the boomers did right (perhaps roe vs wade?) even if not their crime policy exactly. But social justice is more than just race. Comparing the debate on immigration now to where it was 10 years ago, a lot more people are open to free-er migration and the acceptance of refugees. On LGBTQ issues, we are so far away from where we were 10, let alone 20 years ago that saying we are worse off on the social justice dimension is astounding. And surely some of this progress is attributable to boomers. After all, boomer activists, CEOs, and yes, politicians have been the ones to allow gay partners to enjoy spousal benefits in the companies, enacted the judicial changes the legalised SSM and fought for those changes and set up a welcoming environment for LGBT teens newly out of the closet.


          • His numbers have taken a hardive but mainly among independents. He has been largely abandoned by enough Republican leaning women to put normally red states like Arizona into play. From what it seems the #nevertrumpers were right. Trump is driving enough blacks and Hispanics into the Democratic Party to give HRC a solid edge in many states.

            The demographic maps are still real though. The Democratic Party is a true coalition of minorities and just enough white voters. Trump would still win if only whites voted and even if only white women voted.

            The GOP is on a demographic cliff.


            • RCP moved Texas to “toss-up”.

              I don’t think you need anything other than that piece of information to understand the damage Trump is doing to the GOP brand. (Although in all honesty, the GOP did this damage to themselves).


              • @morat20

                The issue seems to be is that no one knows how much Trump is fing things up for the Republicans.

                He can still theoretically win but most of the debate is now will HRC have a narrow victory, an Obama victory, or an even more dramatic landslide.


                • I just tried to early vote this morning in Texas. The lines are insane. I’ve never seen anything like them (well, not personally. On TV yes).

                  I had to go into work instead (I might try back later this afternoon), but my county is shattering early voting records and they’re not the only one.

                  The news stories I’ve read about the rest of the state tended to focus on the heavy Latino early turnout , which doesn’t bode well for Trump.


                • He can still theoretically win but most of the debate is now will HRC have a narrow victory, an Obama victory, or an even more dramatic landslide.

                  All the atoms in my body can *theoretically* quantum tunnel two inches to the left and reassemble me there, too. But I have to say that’s probably not going to happen.

                  A while back, when we were predicting Clinton vs. Trump, I predicted we’d probably get Clinton winning by Obama amounts, or Trump would do something stupid and his loss would be a blowout.

                  Man, I feel stupid for hedging now. I really should have assumed that Trump would do repeated stupid things.

                  The only people ‘debating’ are people that exist to provide airtime on TV. Clinton is already at ‘dramatic landslide’, and, for some reason, the massive amounts of early voting this election (Which is something that seems like it need some stories trying to explain them, but I haven’t seen them.) means she’s…probably already won, functionally.

                  The only actual interesting question left for the nation are ‘What will this do with Congress?’. And people in various states, like me in Georgia, have the interesting question of what our state will do.


                  • Concurred. The reason I say he could theoretically still win is because I have an irrational fear of being over-confident.

                    I think the Democratic Party is going to have a Senate majority. Somewhere along the lines of 52-54. The Democrats will gain seats in Illinois, Pennsylvania, NH, and Wisconsin. Indiana and Missouri look likely to flip as well. I suspect Nevada will stay Democratic for the Reid’s seat. Rubio is likely to win releection according to 538 but I suspect a strong showing for HRC in that state can help Murphy. Same with North Carolina.

                    The House is harder to predict. The Democrats need to gain 30 seats to have a majority and gerrymandering makes this hard. But if HRC has a landslide victory, all bets are off.


      • A few points:

        1. Most people, whether on the left or right substitute some way of thinking for rational thought. Rational thought is in fact incredibly hard and most people who think they are thinking rationally are in fact not. To single out conservatives here is abusive in that it implies that their opponents are better. They just happen to be lucky. It just turns out that this time, the way of thinking that progressives substitute for rational deliberation did not land them up with some left wing version of trump.

        2. While Trump is in not really incidental to the current conservative movement (Tod has adequately detailed how Trump or someone very much like him would have arisen sooner or later in the movement), he is in a sense incidental to conservatism itself. We can imagine conservatism (i.e. three legged stool stuff) without it being beholden to talk radio and fox news and hence not being vulnerable to the reality show antics that produced Trump. Its hard to see that paragraph or for that matter the post being sensitive to this kind of counterfactual. i.e. Given the rest of the post, Holly would have written it even if the Donald and the alt-right didn’t exist. In that case, this is aimed at conservatism generally and not any particular phenomenon that is a product of its current instantiation. We would be having this conversation even if Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio was the nominee. You can’t go from Trump to therefore conservatism is a mental defect.

        3. Also, it is abusive because it is gratuitous. We can talk about how we’ve progressed and whether boomers have screwed us over without taking pot shots at conservatives, accurate or otherwise. There is a significant consensus in this site about LGBT issues, race issues, foreign policy issues, even regarding incarceration. There is some disagreement about healthcare and other economic issues but reasonable discussion can be had about those. Meaning there is substantive common ground to work from. to explore the issue. The shot at conservatives was unnecessary

        4. Such pot shots are not how you go about doing things if you want peaceful political transitions amidst immense political disagreement. There is also something untoward about demoting all your political opponents from epistemic peerhoood merely because you happen to disagree with them. By implying that conservative thought patterns are anti-reliable she sets it up so that she doesn’t need to listen to them. Sam Wilkinson does a very similar thing when he writes as if conservatism is a thoroughly nefarious movement. There is a kind of failure to afford recognition respect to other co-citizens.


        • We can imagine conservatism (i.e. three legged stool stuff) without it being beholden to talk radio and fox news and hence not being vulnerable to the reality show antics that produced Trump.

          We can, and in such an imaginary world, we can further imagine (though I’m unsure why we would) that Ms. Whitman’s argument might have only differed in a few superficial details. However, if we proceed to consider this hypothetical scenario, there would be a pretty devastating counter-argument that is not available here on Earth A: Trump offered conservatives that, and they sent him packing.

          As for this reality, those “three-legged stool” conservatives, including ones who now have abjured the Donald and all his works, spent two decades and more reaping the benefits of Fox News and talk radio, in terms of votes, funding and activist energy for their preferred policies. Many of them have stuck with Trump even as they publicly wring their hands over his awfulness because they need him to make those crucial cuts to marginal tax rates, or appoint a fifth vote to overturn Roe to the Supreme Court, or some other policy goal that I’m sure is vitally important.

          Thus, the left is burdened with the responsibility of keeping democracy running not just by, you know, voting and adhering to the results of the vote, but also by granting forgiveness in the absence of penitence, and adhering to terms of surrender when no surrender has been offered. After all, just because the structure of our political coalition, and the values that animate it, preclude making Donald Trump our standard bearer, maybe we can imagine a world where they didn’t? And aren’t imaginary failures just as bad as real ones?


    • I don’t think Singapore can be compared economically to the other countries you mentioned. The Phillipines is poor enough that a good chunk of their GDP comes from remittances. College educated Filipinos still make more abroad as nannies and home health aides than in their native country.

      Not to mention they are horrifying the world right now with extra-judicial killings of drug addicts.

      Malaysia also seems to be rather corrupt.

      Is all this better than being red?


    • international institutions like the world bank and the IMF

      I believe the examples are properly viewed as organs of the Washington Consensus rather than “international institutions” as the term is normally understood.


  3. I really don’t understand what you’re trying to say Holly. First, you’re argument about “are you better off in the last 4 years” is a perfectly legit question-most folks vote close to their pocket books.

    Then you segue into whether the “world” better off from when you were born, and you spend the rest of the time talking about how much better off the First World is. That’s actually a debatable point, one that I don’t want to get into, because I think there’s a better comment to make. So let me address that, from the spirit of ” If the answer is “no,” and you consider yourself an informed and politically conscious adult, you have some explaining to do.”

    Since there are so many possible ways to view your question, I’ll just answer it from the perspective of the 2nd and 3rd world. The rest of the world lives in poverty…still. Wars and civil strife, diseases, you name it, all continue apace. Acts justified by religion, corruption, power, all continue: Millions of people have been killed by their gov’ts in my lifetime-in Asia and the Middle East, . The US has directly contributed to the killing of tens of thousands of Iraqi children. Acts of genocide have been attempted (Rwanda, Kosovo). Gov’ts have intentionally starved their own populations. Any marginal improvement in these people’s lives really hasn’t been significant on the scale of the time duration under review. The daily life of these people is pretty much the same as it has been.

    But I do take heart in Reader’s Digest link you provided, which claims that global warming isn’t making hurricanes worse. Good to know.


  4. Just about every charge described in this article as being leveled at Millennials, I remember being leveled at Gen X (my generation) some 15-20 years ago. We’re demographically weak (the smallest demographic cohort since the turn of the 20th century, I think), so no one pays attention to us any more, other than a few folks who apparently think we’re gonna be willing to sacrifice more for the sake of saving the economy and Social Security….

    I’ll also note we’ll probably NEVER get a Gen-X president; the “main” choices right now are both Boomers. Not that I think a Gen-X president would be any better of a choice given the way politics goes, it seems to select for a certain type of person….

    And I will note: this MAY be the best time to be alive, but it’s damned far from Prof. Pangloss’ “Best of all possible worlds.” I am happy vaccines and good water hygiene and antibiotics exist, but there is still a ton of stuff wrong with the world, a lot of it having to do with how people treat each other. Though I doubt that will EVER get better, looking at the history I’ve read.


      • President Obama, like myself, was by most accounts of these sorts of things born right on the tail end the boomer generation.

        TBH, I’ve always found these generational monikers arbitrary and confusing. People are born every day and the demographic stats are continuous rather than discreet functions.

        That said, there are certain experiential markers which seem significant. For instance, as a child in the sixties I grew up with Walter Cronkite reporting the casualties in Vietnam on the nightly news. As a teenager in the seventies my political awareness was shaped in large part by the Watergate scandal, news reports showing Angelenos wearing face masks against the smog, the OPEC driven gas prices, and double-digit mortgage interest rates. Anecdotally, I find that many of my school friends from then, many of whom I would have expected to be conservative by disposition, actually ended up pretty close to my politics; a vague mixture of liberal tending toward libertarian.

        It’s sort of weird being on the cusp of these things.


        • They are somewhat arbitrary and confusing, but there are only so many areas where we are allowed to generalize about the intangible traits of people who share a handful of measurable traits and “birth year” is one of the safest.

          People who remember Kennedy’s assassination.
          People who remember the Vietnam body counts on the nightly news.
          People who remember Columbia blowing up.
          People who remember the Berlin Wall falling.
          People who remember 9/11.

          There are also cultural ones but these get smooshed across generations because of reruns and Saturday television. (How many generations grew up with the Three Stooges? Looney Toons? Scooby Doo? Happy Days/Laverne and Shirley? The Smurfs?)


          • I’m just weird anyway because my family is demographically weird. I had people of one grandmother’s generation (a great-uncle I never met) who fought in WWI. My parents are “Silent Generation” (born just before WWII) and in some ways my attitudes are more like theirs than they are of my fellow Xers or even the Boomers.

            Also, I’m older than most “Xers” so I remember a world without home computers, without phone answering machines, and my family didn’t have cable until I was in college.

            I tend to be far more “you kids get off my lawn” than many of my generation. In some ways, I think I was born old and cranky.


            • I hear ya about the demographic weirdness. I’m the youngest of five and my oldest sib is 16 years my senior. She had her first child, my oldest niece, when I was five. I started my family relatively late in life and my youngest was born when I was 42. So there’s a 38 year difference between the oldest and youngest of that batch of cousins.


          • Note: not merely pedantic, but somewhat relevant… The Columbia blew up in 2003. The Challenger blew up in 1986. On a morning when I was going to give a presentation in my sophomore communications class, and had dropped by Safeway to pick up a videotape as required to film the presentation, and saw the news on their wall of TVs (pretty damn fresh, too, since it was a morning class, and it happened at 8:30 Pacific). Note: in 1986, Safeway “super stores” sold videotapes. And TVs.

            I’m firmly Gen X.

            I’ve always dated the end of the Boom musically, either (early) when the British came back for best-out-of-three or (late) when Hendrix died and we were all condemned to another decade of insipid folk-inspired crap (on the bright side, I didn’t have to deal with that decade as it happened, it just confused the hell out of me when I went to used-record stores).


        • The baby boom lasted between 1945 and 1964 but your experience as a baby boomer differed dramatically depending on your date of birth. My parents were born in 46 and 47. That makes them true boomers in many way. The type of person whose life was marked by suburbimzation, the Beatles, Civil Rights, Vietnam, and the Countet Culture. It all ended with Watergate and Nixon’s fall.

          People born during the early 1960s experienced all of the classic boomer events as children if they experienced them at all. They were in their teens and twenties during the 1970s and 1980s. Their young adulthood was entirely different in its milestones.


            • I mainly relate to Gen X more because of my stances on technology. I can remember a time without computers and cell phones but had a laptop through out college.

              On the other hand, I am skeptical of services like Venmo and find Snapchat confusing.


            • Ha! I was born in 78 also, but consider myself a Millennial both because I *do* have younger brothers, and because I was doing computers way earlier than any of my peers (Let’s just say I remember being excited for Windows 3.1), and because it took a rather long time to get through college due to random circumstances and starting and stopping. I was graduating with people who were three and four years younger than me.

              Oh, and also I was completely disconnected from Gen X culture in high school, due to, frankly, not really many friends, and by the time I actually started interacting with people, it was at college, with people a few years younger than me.

              And even now, currently, the place I *actually* interact with people (I work at home for a small company.) is the theatre I volunteer at, or people I met via there , and that is absurdly full of two types of people…retired people, and high school and college students, or people who were very recently college students.

              I mean, I know I’m at least a decade older than they are, but I identify with them more than the 70 year old people.


      • Okay, granted. Though in some less-developed nations people are making strides towards increasing it. And healthcare is better, provided people don’t choose to reject it. (Don’t get me started on anti-vaxxers).

        I have a parent who grew up without running water and so indoor plumbing is on the top of my list of “things I’m grateful I have”


        • filly,
          I went to one of the few streams in the Western Hemisphere where you can drink out of it without treating it. (Nearly fell over when the guides said “you can have a drink” — they have it tested)


          • Wow. I have known two people in my life who contracted horrible illnesses (one was Giardia, I forget what the other was) from drinking untreated surface water.

            It’s just another reason why I prefer not to camp, given the choice: needing a drink and having to wait either for the water to boil for five minutes (then cool down) or for the iodine to dissolve….

            (I have also lived through days-long boil orders and through a broken intake line to my house. Neither was fun.)


            • I had a dog get giardia once.

              Not a small dog, about an 80lb dog. He became…symptomatic..at night, In the kitchen. The resultant mess was the most horrifying thing I have ever seen in my life.

              On the bright side, easily treatable and kind of hilarious to watch as they rehydrated him. They dumped a bunch of liquids into him, but in this weird way that kinda put all the fluid into the loose area between skin and muscle on his neck (you know, that scruff area). So the dog had a football sized mass just kind of wandering around his neck over the next few hours. Didn’t seem to bother him. He just slept.


            • Dude! Iodine is old school. New school is UV light — toss your penlight in your drink, give it a stir, voila! (only works without turbidity). Or use a decent pump.

              I’ve never had iodated water, and man, I never want to (carried it for emergencies, naturally).


    • I think Obama counts as Generation X if only barely.

      Though I doubt there will be any late Generation Xers like myself who become President. People born between 78-80 are just ignored. We were too young when people originally wrote about Gen X and too old by the time society began paying attention to Millennials.


  5. Just about every charge described in this article as being leveled at Millennials, I remember being leveled at Gen X (my generation) some 15-20 years ago.

    Seems like generational disapproval is just part of the natural order of things. I think this comic captures it.

    (Edit: oops, was meant as a reply to fillyjonk)


  6. Universal healthcare should be the crowning achievement of every “civilized” society.

    If I have a gun and point it at someone and order them to give me money or else, I’m a barbarian.
    If I have a gun and point it at a doctor and order them to give me healthcare or else, I’m a barbarian.
    If I have a gun and point it at someone and order them to give me money or else, then I give that money to a doctor and tell them to provide healthcare or else, I’m civilized.


    • Because taxes are collected on pain of firing squad, and Doctors who don’t take insurance are… (totally within their rights to do so)?

      Interesting sentence structure; complete lack of substance.


      • I’m merely pointing out that there is a blood price to be paid if one wants “the crowning achievement of ‘civilized’ society”

        Barbarians are rejecting universal healthcare. Barbarians are even rejecting Medicaid expansion.

        As any good Civ player knows, the first order of business is to ruthelessly root out and exterminate the barbarians.

        I’m awaiting Ms. Whitman to build her Warrior units.

        Oh, that’s right, they say they oppose armed conflict.

        Good thing Lincoln didn’t believe that.


        • What “blood price” specifically, in reality, would be paid if we introduced a public option on the exchanges?

          The United States of America is not well defined by Sid Meier.


          • I don’t get what it is about a public option that leftists find so entrancing. I have two hypotheses:

            1. You think government is magic and can deliver health insurance more cheaply than private insurers can.

            2. You know full well that it can’t, but are actually calling for a tax-subsidized public option, which will drive the unsubsidized private options out of business, eventually leading to fully socialized health care.


            • 1. You think government is magic and can deliver health insurance more cheaply than private insurers can.

              Weird how apparently magic works in most first world countries then.

              Oh well, Kim’s certainly right — I guess economies of scale, bulk bargaining power, and of course the absence of a profit motive and surprisingly low overhead must be magic to you.

              Which is weird, given we handle healthcare for the sickest and oldest risk pool in America that way. They’re quite pricey, those folks. I understand the overhead is remarkably low — none of that “only 20% medical-loss-ratio” — It’s like what, 4%?


            • (disclosure: I probably don’t count as a “leftist”) I admit, I support something like a public option, but see how it might go wrong:

              1. Doctor’s might not accept patients who carry it and requiring doctors to accept them might not be as easy as simply passing a law, or it might create some big problems for medical providers.

              2. It might set a “lowest minimum price” in which the lowest minimum price is actually quite high. In short, it could be a boon to insurers and not the check that some imagine it to be.

              Here’s what I’d like it to do, if wishes were fishes, etc.:

              1. Offer an insurance that anyone could get and pay for based on a sliding scale. So they’d have at least one option for insurance.

              2. Provide some competition to insurers, perhaps after the restriction on interstate insurance sales be lifted. (But see my above fear about how “lowest minimum price” might actually function.)

              3. Help ease a transition away from employer provided health insurance and from employer mandates under ACA.

              4. Provide a way to ease the pressure on insurers, maybe by permitting them to cap lifetime contributions, after which point patients might transfer to a public option.

              All that’s very sketchy and I’m making a lot of assumptions about what works. (I’m also out of my element, not knowing much about insurance or health care provision.) I agree with Megan McArdle when she says simply having the government run things won’t automatically drive down costs. But I’m hopeful that if done right, a public option could be helpful.


              • interstate insurance sales be lifted

                I really dislike this idea, because it seems primed for a regulatory race-to-the-bottom where some state like North Dakota decides it wants a bunch of tax revenue from health insurance and therefore guts its regulations. Then other states can’t do anything to enforce now-standard regulations on health insurance.

                #3, though, I’m fully on board with.


                • Inter state insurance sales face one huuuge problem. Insurance companies offer care within their networks. They don’t’ have giant nation wide networks so any company in ND or Delaware wouldn’t have a network to offer HI is Cali or WA or NJ. Building those networks either wouldn’t happen at all, so companies wouldn’t get in those markets, have giant problems with adjusting for local procedure costs and would add cost and more paperwork to do so. It is a ideological solution that ignores the reality of how health insurance works.


                  • Well, that can be legislated or regulated. “No foreign carrier may offer coverage in a given region unless [X] number of physicians within that region have indicated that they will accept that carrier’s coverage.”

                    Where “[X] number of physicians” really means so many G.P.’s, so many OB/GYNs, so many dermatologists, so many oncologists, etc., such that a typical constellation of oft-used specialists are reasonably accessible to patients.

                    Now, this means more regulation and oversight, of course, but the truth is that today’s GOP doesn’t really have a problem with that sort of thing. I strongly suspect that the only significant problem most GOP legislators really have with Obamacare are the first three syllables of the program’s label.


                    • Where “[X] number of physicians” really means so many G.P.’s, so many OB/GYNs, so many dermatologists, so many oncologists, etc., such that a typical constellation of oft-used specialists are reasonably accessible to patients.

                      That already *is* the law. Well,not ‘so many’, but there maximum distance rules about in-network services.

                      Which means selling across state lines is often *impossible*. Literally impossible. Because when state X passes a ‘buying across state line’ laws allow you to sell an insurance plan in X if you can sell it in Y, but Y won’t let you sell it in Y because…you don’t have any doctors in Y in your network, you just have them in X. Oops.

                      See my post below: DavidTC,


                    • Well yeah but insurance companies are unlikely to even want to build those kind of networks. It means a lot of effort and risk to try to move into new areas. The big companies already do that do a degree but it isn’t like all the big players are trying to move into every state. The smaller companies don’t’ have the resources. Setting up nationwide networks is just unlikely.


                • I really dislike this idea, because it seems primed for a regulatory race-to-the-bottom where some state like North Dakota decides it wants a bunch of tax revenue from health insurance and therefore guts its regulations. Then other states can’t do anything to enforce now-standard regulations on health insurance.

                  Oh, they can’t do that. And *insurance* companies know that, which is why they aren’t pushing for it. *Republicans*, however, have not caught the memo, and are still pushing to allow insurance companies to do something that is literally impossible.

                  Not a bad idea, but they *literally* cannot happen, except in a few edge cases. Yes, the Republicans are actually that stupid.

                  Why? (Not why are Republicans that stupid, why can’t it happen?)

                  Because the way the laws are written (And my state actually *has* the ability for people to purchase insurance across state lines!), for a (for example) New York insurance plan to be legal to sale in Georgia, it has to be legal to be sold New York.

                  With me so far?

                  Now, for a plan to be legal to sell to people in any location, it has to have *doctors* and *hospitals* around those people. It is not legal to create a place that only has western New York medical stuff in it, and sell it New York *City* so people have to travel across the state to see a doctor. The distance people can be required to travel to reach a doctor varies by state, but there’s always *some* requirement…you can only sell a plan to people in a certain zip code if those people can get in-network care within X miles.

                  Catch the paradox yet? For a New York plan to be legal to buy in Georgia, it has be legal to buy in New York. And it can only be legal to buy in New York if it, at minimum, *has doctors in New York*.

                  Insurance companies *can’t* make a *Georgia-only* plan and operate it under *New York* law, because New York law doesn’t let you sell insurance to New Yorkers that people would have to drive to Georgia to use! And since they can’t sell the plan in New York…they can’t sell that plan in Georgia.

                  Ooooops. The entire concept of selling insurance across state lines for a ‘regulatory race-to-the-bottom’ is completely fucking nonsensical and DOA.

                  Well, insurance companies could, essentially, try to create two separate networks, one in New York and one in Georgia, and sell ‘the same plan’ in both places and just assume that people are only going to access the closest one, but that is an actuarial *nightmare* and no one is going to do that.

                  The only place anyone might actually sell plans across state lines is…literally doing them across a state line, like having a Kansas City plan that has both Kansas and Missouri providers in it.


                  • The only place anyone might actually sell plans across state lines is…literally doing them across a state line, like having a Kansas City plan that has both Kansas and Missouri providers in it.

                    These, BTW, already exist. It’s just one plan with Kansas+Missouri doctors on one side of the river, and a different plan with Kansas+Missouri doctors on the other side. It’s perfectly legal to include *doctors* in another state on a plan.

                    Maybe even it’s currently the same company doing it, and just abiding by two different sets of regulations depending on where the plan is sold. Changing the laws to allow selling across state lines would allow them to pick a set of regulations to follow.

                    Maybe that’s a good idea, and would make thing cheaper because of less overhead. Maybe it’s not a good idea because they’d automatically pick the laxer regulations. I don’t know.

                    But I do know it sure is a much more *limited* idea that Republicans (And Democrats!) seem to think, and would cause absolutely no change whatsoever in the vast majority of markets. It would neither magically fix everything *or* cause a race to the bottom.


                    • Maybe this is something else, but in the NYC-Metro area, you can use your plan in multiple states. Oxford covers my sons’ pedes in NY and their births in NJ.

                      I have the same exact plan as my colleagues in NJ.


                      • Yes, a *plan* still can cover things in multiple states, it just can’t be *sold* to people in multiple states.

                        Well, it _can_, but the plan has to follow all the rules of all states it’s being sold in. Unless they have some sort of insurance compact with other states. (Which is basically ‘allow people to buy across state lines’, but only for plans from *specific*, usually nearby, states.)

                        And, my comments were about individual plans.

                        With employer-provided plans, I think it depends on where the employer is, not where the employees live. I.e., a company near the line buys a plan in the state they’re in, and someone living across a line can still be on it.

                        My point is not that insurance plans across state lines doesn’t exist, my point is that plans sold across state lines requires *providers in the original states* be on the plan, which makes it nearly nonsensical that the same thing will happen to health insurance as what happened to, for example, credit card companies, where they all operate under Delaware law.

                        Which is what Republicans desperately seem to want to happen because they delusionally think HI companies want it, Democrats desperately try to stop because they delusionally think it can happen, and health insurance companies just stare baffled at the entire nonsensical thing.

                        I mean, it *is* possible that one day, Republicans could catch on to this and start writing laws that ‘allow insurance plans to be sold in this state that *could*, hypoethically, be sold in other states if they had any providers in that state, even if they don’t, but that would sorta give the game away. Right now the laws Republicans are trying to pass are ‘allow insurance plans to be sold in this state if they’re able to be sold in other states’, and no one seems to notice that ‘able to be sold in other states’ requires, uh, providers in those states, because you cannot legally sell a plan with no local providers.


            • I don’t understand what it is about rightists that makes them refuse to accept the government is good at non-military things.

              The government ALREADY DOES provide far cheaper healthcare than the private sector, and it does it via economies of scale, low overhead, and by not engaging in abusive cycles of claim rejections and litigation that dramatically increase transaction costs. Why don’t you think that would work in the ACA marketplace?

              Moreover, why not try? If the government sucks at it, they’ll be outcompeted. If it doesn’t, people will get a better choice than they currently have. Seems like a nice market experiment to my “leftist” sensibilities.


            • You think government is magic and can deliver health insurance more cheaply than private insurers can.

              ‘Health insurance’ is not a thing. It is not a good, it is not a service. It is just a middle man, and it’s just a middle man *of money*. That’s it. That is all that is.

              ‘Health insurance’ is a bunch of bureaucracy, plus collecting and distributing money. That is the entire thing. It is not like building roads or selling cookies or washing windows, where there might be some private innovation.

              I am hard pressed to see *how* private industry, which has to take a cut of the profits, *could* possibly do that as cheaply as the government. The government, after all, is an expert at collecting money from people, and actually already has a system for distributing it to the medical industry also!

              Nor, I should point out, can ‘health insurance’ suffer from the ‘failure to predict the market’ that most government planned markets suffer from, because it doesn’t actually make anything and thus cannot have shortages or excesses.

              The only possible argument is that government’s bureaucracy would be larger than private industry, as the government has little incentive to reduce that…which is *possibly* true, but, OTOH, the fact that every medical provider has to have their own bureaucracy to deal with dozens of private companies sorta outweighs that.


              • It’s better — in insurance, the larger and more varied your risk pool is, the more closely you can predict costs. Which means the more properly priced your premiums are, the more accurate your forecasts, etc.

                One way single-payer (whether nationalized, private-public hybrids, etc) work so cheaply is having a sufficient data set and proper risk spreading.

                A lot of rather…odd…problems with insurers also revolves around clients jumping ship — you make a client whose medical profile suggests an expensive problem jump through plenty of hoops, hoping he’ll switch insurance providers before you have to pay out the nose for whatever he’s got. (My Dad had that fun. When everyone was screaming about wait times for MRI’s in Canada, my Dad spent 12 months trying to get one approved in the US with a reputable company. They didn’t want to, because it almost certainly would have shown bone spurs, which require an expensive surgery to correct. Instead, he had to undergo all sorts of things — including physical therapy, wherein his therapist basically told him it was BS and that it was clearly a nerve issue)


              • There are two big ways to distribute a scarce resource.

                1. By Price
                2. By Queue

                Insurance is a way to make #1 more palatable. However, mixing the two is merely a very good way to get the worst of both worlds. Spend a lot of money on the exchanges and your health insurance will get you a place at the back of the line.

                Now, you say:
                I am hard pressed to see *how* private industry, which has to take a cut of the profits, *could* possibly do that as cheaply as the government. The government, after all, is an expert at collecting money from people, and actually already has a system for distributing it to the medical industry also!

                If “cheaply” is the measurement we care about, we need to stop doing #1 yesterday and shift fully to #2.

                At which point we can start freaking out about how some people have figured out ways to use money to jump place in line.

                We can also argue over whether distributing healthcare by price has resulted in more/better medical products than distributing healthcare by queue. (There is a lot of movement in here that might, at the end of the day, be little more than churn. For example, removing Painkiller X from the market right before it leaves patent protection and replacing it with Painkiller X Now With Antacid! which has patent protection for an additional however many years is not exactly groundbreaking research (especially if you get the same effect from taking Painkiller X and two Rolaids).)

                But there are costs and benefits to doing things by #2. There are (different) costs and benefits to doing things by #1. A healthy mix of both seems to be a good way to get the costs of both without the benefits of both.


                • Spend a lot of money on the exchanges and your health insurance will get you a place at the back of the line.

                  I don’t know if it’s actually what you’re saying, but I’ve seen other people say things like this, and I’m completely baffled at the idea that medical providers would, in any manner, care that insurance was gotten through the exchanges.

                  There are *valid* reasons for them to do that with Medicare, because Medicare forces doctors to accept lower rates.

                  But people who got insurance on the exchange have…completely normal health insurance, provided by an insurance company operating normally in that state. It, presumably, will get the medical provider *whatever that company has negotiated* with that provider, which is probably the same for *all* their plans, exchange and otherwise. Yes, the plan might be *narrower* for exchange plans, but that means ‘only the providers that are cheaper’, not ‘we will pay providers less’

                  Somewhere, the logic went in people’s head that said ‘1) Doctors don’t like dealing with Medicaid, 2) Medicaid is government provided insurance. 3) The exchanges are *sorta* government provided. Thus) Doctors must not like them either’, but the problem is that makes no sense. Doctors don’t dislike Medicaid because it is government provided, they dislike it because they are *required by law* to charge certain prices to Medicaid, and that doesn’t exist with exchange insurance.

                  If I present my Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance, and the doctor is on that plan, they don’t care one damn where I bought that plan, or even if that’s a plan that is specific to the exchange. They get $X from Blue Cross/Blue Shield regardless.


                  • I don’t know if it’s actually what you’re saying, but I’ve seen other people say things like this, and I’m completely baffled at the idea that medical providers would, in any manner, care that insurance was gotten through the exchanges.

                    This isn’t what I’m saying.

                    It’s more that I’m saying that we’ve got a ton of people purchasing insurance (and spending a lot of money for it, premiums going up and whatnot) and they are not getting particularly timely health care. Long waits for a doctor’s visit, long waits for a specialist visit. If you’ve got a high deductible for your plan (something a lot of people do), you’re going to find that your insurance doesn’t cover a lot of what you’re having done because a large chunk of GP-level stuff isn’t as expensive as the deductible. (I’m thinking annual checkups, blood work, so on and so forth.) However, this large chunk of stuff requires that you get in line and wait and wait and wait. (My last so-called “annual” checkup was 8 months after we requested it.)

                    They’re paying out the nose.
                    They’re waiting forever.

                    And, god help them if their annual deductible is $5000 and they need $4999 worth of work done.

                    I’m not talking about the doctors.
                    I’m talking about the people waiting in line despite paying out the nose for their health insurance.

                    Good news for the insurance companies: there are a lot more insured people than there used to be!


                • If “cheaply” is the measurement we care about, we need to stop doing #1 yesterday and shift fully to #2.

                  I guess you haven’t noticed my rants about how ‘insurance’ is a completely idiotic paradigm for providing social services?

                  Pulling that framework inside the government is the first step to getting rid of it.


        • I don’t know why you’re trolling so hard, but if you’re intending to suggest that Osama Bin Laden was killed because he has brown skin, well, show your work…

          If you’re suggesting something else, maybe you’ll be able to make the connection for me.


          • Terrorist hunting is something played more with the darker skinned folks, sure. The Irish and the other batshit crazy white folks don’t get shot by the US Government, now do they?
            Public/Private rape preserves are something that is done with darker skinned folks too. See Myanmar. (Though here you can at least cite the Ukraine, as a place where it happens to white folks too).


  7. You’d expect that a generation that grew up in the aftermath of World War II would be a bit more averse to the idea of perpetual warfare.

    They were. The commies weren’t though.

    But We’re With Her, amirite?


  8. (millennials are spending, on average, $12,600 less on their first car than Baby Boomers did),

    If you consider yourself part of the reality based community, and/or who values data journalism, you should be ashamed of yourself for using that infographic as a source.


  9. Vegetarianism:

    As much of the third world has begun its baby steps to enter the first world, they’ve abandoned a diet that relies heavily on a vegetarianism that makes exceptions for eggs and dairy and have started eating a great deal more meat. Given that meat is murder, the world is immeasurably worse off than it was when these additional hundreds of millions of people could not afford to eat fish, chicken, pork, or beef because they lived on less than a dollar a day.

    When you hear some fan of GDP going up talk about people being lifted out of poverty, think about a mountain of dead chickens because that is what that means.


  10. One healthcare conundrum that always makes me wonder:

    Is there a single treatment for a single ailment that should be withheld from an undocumented dreamer who doesn’t have insurance that should be available to Nobel Laureate Barack Obama were he to get the same ailment? (That is to say: is one of the goals to make sure that no one gets left behind by our health care?)

    As for the warfare and social justice sections… there are a lot of premises that we don’t share to the point where I’m not confident that we share enough common ground for us to properly argue about what The Good would entail.

    But the question about whether more money and more power ought to provide better health care in an ideal system has interesting implications.


        • Is this evidence of moral failure?

          Compared to what?

          I mean, it pretty much entails withholding of life-saving and ameliorative treatments from the poor.

          Every healthcare system does that, for some values of “life-saving and ameliorative treatments” and “the poor”.


            • Compared to our moral obligations.

              I think that’s only a meaningful criticism if you have an alternative that will do a better job meeting our moral obligations. I don’t see much reason to believe that prohibiting people from spending their own money on care is going to help us do so.

              So if I find examples of “well, every culture does that”, what else ought I be able to exclude from criticism?

              I’m not sure how to respond to criticism of the fact that every society has limited resources to devote to healthcare.


                • “Meaningful criticism” to my mind is criticism that can be addressed by reform.

                  I don’t think “better”, in this instance, is a weasel word. You’ve asserted a moral obligation to avoid withholding life-saving and ameliorative care to “the poor”. Providing more life-saving and ameliorative care to people who don’t have the money to afford it themselves will do a better job meeting those obligations than providing less of such care will do, right?


                  • Well, that addresses the “addressed by reform”, I guess.

                    I imagine that there are “sustainably” questions that we could use to dip, dodge and weave. There were also a number of issues with England doing this thing where if you used private funds to get private treatment (for example, for drugs that weren’t covered), England would drop you from the NHS.

                    Elias and I got into that because he argued that England had stopped doing that and so people should stop bringing it up and I found examples of England still doing it.

                    Maybe England has stopped doing it for realsies now, though. If so, people should stop bringing it up.

                    Providing more life-saving and ameliorative care to people who don’t have the money to afford it themselves will do a better job meeting those obligations than providing less of such care will do, right?

                    I think that the argument is that if you’re not doing everything, you’re not meeting your obligation and arguing over degrees of falling short is failing to splitting hairs rather than meeting obligations.


                    • That thing that England was and may still be doing with the NHS falls under the biggest weasel phrase that I used–“as far as I know”. Anyway, that sounds like a dumb idea and if they’re still doing it in England, they should stop.

                      I think that the argument is that if you’re not doing everything, you’re not meeting your obligation and arguing over degrees of falling short is failing to splitting hairs rather than meeting obligations.

                      Taking that argument seriously seems like a great way to avoid even trying to meet moral obligations, since (more or less by definition) you’ll never actually do enough.


                      • Anyway, that sounds like a dumb idea and if they’re still doing it in England, they should stop.

                        From what *I* recall of these allegations, what it actually is that the NHS covers a bunch of stuff, and complications from that stuff.

                        If you go and have stuff done that the NHS doesn’t cover at all, they will also not cover complications from that.

                        I.e., if you pay for a private heart bypass, and have complications from that, NHS will cover the complications, because the NHS covers heart bypasses, even if they didn’t do *yours*.

                        But if you pay for some medical procedure the NHS doesn’t do at all…they won’t cover problems from that. You can still, I would assume, get some sort of help if the complication was life-threatening, but you’re going to be paying for it.

                        Basically, the NHS is saying ‘Look, you can do private stuff all you want, but we absolutely refuse to deal with any of that.’

                        Now, WRT drugs, it’s entirely possible that there’s some sort of rules about drug interactions. If you’re being prescribed a drug that the NHS does not cover, then, yes, I can see the NHS saying ‘Yeah, we’re not covering any more of your drugs…what if our covered drugs interact with the non-covered drugs?’ (Note that NHS doctors aren’t going to prescribe drugs the NHS won’t cover, so if you’re taking non-NHS drugs, you’re already at some non-NHS doctor.)

                        But, as far as I know, the people will *still* be on the NHS. I’d actually like to see a documented instance of someone being *dropped* from NHS, as opposed to NHS just saying ‘Yeah, we’re not covering that, or that, or that, or your drugs, because you’ve mixed in non-NHS-approved stuff with all of them and we refuse to spend money helping you with that stuff.’ and the customer just getting annoyed that nothing is covered anymore and leaving NHS himself.


                        • As far as I know (hehe) this is an accurate description, based on a friend that is under long-term treatment (essentially for life) for neurological issues resulting from a bad fall.

                          Because she went off NHS on that (successfully) she is off NHS for ever on her neurological issues. But she’s totally covered for, for instance, high blood pressure.


                      • “[T]he argument is that if you’re not doing everything, you’re not meeting your obligation…”

                        “[S]eems like a great way to avoid even trying to meet moral obligations, since (more or less by definition) you’ll never actually do enough.”

                        Well. Jaybird didn’t say that the argument was “doing enough“, he said that the argument was “doing everything“.

                        He is not quoting his own arguments, here. (If anything I think he’d agree with you that there exists a finite “enough” which is the entirety of our obligation to do.)

                        But if you talk about moral obligations, then you’re closer to the “doing everything” argument and further from the “doing enough” argument.


                        • I’m not sure I’d parse “moral obligations” as generally referring to that sort of completely open-ended requirement. “Give until it hurts,” may be hard for many people to comply with, but it’s a far cry from, “Give until there’s nothing left”.

                          Religious traditions that insist on the importance of charity also often provide guidelines about how much you’re supposed to give, and those guidelines aren’t usually, “everything but the shirt on your back, and that’s negotiable.”


      • Pillsy:
        As far I as know, no universal healthcare system makes much of an effort to prevent people from buying more and better care than standard as long as they have the money to do so.

        There will be pushes to prevent this. Just like there are pushes to make private schooling illegal so everyone must go to public schools – so that when people can’t opt of of a bad system, they’re forced to make it better.


        • There may be some people who want to do that, but as far as I know, in places where they have universal systems, none of those pushes have actually been successful. It’s not like the occasional suggestions that we ban private schools actually get anywhere.


        • Who is pushing to make private school illegal (which, for the record, is different from opposing charter schools, where the issue is whether the government should pay private schools to educate students).


          • I think I saw a #slatepitch to that effect once. Or maybe it was just that if you send your kids to private school you’re bad and you should feel bad. Either way, laws against private schools are not exactly sweeping the nation.


                  • Why, next some Republi-moron will suggest that the government will make it illegal to drink soda. What idiotic conspiracy theories will these people think up next? LOL!


                    • I wasn’t aware that anyone was proposing making it illegal to drink soda. I await the citations that will no doubt puncture my bubble of blissful ignorance with some impatience, especially as I am serenely certain that you wouldn’t do something as foolish as arguing that taxing something is the same thing as banning it.


                      • Not illegal, but hasn’t the WHO or somewhere called for heavy taxation on it as a goad to make people behave a certain way?

                        I think also San Francisco has taxes on it, and I know Bloomberg in NY wanted to tinker with availability of “Big Gulps” and the like.

                        I’m not a soda-drinker but as a fattish woman who has been judged in the past, I look on these kinds of efforts with a jaded eye.


                        • Well, yes, but if we’re taking “preferential tax treatment and subsidization is the same as banning the alternatives”, then renting an apartment is also illegal. For that matter, so is making soda with cane sugar instead of HFCS.

                          Soda taxes can be (and probably are) a pretty bad idea without pretending that they’re tantamount to a ban.


                        • Bloomberg wanted to ban sugary drinks over a certain size (I believe 20 ounces). I think “sugary” was defined based on how many calories were derived from sugar but I could be wrong. It included fountain drinks and bottled/cans beverages. It had a carve out for drinks that contained a certain portion of their volume from milk. This was basically to allow Starbucks to avoid the rule. The use of volume meant that a drink with a huge head of foamed milk — which comprises very little of the actual drink itself but takes up much space — was fair game.

                          So, yea, there was quite a bit of classism/cultural judgment going on.


                          • Sugary drinks impose externalities onto the health care system that are paid by society as a whole

                            I’m perfectly comfortable to tax sugary drinks to account for/nudge against/pay for those externalities

                            I’d be even happier if these revenues were dedicated exclusively for health care items, like, for instances, into each state’s Medicaid fund, as opposed to the general tax fund


  11. Sometimes I wonder why we are even having this conversation. There’s plenty of data to suggest that Boomers as a demographic were more liberal in their voting than either Silents or Gen-Xers. And more liberal than the Greatest Generation, too. We should be natural allies with Millenials, and I think of myself as such. But people keep trying to drive that wedge deeper.

    Let me show you what I mean: Here’s a demographic analysis of CA Prop 8. Recall that Prop 8 was intended to repeal California’s recognition of SSM, so a no vote is the progressive side.

    Look at the age breakdown. The age category 50-64 is populated entirely with Boomers (I’m included in it). There is a notably higher fraction voting against Prop 8 in that category than the next youngest or older categories. Only the 18-29 categories had higher percentages against, and that’s the Millennials. Good for them!

    There is a long tradition of reporting a demographic as being “for” a position or candidate, when the break is 52-48 or something. Thus I find that “white males” are for Trump, and I wonder when I turned into liver and got chopped up. Language like “break for” or “favor” seems more accurate to me. Am I splitting hairs? It seems important to me to exist, to witness, in fact, that no, not everybody with my demographic characteristics thinks the same way. That’s Diversity 101, it seems to me.


    • I think the Boomers are pretty evenly split and it obviously depends on a variety of factors including geography. There were Boomers who were Freedom Riders and marching against Vietnam. There were probably plenty of Boomers who supporter George Wallace over Katzenbach during the famous stare down at the steps of the University of Alabama.

      The Silent Generation is largely very conservative compared to the Boomers and the Greatest Generation. Many in the Greatest Generation did stay loyal to the New Deal.

      Generation X is also split based upon when their political awakening came to be. People with fond memories of Reagan are different than those who came of political age during the Clinton I administration. The oldest of Generation X were young teenagers in 1980. Others are more likely to remember Bill Clinton’s 1992 election more easily.


      • Yeah, age seems kind of a non-sequitur when it comes to political orientation. In one sense people get more conservative as they get older, but I think of it as more patient, rather than more conservative. Personally, I got more liberal.


        • Research shows that most people keep the politics of their youth. So if you voted Democratic at 18, you will probably do so at 64. Same for people who vote Republican at 18.

          Or if not that young close to it.

          America is a big country so plenty of people can change viewpoints and parties though but still have the general rule be the same.

          I’ve always been politically liberal but with fairly conservative lifestyle (really just good bourgeois if with an urbane flair that prefers theatre to the country club).


      • Well, we aren’t the largest demographic group in America any more. That line got crossed last year.

        Frankly, I’m getting tired of hearing the same damn music in restaurants over and over, and I wouldn’t mind hearing something new. Not that the Seventies weren’t awesome, but we don’t really need a Captain and Tenille revival.

        Another line that was crossed in the last 8 years is that the “white and christian” demographic went from 54 percent to 47 percent. This seems pretty significant, really.


  12. I think there are some misconceptions in this piece. Possibly because you are an ex-pat.

    The US has long had a force that resisted even the slightest bits of social welfare as compared to other nations. Rugged individualism and all. There was even a split during the Great Depression because old Democrats like Al Smith thought that social welfare was fine for women and children but not for men. Men should just be rugged individuals.

    There are also plenty of conservative millennials. It is not all just happiness and rainbows.


  13. The lumping together and naming of generations is a relatively new thing, pretty much starting with the Baby Boom after WWII.
    And it becomes a bit too easy and pat to generalize about them, to where I am automatically wary of almost any article purporting to discuss them.

    As mentioned above, the difference between members of the same age cohort are often bigger than other cohorts.
    Its not to dismiss entirely the effects that coming of age in a similar time can have; but they are one set of factors, and easily overemphasized.

    And yeah, every single criticism I have ever heard about succeeding generations, I heard about mine.


  14. I really appreciate the passion in this piece. In every year, every era, there are always things to be proud of and things that are still a mess and need to be fixed. What those things are depend entirely on your personal beliefs, ethics, context, etc and age/generation are much less likely to have an impact. However, despite the fact that I agree with much in the call for more progressivism in public policy, I felt my ire rising due to the confrontational tone. Just as it is annoying for older people to lecture young ‘uns on why they don’t know what they are talking about, it is just as annoying for younger people to lecture their “elders” on how they messed it all up for everyone and thanks for leaving us this mess to clean up. Broad brush strokes miss all the nuance and details.

    In truth, society includes all people from newborns to people who remember when talkies first came to their local theater, and we have to work with them, and accept that people of good will, who have only good intentions, will disagree with our world view. Nothing gets better when we don’t listen to each other.

    Many things about this country and world are much better off than 20 years ago, and many things are stagnated or worse than they were 20 years ago. The causes are so complicated that seemingly easy answers make me skeptical. Beware the easy answers.


      • Yeah, watching some of the younger voters head for the fainting couches at times has been pretty hilarious.

        Apparently finding out that candidates test and script messages tightly, often reach out to reporters (and reporters reach out to them) to offer comments and try to shape news stories, and gripe internally about their opponents is just shocking to some of them.

        I’m not sure how they thought it worked, but the basics of how politics operates (including that it ain’t beanbag) was a surprise.


        • “haha! You buncha dumb kids, didn’t you know that politicians stab each other in the back and twist the knife every chance they get? Didn’t you expect old white rich people to stomp on your dreams of a better world? Oh now go cry about it, that’s right, did I trigger you? Did I invade your safe space? Go cry, little baby, go cry about how I broke your toy. Good thing you learned your lesson!”


    • My general impression of this is the seminal, “My peer groups preferred social & policy positions are not being enabled as quickly as we’d prefer, and it’s because all you old fuddy-duddies are resisting our efforts! Can’t you all just die already?!”

      Ah, youth, all the time in the world, and no patience for any of it.


      • Right, because “gay people aren’t evil pedophiles” and “maybe doctor bills are too high” are crazy pipe dreams that nobody could ever realistically expect to come around any time soon.


        • Right, because those are ideas fully owned by the millennial generation.

          Those aren’t crazy pipe dreams, but they are complex problems that either existed for a long time, or took a long time to manifest, and thus will not be solved in time for happy hour.

          People across multiple generations have been doing the slow, grinding work on those issues (and many issues like them).


          • Imagine if they could.

            What would have to change for that to be true?

            What if we just need to recognize that people spent so long convincing themselves that, because the problems couldn’t be solved, the problems weren’t their fault?


            • I’d love it, but I’m enough a realist to know that such rapid change can only happen in either small communities, or under highly authoritarian (if beneficial dictatorship) governments.

              There is as much power & money in stopping (or significantly slowing) change as there is in making it happen.

              Given entrenched interests, there is probably more money & power in it.


  15. I wonder what the bar-chart making the rounds claiming that “only” 45% of Gen Xers are “stressed” about the election as compared to nearly 60% of older Boomers/Silent gen and 56% of Millennials means. (Possibly not statistically significant, but whatever).

    I admit my cynical “Xer” take on it is “We’ve already given up; we’ve been expecting the band to strike up ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ for about fifteen years now.” More likely it’s that most of us are contending with teen or tween kids, jobs, aging parents, and all the other urgent stuff of day to day life. (I would say **I** am stressed: not a good choice in the bunch as far as I can see – but then I have no kids and my aging parents are 700 miles away, so I have fewer things to divert my attention. And also, I’m single and totally dependent on myself to fund my retirement and everything else)


  16. I was surprised not to see education on this list. That to me, is the most stunning one.

    Many boomers received free or near-free educations, and to this day have fond memories of working their way through college and emerging debt free. Those memories are so fond, college students now are critized for not doing the same thing.

    But here’s the difference. In 1975, in-state tuition and the Universities of California was $680. Now it is $12,294. $680 in 1975 is about $3,200 in today’s dollars, meaning students going to in-state public college need to come up with an extra $9,000 (or 900 hours at $10/hour post-tax) to make up for the fact that their elders refuse to provide the same public support to public education those same elders enjoyed in their youth.


    • IIRC Holly is a Brit living in the US while the UK does have student loans now, they are nowhere near as bad as the US. Then again, very few places are.

      The student loan thing is the big gripe I think millennials can have with the Boomers. Even Gen X can have this gripe.

      I was at Cal on Saturday for a performance at Zellerbach Hall. Our tickets cost north of 62.They had posters for some original productions from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Those tickets cost 1-3 dollars. Even if you adjust for inflation, a 3 dollar ticket in 1968 would cost 21 dollars today.

      The radical anti-tax decades caused a burden shift on costs. Now many argue that this is how it should be though because most people still don’t attend college or cultural events. I disagree but I haven’t come up with a winning argument to convince the true cost crowd yet.


        • I think it is part of a broader trend in thinking.

          A few decades ago, our politicians and other elites felt that subsidized education and cultural events were really important for maintaining a society with social and economic advancement. Even if most people did not attend college, plenty of first-generation college students benefited from low-tuition costs.

          Even if most people did not attend cultural performances at Zellerbach Hall, keeping the tickets relatively low cost would still make it an option for enrichment.

          But sometime in the 1970s or maybe earlier, a different form of thinking came into form. This argument was “Most people do not attend college, why should people who don’t attend college help pay for the costs of low-college tuition.” Same with cultural performances.

          And for some reason this argument worked and worked very well, the poor did not think “Maybe my children or grandchildren will attend college and they can benefit from low-tuition.” They ended up thinking “I don’t want to pay a bunch so kids can go to college cheaply.” The Boomers did not think about how they benefited from low tuition and how their kids could have the same but decided they did not want the higher tax bills.

          Now in a Democratic society, this is the right of the majority to decide as such. I think it is a mistake that they did though.


          • But sometime in the 1970s or maybe earlier, a different form of thinking came into form. This argument was “Most people do not attend college, why should people who don’t attend college help pay for the costs of low-college tuition.”

            I’ll speak for one state based on time working on the budget staff for the state legislature, but I’ve seen nothing to suggest that Colorado is atypical. Consider 1965 and 2015, and look at the makeup of the state budget. In 2015, two-thirds of state general fund spending was K-12 education and Medicaid. In 1965, the totals for those came to zero. Both of those programs have grown far faster than state GDP. State/local revenues have a very real political cap on the order of 10% of state GDP. Something had to give.

            Most of the General Assembly have degrees from Colorado public colleges and universities (despite the enormous influx in population). Almost nobody on either side of the aisle is happy about cutting funding for higher ed. But to quote one of the students in a mock state government program where I helped oversee their budget exercise: “This is impossible! We have to cut good things!” Generally roads and higher ed, which have dedicated partial revenue streams. Higher ed harder, because it has no constitutional protections.


    • To be fair, how much of that increase is lack of taxpayer support and how much is because boomers were content to have a campus with just the educational basics and maybe a student union, and millennials want modern dorms, entertainment venues, health care, and fitness facilities, all on campus and included with tuition?


      • I don’t know, but I’d say that’s non-zero. Of course, there’s now way it accounts for all of the quadrupling of per-in-state-resident tuition+fees, though.

        In my first link I have the state government supporting 32% of the UC budget in 1974 and 16% in 2004. No way that’s because costs of non-academic extras doubled the size of the UC budget.


          • Like this?

            Also, why do we need to know exactly how many costs are non-analagous to 1975, and litigate which would have existed in 1975 if people had thought of ’em, before we can acknowledge that the–let’s say moochers–who went to college for $680/year are now calling kids lazy / entitled for not paying their way through an education 4x as expensive so that the moochers can avoid higher taxes.


            • Yes, like that!

              I’m less interested in calling kids lazy than I am in saying that asking for a significant increase in public financial support for institutions that are experiencing (dare I say) runaway inflation before we have a plan to deal with that inflation is a very bad idea.


      • I think this is blaming Millennials for something they did not create.

        The modern tuition arms race began in the late 1980s as far as I can tell. Well before many millennials were even born. The President of George Washington in DC figured out that he could turn his work-a-day university into a Veblen good by continuously increasing tuition. He bragged about this in a cover article for the Atlantic and never looked back.

        The late 1980s is when the US News and World Report started publishing their annual rankings.

        One thing I think the US News and World Report did was destroy the concept of the local university. One where you went if you were a first-generation college student and got a good education and then stayed in the relative community. This happened at all levels of education.

        My law school is a part of a larger university that is controlled by the Jesuits. For decades, they educated local kids (mainly Catholic obviously) and many of these kids were working-class and the first in their families to attend college. The law school was the same, they were dedicated to educating the bar and bench of San Francisco and were perfectly well-respected in the Bay Area/Northern California legal community.

        But greater forces changed this. Now the undergrad campus tries to attract wealthy students from Asia and the law school lost its status as a well-worn provider of the local bar and bench. Everyone goes for prestige.

        I think US News and World Report rankings destroyed the concept of the local and locally respected university and now those colleges are doing what they can to compete for students.

        The elite colleges are still relatively to very spartan in their amenities because they can attract students on their reputation alone. It is “second-rate” universities that need to compete on amenities and many of these are state schools dealing with a dearth of funding. Also for every story about fancy dorms, I can find several about colleges that are lacking the money to spend on real infrastructure.



        • I’ll concede, tuition inflation is not the creation of Millennials, they are merely the inheritors of it. But are Millennials calling for a return to the more spartan academic environment, because all I hear are calls for more public support of tuition, without any call to roll back a lot of what inflated tuition in the first place.

          UNWR and it’s damn highly subjective rankings, on the other hand… (I hated those things when I worked as academic staff).


          • Millennials like every other generation are too vast and I suspect it depends on where they are going.

            The Millennials who seem to benefit the most from fancy dorms are upper-middle class and above from a socio-economic status but average to somewhat above average from an academic standpoint. The universities that really do the luxury dorm thing are middling to semi-elite schools as far as I can tell. The old joke was that George Washington University stood for “Georgetown Waitlist University.” Even my very hard to get into undergrad had a reputation as being a second-choice for people who were rejected from Brown.

            Do you remember a few years ago when I talked about a book called Paying for the Party? The book was written about Indiana University from two sociologists who taught there. They called their university a mid level state school. Better than many but still far from being a public Ivy like Cal, Michigan, UVA, etc. Indiana decided to compete by offering “business-lite” majors like “Travel and Leisure Studies” to well-connected, rich kids and fancy dorms.* These kids ended up with good jobs because of family wealth and connections. Poor, first-generation college students ended up trying to emulate the rich kids but flamed out because they lacked the wealth, aesthetics, and social connections to make the business-lite majors work.

            The issue I think with a lot of writing about college is that the media (and perhaps us) images the average college student as an 18-22 year old who is probably white, probably middle-class, and gonna graduate on time or close to it.

            The above is a minority college-student. Most college students are now a bit older, attending college or university part-time, and usually attend close to home. Many don’t live in dorms.

            The majority of CUNY students are not middle-class white kids. They are POC and first-generation college students. I think they just want buildings that don’t leak and comfortable desks.


            • Sounds like me (not POC, but am 1st gen, and was more concerned with getting an education, rather than prestige signalling).

              I agree with Morat that the bloat (and the resultant inflation) has to be mostly at the top.


        • The national rankings killed my alma mater, starting a year before I attended. My class could already see the inevitability, even if it took another decade for the final diagnosis, and even now there’s still a twitch from a finger or eyelid every now and then. Maybe it’s only mostly dead.


      • Community colleges have seen a similar jump in prices, and they remain heavily no-frills. Many don’t even have dorms, and aren’t designed for sports, on-campus living, or anything like that.


        • So again, why? Community colleges are often public, so their budgets are public. We should be able to look at this and tease out the spike. Is it staffing or salary/benefit increases, facilities overhead, services increasing, declining public support?

          I’m certain they all contribute something to the problem, but something has to cause that severe of a spike.

          (Note I just looked at the tuition of the community college I went to after I was discharged, and the cost has more than doubled in 20 years.)


          • Administration, I would bet. Athletics, in the 4 year schools (collegiate athletics is, aside from a handful of schools, a constant net in terms of money).

            *shrug*. The general trend for faculty has been to keep pay fairly low (except for rock stars/student draws) and to use TA’s and associate professors who aren’t paid a living wage to cover the bulk of the classes.

            So it’s not going to overpaid professors, by and large. It might be going to shiny new buildings, except it’s doing that in schools that don’t have them. It could be going to athletics (which has always been a problem), except it’s happening in schools with virtually no athletics programs.

            The one thing they’ve all got is administrators, whose salaries (when they are disclosed) seem rather high, complete with sizable non-salaried benefits (large travel funds, free housing despite 400k salaries, entertaining budgets, etc).

            And administration — and I’m not talking the “people working the student aid office — seems to be bloating, and like CEO pay seems prone towards both a self-reinforcing cycle of increases and a low-oversight position.

            If it was JUST 4 year schools, or JUST top-end football schools, or JUST state or JUST private schools……but it’s all of them, across the board. Community colleges without frills or athletics programs have seen the same giant jumps in prices.

            The money is clearly going to someone, and by all the reporting on the subject, it’s clearly not the bulk of the teaching staff or the basic administrative (as in student aid offices, departmental secretaries, etc) staff.


            • That’s been my thoughts (Admin bloat). Others have identified this as the problem, as well.

              Which leaves me wondering, why are people focusing more on greatly expanding public funding, rather than on trimming the bloat?


              • Probably because there’s no realistic way to trim the bloat. “State” schools are more akin to “State supported” not “State run”. Private schools are, of course, free to do whatever they want with the money.

                And nobody wants to cut college off entirely from anyone who isn’t upper-middle-class or incredibly lucky, given the income inequality problems we already have.

                But mostly, because it’s a thorny problem that has a lot in common with CEO pay (which screws shareholders just as hard as high college prices screw students), fixing that via collective action (ie, government) opens up some particularly tricky doors.

                About the best methodology I can see is to have state’s tell their state supported schools to open their books for a full audit and set what the Leg thinks is appropriate salaries. With the fond hope that, having made the schools cheaper, it will force other schools to lower their prices.

                And the number of pitfalls and horror-filled possibilities there — even ASSUMING good will, competence, and serious effort on behalf of the Leg (I don’t know about your state, but in Texas we’d be lucky to get one of the three) — stripping out ideology, partisanship and just pretending everyone has pristine motives to make these salaries reasonable — how do you determine what’s fair without referencing inflated salaries everywhere else? How do you deal with blowback from people claiming you’re hurting the school’s ability to attract talent?

                And of course if you DID this, you’d find other schools would — if they cut prices at all — cut them from their teaching and support staff, because the people MAKING the cuts and salaries decisions are the overpaid ones in the first place. Their money would be the last cut.

                I’ve got no solutions here. I don’t think anyone does. We’re just stuck slapping bandaids over it.

                I mean the only other solid solution I’ve got is similar to a collective bargaining based approach — free college (or highly subsidized), but to the extent that you get X per student from the State (and you can’t charge them any more, or only a limited amount, etc), and to qualify for the program you have to meet certain rigorous standards and maintain them.

                Suddenly finding half your client base is making the same demands might change behavior. But again, without rigorous standards enforcement — you’ll end up with poorly maintained grounds, buildings, libraries, and temporary and highly underpaid staff before you see the Dean of Whatever cutting his 350k a year salary, free house and car, and two million dollar travel and entertainment budget for ‘fundraising for the endowment’ or whatever.


                • So complex systems are complex?

                  Honestly, I think the most effective ‘fix’ would come from employers deciding to be realistic about the signal an education really represents. Following that, I’d focus on student aid and bankruptcy discharging and/or realistic career forecasts.

                  The simplest fix would be, IMHO, for the federal student aid office to make public the stats regarding the frequency of repayment modifications requested by students who attended a given school, and then include some context for those stats on their website. I wouldn’t expect every student to be able to fully grok the stats, but guidance counselors and loan officers can and could help students make good decisions.


                  • Yes, very complex. Basically there’s no pushback on high prices.

                    Students can push back, but due to the loan structure they won’t feel the bite until AFTER they’ve paid for the product. (And as most students are under 25, basic neurology and life experience issues say they can’t model the cost/benefits efficiently prior to undertaking college).

                    Employer’s won’t push back, because requiring a college degree is free to them. We don’t have a super tight labor market (and if we did, the Fed would jump on it with both feet), so requiring college degrees simply winnows out the applicants for them.

                    The government can’t push back on loans because the student loan industry got privatized pretty heavily anyways, and the loan companies don’t push back because the default risk is on the government — not them. Enforcement and default ends up on the government’s dime.

                    And lastly, because the increase is universal, even pushes towards more cost conscious college choices doesn’t help. My son’s paying 4x as much at the local community college as he would have in ’99, and state schools will be the same rough increase.

                    CC doesn’t quite run him what state-supported ran me in the 90s, but it’s getting close. So even going to school highly budget conscious, he’ll end up with more of a tab than I ran up through 4 years of state school — and a weaker job market to enter.


                  • “the most effective ‘fix’ would come from employers deciding to be realistic about the signal an education really represents. ”

                    Considering that it “represents” a way to gate for basic levels of competence without being subject to disparate-impact lawsuits, that’s unlikely to happen.


                • given how schools are keeping faculty salary relatively flat & using adjuncts heavily, if there is an element of cost disease in higher education, it isn’t in that part of the salary pool.


                  • Oops. I was thinking about my comment elsewhere in the thread about state budgets and higher ed getting crowded out by K-12 and Medicaid. Higher ed has long looked at ways to make the faculty side of things more “productive” in a technical cost-per-student sort of way: 700-seat lectures with graduate students doing the grunt work; adjunct faculty; and online courses being three obvious examples. K-12 education and the labor-intense parts of health care, not so much.


          • Off hand, what if a politician in Michigan or Pennsylvania or even Washington were to say something like:

            “I don’t think Michigan or Penn State or UDub needs to spend millions of dollars for a football coach. This is the public’s money.” How long do you think that politician would stay in office?

            IIRC the highest paid state employee in many states is usually an athletic coach at a public university because people love their college sports.


            • Depends on the program. Some programs can, if they aren’t directly adding to the school budget, are at least able to fully support themselves (and are thus revenue neutral). That is my understanding at least.


              • I did my undergraduate time at a big-time football state school, where by statute the athletic department got no state funding. The coach’s salary came out of gate receipts, TV revenues, and his side gigs (eg, weekly TV show on local channels). I understand such arrangements are fairly rare.


      • Yup. Parents complain about the cost of college but I have also seen parents, in campus tours, do stuff like, “What? You don’t have a climbing wall/state of the art fitness center/computing center with computers less than six months old/suite-based dormitory with kitchens and laundry rooms for each suite?” and it’s like some of them don’t realize that there’s a link there.

        Also, the flood of Federal regulations public unis have to comply with has led to a sharp increase in administrators and offices and all of that. And while I hate having eighteen “bosses,” I also would hate to deal with all the paperwork in re: ADA and everything else all myself.

        I will say the increases in tuition, by and large, are not faculty salaries, unless you’re talking about certain private colleges or certain “superstars.” (I make about $60K a year with nearly 20 years experience, and that’s for a 4/3 load)


        • See my comment here.

          Now, if this:

          Also, the flood of Federal regulations public unis have to comply with has led to a sharp increase in administrators and offices and all of that.

          is correct, and a leading contributor to Admin Bloat, then I have to wonder what, exactly, are we getting for our money to support all this new regulation? Especially if the inflation results in increased public funding.


          • If that was the case, you could also POINT to the flood of new regulations.

            Which would have had to have occurred primarily during the Bush administration. College costs didn’t really start the fast rise until right around when Clinton was leaving office.

            I think part of the disconnect is there are two types of ‘administration’. There’s clerical and support staff, running everything from libraries to student aid offices to managing departmental schedules and whatnot, and then there’s “Dean” and higher level people. Upper management all the way up to the school version of “board level”.

            Call them executive administrators.


          • I don’t have any resources to back the assertion up, but I know we’ve been told in the past five years or so to keep VERY tight attendance records (new Financial Aid rules; it started with having to report “last day attended” for F grades). We are required to submit monthly attendance and grade checks, though I’m not sure if that’s federal or local to my campus.

            It’s possible these were on the books before and someone somewhere in an upper office was lax (I would not be surprised) about informing us, but it does seem since 2010 or so, there have been a lot of minor freakouts over things like attendance reporting and whether an F is a “not attending” F or a “failed’ F or a “cheated their ass off” F.

            We have also been required to go through:

            NIMS training
            Sexual-harrassment avoidance training
            “Required reporter” training (HAVEN and similar – if a student comes and tells me their partner is abusing them, by law I must report it now)
            Training on how to “correctly” do extended time exams for ADA students because someone somewhere donked it up and we all had to be punished…
            CRASE training (which was mildly traumatic)

            I also think ADA laws have gotten stricter. As have Title IX compliance. And this is in a system of shrinking state support….I don’t know how much Federal support we get but I can tell you we took it in the teeth last spring with a big state shortfall, we had mandatory furlough days and for a while our budget was frozen for supplies, which meant if you taught a lab using “consumables” (e.g., chicken liver as a catalase source), you bought it out of your own pocket or cancelled that lab.

            All I know is that if anyone complains to me about “idle, overpaid professors,’ they get the stink-eye from me. Maybe at Harvard, maybe at some of the bigger state flagship schools. But not here. I have to budget pretty damn tightly not to have month left over at the end of the money these days.


            • Yeah, I’m required to do all that kind of training too. I spent 4 freaking hours last year (along with every member of my company), going over training that had nothing to do with my job. (Mostly because the people it DID have to do with made a 100 million dollar mistake). My company’s costs haven’t increased 4-fold.

              As I’ve said, the bloat appears to be in executive areas — the ‘board’ level kind of guys.

              Professors and actual support staff appear to be almost criminally underpaid, unless they’ve got a prestigious chair or the sort of name that draws students or donations.


                • Before my parents retired from the Illinois state university system, they were made to take online ethics tests. Which were put into place by then-governor Rod Blagojevich.

                  I teased my father a good bit about that.

                  (“Shut up, Erica.”)


                • Ha. I watched every employee at Boeing go through an ethics course as part of a settlement (like every employee in the company lost a full day’s work doing this) due to blatant cheating during a bid.

                  Our parent company (we’re wholly owned) had another subsidiary that screwed up big time with export control, hence the hours of tediousness. (I get why export control’s a big deal, don’t get me wrong. Just not applicable).


                • Actually it is a combination of executive staff and academic senate. Getting academic staff that is. And generally, my experience has been that the bloat on campus is the same bloat that pervades most longstanding institutions. Private or public. Mission creep, a sense of “this is how we have always done it,” budgets that can only get bigger never smaller (departmental prestige), growing needs that are real if untimely and a tendency to solve problems by throwing more people at the issue as opposed to clearing deadwood.

                  Institutional inertia.


                  • DID YOU JUST ACTUALLY ME

                    What’s the “academic staff:student ratio” for (insert past year here)?

                    What’s the “academic staff:student ratio” for (insert current year here)?

                    Then look at the executive staff:student ratios for the same years.

                    Off the top of my head, I’d say that the teacher:student ratio is getting crappier at the exact same time that the exec:student ratio is getting really, really, really, really good.


                    • One of the problems is that much of what used to be done by prof’s (student worker payroll, dept. lab maintenance, etc.) is too complicated/involved for faculty to get involved with anymore. Payroll systems are incredibly specific, what with all the classifications that get needed to be tax correct, all those machines are really technically advanced and take very specialized skills to maintain. Profs could take care of them, obviously, as they are the smartest people you will ever meet, just ask them! But that would take away from teaching and researching and sabat and…

                      All kidding aside, a university is a cast system. Tenured faculty is on top, and undesirable work trickles down hill.

                      Not unlike a hospital.


                      • When people talk about “administrative bloat”, they aren’t thinking about IT services or people who run payroll. They’re thinking about the executive assistant to the assistant executive of the Department of Redundancy Department. They’re thinking about the Director For Cafeteria Menu Inclusiveness. They’re thinking about the three-member Alumni Outreach Committee who spend 90% of the year on travel, reaching out to alumni who live in Manhattan and Boca Raton.


                        • They’re thinking about the three-member Alumni Outreach Committee who spend 90% of the year on travel, reaching out to alumni who live in Manhattan and Boca Raton.

                          Travel budget like that can eclipse a healthy 6 figure salary, if the budget is paying for more than redeyes in coach and nights at the Best Western.


                        • Well, trying to be exhaustive in listing all of the moving parts that encompass bloat would take all day and then some. But yes, all of those things are bloat, and they come from the same place that the things I mentioned come from.


  17. “If the answer is “no,” and you consider yourself an informed and politically conscious adult, you have some explaining to do.”

    I’m better off than I was as a kid; I’ve been upwardly mobile, by a long shot, for reasons that have little to do with prevailing economic conditions (ie I’m not an abusive dangerous person nor am I married to one), so it would be pretty hard NOT to be better off than I was as a kid. Am I better off than someone like me was 40 years ago? That’s harder to say. Since I was benefited by Headstart and other social programs that didn’t exist 40 years before *that*, probably.

    But I’m shocked that you didn’t even mention climate change. How much good does it do that I’m better off than I would’ve been, if the Millennials around me are fucked because their world will be under natural siege?

    Already I can’t plausibly go back to the place where I grew up, and live there, without knowing that it will almost certainly be underwater by the time I’m retirement age.

    And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of climate related problems that older people have created, that Millennials will have to survive.

    And those problems will be worst for the poorest.

    In my darkest hours, I am grateful that I’ll probably die before we become blasé about tsunamis. (Though we’ve already become pretty jaded, as a society, about floods.)


    • “But I’m shocked that you didn’t even mention climate change.”

      This was my first thought as well. I don’t know how bad it’s going to get, but even just looking at projected sea level rise and ocean temps, my first thought is “thanks, boomers, for not paying more heed to this”

      Of course it’s not boomers per se, but that’s another kettle of dead fish.


    • “I’m shocked that you didn’t even mention climate change. ”

      Or DDT! Or acid rain! Or CFCs! Or overpopulation!

      “Wait, those aren’t problems anymore!”

      Hey, you’re right, they aren’t. That’s weird, I remember how they were totally gonna destroy the world by now. Where’d they go?


      • Well, DDT is no longer used for mosquito abatement, and laws and regulations were put in place to reduce the amount of sulphur in emissions, and CFS were banned from air conditioning, and people generally have fewer children than previously.

        In other words, people became alarmed at these problems, and took corrective action.
        Which is why they didn’t end up destroying the world.


        • The other problem is that DDT/CFCs/etc were moreorless local problems with low cost – tho obviously totalitarian – solutions (eg, DON’T spray that shit on the trees or your hair anymore!). The problem of AGW appears to be intractable (“You want us to destroy our economy??!!”) until, that is, the costs are so massive that remediation makes financial sense. But at that point it will already be too late. And even then, perhaps especially then, affected countries will need to keep the fossil fuels burning to drive an economy to pay for all the mitigation.


      • Overpopulation was, and is, an everybody problem. Overpopulation is, arguably, part of the reason Millennials in the United States have so much more trouble finding jobs and paying off loans than their Boomer parents (and it’s also a problem that is fairly irrelevant to individual conduct in wealthy countries, although by resisting immigration so hard, the US and other wealthy countries do contribute indirectly). It’s also hugely hard to do anything about and always has been.

        Climate change is specifically a “hey Boomers, by collectively blowing this off in the 80s, and 90s, when it was known about and the rest of us were too young to do much of anything about it, you drove the bus all the way up to the cliff and halfway over and I’m pretty worried it’s 2/3rds of the way over and that will really suck, trying to get this bus back out of this precarious and possibly unsaveable position that you put it in” problem.

        Exacerbated by the way that globally rich people of middle age and older are the most enthusiastic users of all things fossil-fuel related and the most likely to complain about the environmental motes in other people’s eyes while ignoring the beams in their own.

        If we escape the worst consequences of climate change (big if), it’ll be thanks to the ingenuity of Millennials who are developing novel power solutions (longer lasting batteries, more effective solar cells, etc etc etc).

        (I realize this post would be more effective with more links. It would also not exist did I take the time to dig up those links. Climate change is the water we’re swimming in, I ran out of patience for proving how serious it is about 1998 or so. Good thing there are lots of millennials running around who haven’t run out of patience yet.)


          • I demand some sort of theological cite that babies come from heaven.

            (And an explanation of why we should encourage people to immigrate out of heaven. I hear it’s lovely there.)


            • “Sons are the provision of the Lord; the fruit of the womb, His reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are sons born to a man in his youth. Happy is the man who fills his quiver with them; they will not be put to shame when they contend with the enemy in the gate.” Psalms 127:3-5

              The Rabbis also taught that the miracle births of Isaac and Samuel are evidence that children are considered a gift from God. Many Hebrew names like Jonathan or Nathan translate as Gift of God.


              • I think you missed my point. I didn’t say that babies weren’t a gift from God, I said I am unaware of any theology that asserts they reside in *heaven* before being sent here.


                • On some Puranic accounts, people don’t necessarily get reincarnated directly after the end of of their previous lives, they may spend some time in heaven or hell to work off their good and bad karma before they are reborn. So, at least some babies did come from heaven.


                  • People have to work off *good* karma, so they *must* go to heaven for a bit and…spend karma to get to nothing? Because you can’t go back with good karma, you have to be neutral?

                    That seems…totally inconsistent with what I understand the whole point of karma to be in Hinduism. I mean, I’m not a follower of Hinduism, so maybe I misunderstand, but that seems really weird. I know different (sects? denominations? I forget the word.) think karma might, or might not, be important in the next life, but I’ve never heard of any one that demands you start at zero.

                    Although I understand it’s a bit different in Jainism, and karma is more an impurity of the soul. So maybe that’s what you’re talking about, people are maybe supposed to start with no impurities, or at least if they get too many, good *or* bad, they have some taken away.

                    OTOH, ‘some Puranic accounts’ is probably as ‘official’ a belief as ‘Jewish folk beliefs’ or my ‘Catholic now-heresy’. Just being in some random stories doesn’t really make it ‘officially’ (Whatever that means.) part of the religion.


                • Jewish folk belief argues that every Jew was present in spirt when the covenant between God and Israel was made at Mt. Sinai. The souls of Jews who haven’t been born yet had to be somewhere. I have nothing on the gentiles though.


                  • Jewish folk belief argues that every Jew was present in spirt when the covenant between God and Israel was made at Mt. Sinai.

                    How does that work with *converts*?

                    …hey, wait a minute. The covenant between God and Israel was made *on earth*, not in heaven. (A clue is the location ‘Mt. Sinai’, which clearly is an earthly location, being made of Latin characters and not unpronounceable glowing glyphs.)

                    So that places all the souls of every Jew *on earth* at that time, not in heaven. We don’t know what happened after that. Maybe they just hung around on earth waiting for Jewish babies to climb into. (Not sure how that works, they might be assigned, or perhaps it’s first-come-first-serve.)

                    The souls of Jews who haven’t been born yet had to be somewhere.

                    Also, in addition to the idea they were just bumming it on earth since then, that seems to be be very three dimensional thinking to force God into. ;) Maybe he made them and then sent them forward in time. Or maybe he made them when he needs them and sent then *backwards* in time to be there, and then back forward.

                    Heh, forget about God creating rocks he can’t lift, the new question is: Can God interact with a soul before than He has even created it?

                    I have nothing on the gentiles though.

                    Well, if we’re talking folk beliefs, Christian ‘folk belief’ (Well, Catholic now-heresy.) has souls of babies in Limbo, (Specifically, the Limbo of the Infants.) but that’s *after* death. But there’s no logical reason they couldn’t be there before birth, too.

                    Although Limbo, oddly, is technically part of hell, not part of heaven.


                  • Jewish folk belief argues that every Jew was present in spirt when the covenant between God and Israel was made at Mt. Sinai.

                    Then we rode over to Jerusalem to take part in the the Crucifixion, leaving a trail of foreskins to find our way back.


            • , see also The Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 119b: “Rab Judah said in the Rab’s name: What is meant by, Touch not my anointed ones and do my prophets no harm? Touch not my anointed ones refers to school children…Resh Lakish said in the name of R. Judah the Prince: The world endures only for the sake of the breath of school children…Every town where there are no school children shall be destroyed.”

              To the Rabbis of the Talmud, school children learning their lessons saved the world from falling into comic apocalypse.


        • I’m not disagreeing that climate change got passed over, but I’m curious about what you think the options were in the 80s and 90s. What could we Boomers have done that would change the outcome enough today?

          If you believe, like I do, that from the perspective of energy, the planet’s carrying capacity for a contemporary developed-country middle-class lifestyle, without cooking the planet, is about 1.5B, there were no politically feasible choices. We were already closing in on a billion middle-class people, but today’s 7.5B total population was already baked in (look at some of the predictions for 2020 made back then). Drastic reductions in lifestyles in the developed countries simply weren’t going to happen. Nor was anyone willing to tell the developing and undeveloped countries, “Sorry, you don’t get to be rich or even middle class,” and enforce it. Solar and wind in today’s form weren’t available (there’s been a lot of technology happen since then). Nuclear was looking very, very risky.

          What should we have done?


          • “no politically feasible choices”.

            That’s short hand for “most people weren’t willing to believe these problems and take them seriously.”

            So your whole response is basically a tautology I think?

            Because if most adult people, particularly those who wielded the bulk of consumer power (Boomers), had taken them seriously, they would have made the kinds of changes Millennials are making today. Simple things like “live near where you work” and “don’t participate in white flight”, off the top of my head.

            But it’s a false scenario anyway because the issues are not what individual people did, it’s what people put pressure on institutions and large corporations to do (and what individuals within those entities are willing to do).

            Not prioritizing growth over environmental impact and CO2 production, basically. Acting in overall best interest rather than consumer best interest. Not driving “middle-class lifestyle” up and up and up and up so that people “need” 3 cars, etc etc etc.

            One or 40 boomers who got it – hell, a million boomers who got it – which is easily less than there actually were … not much change. But when you’re talking generalizations like this, you’re talking dozens of millions of people. And if even HALF that many people had decided to not be in denial about what was going to be on their grandchildren or great-grandchildren’s plates…


            • So your whole response is basically a tautology I think?

              Maybe, maybe not. But we do have very different views for who in the US should get the blame for various things. White flight was the Boomer’s (my) parents. So was dismantling the last of the mass transit in smaller cities. By the time boomers began really coming of age — 1970 or thereabouts — their parents were in the process of pulling up the last of the ladders by passing laws that penned in the core urban cities (eg, Colorado’s Poundstone Amendment that said Denver, and Denver Public Schools in particular, couldn’t reach across county lines).

              I’m seven years back from the leading edge of the Boomers, and it was all a done deal by the time I got out of college. Every place I interviewed was out in the suburbs. I wasn’t picking places based on that, that’s just where the kinds of jobs I had trained for were located. To generalize too much, by that time urban cores were either dangerous or too pricey for many employers. Living “close to work” meant living in the ‘burbs.

              We should have made the ‘burbs more efficient. We should have started rebuilding transit sooner. To assert that we should have reversed the trend to Garreau’s “edge cities” is asking an awful lot.


              • “To assert that we should have reversed the trend to Garreau’s “edge cities” is asking an awful lot.”

                Given that Boomers, unlike their parents, had the opportunity to know it was necessary, and given the consequences, and given that I’ve chosen, myself, to live in a downtown that’s a grocery desert after being spoiled in the 90s by Montreal’s fruit stores on every corner, it doesn’t seem like that much to me. Maybe you can only live near one person’s job. Maybe you are stuck in a suburb because that’s where your sorts of jobs are. The stakes were already known to be that high in the 80s and 90s, if people didn’t have their blinders on. I know because I was studying the info and trying to educate the grown-ups, painstakingly.

                I also think (would be happy to learn I’m wrong) that while white flight started in the previous generation, it did not slow AT ALL in the Boomer generation. And given Boomer ideals, and population power, it should have.


                • I believe firmly that we are on the same side. But if it has to be a personal pissing contest…

                  I spent the 20 best years of my professional career fighting every day to get a bunch of Fortune 500 companies to deploy technology that would enable millions of people to drive or fly zero miles to work or class one or more days each week. Technology that would let me discuss my research problem with a real librarian instead of a search engine. That would make it trivial (and dirt cheap) for me to talk to my Mom with voice and video, and have my sister or granddaughter drop in on the conversation from time to time. It was lonely, and it was discouraging, and eventually, a bunch of snot-nosed post-Boomer managers told me that my vision was wrong, and my services were no longer needed.


                  • Thats the problem with vision, people who have it assume that other moderately intelligent people can have it, or can at least comprehend the wisdom of the vision & agree it’s important.

                    It’s that last bit that usually mucks it up.


                  • Yeah, it’s not YOU as a person I’m talking about. It’s “Boomers” as a social group.

                    i assumed we were talking about the social group since that was the point of my ’40 million people are not enough’ thing.

                    I actually prefer not to talk about people in terms of social groups at all, for the very reason that it’s hard not to take it personally in any direction.

                    But if people insist on seeing “calling out lack of collective action” as “personal attack” … how do you ever call out lack of collective action? and if you can’t acknowledge historical mistakes, are you doomed to repeat them?


      • To echo Chip’s point, scientists and regulators and politicians got together to analyze serious problems and implemented serious solutions.

        (overpopulation may still be a problem, though. this climate change thing is looking like a hard problem, apparently only solvable through crop failure -> starvation -> war -> catastrophic war -> population reduced to new carrying capacity. As I’m in my 50s, I expect to die of old age before things get really bad here in the USA. But anyone under, say, 25 will likely see a very different planet by the end of their life span.)

        ETA: This was written before Maribou posted. Apologies for a largely duplicate comment.


        • “To echo Chip’s point, scientists and regulators and politicians got together to analyze serious problems and implemented serious solutions.”

          oh hey so the problem is solvable after all? Aces!

          “[Overpopulation is] also hugely hard to do anything about and always has been.”

          According to the best-case predictions of “The Population Bomb” we would have hit about seventeen billion people in the late Nineties, at which point resource-control wars would break out in Southeast Asia and kill half the planet. (Worst-case scenario was that everyone would die from nuclear war in the early Nineties.) Even the more optimistic predictions put us at twelve to fourteen by now. As it is we’ve barely hit the halfway mark on seven billion, and it’s expected that we won’t even hit double digits until about a century after Ehrlich scared us all with tales of brown hordes.


          • Someone’s model was wrong, therefore all models are wrong is pretty much a logical fallacy.

            And assuming that the solution set for the last round of environmental problems is applicable to the next round of environmental problems is pretty much not supported by the evidence.

            For example, at no time in human history (that anyone is aware of) has the Arctic sea ice shrunk so rapidly. What are the consequences of this changing environment? Ask a modeller.


            • “Someone’s model was wrong, therefore all models are wrong is pretty much a logical fallacy.”

              And if that were the argument I was making you’d be getting somewhere, except that what I’m actually saying is “someone’s model was wrong, stop basing your assumptions about the future on it.”


          • As long as we are talking about previous crises-

            A lot of the early environmental movement was wrong.
            Just simply wrongheaded, driven by hysteria, youthful ignorance and lack of perspective, self-aggrandizing vanity and love of theatrics.

            In other words, the same criticisms being leveled at millennials today, which could just as easily have and were said about the anti-apartheid protestors, feminists, and “gay lib” activists.

            These criticisms were true, and accurate in many cases.

            But what was overlooked was that alongside the silly protesters, there were serious sober activists who didn’t need the spotlight, and didn’t grow tired when the work got tedious and difficult, and who were able to forge alliances and make compromises and actually get things done, like removing lead from gasoline, and mandating catalytic converters, and vapor recovery nozzles.

            And the result is that the air quality in Los Angeles has gone from unhealthful most of the time to extremely clear today; I doubt any Millennial has ever had to play indoors due to a smog attack, and may not even know what the word means.

            I think we are probably making the same mistake today, focusing on the silly adolescents in safe spaces, and not noticing the other activists actually, quietly, doing the hard work of changing society.


            • In college in the late ’80s, I hated environmentalists. The face of the movement was everything you say and more. There was an underswell of something environmentalism can never countenance – anti-intellectualism. Environmentalism must always be informed by science because that is the fundamental on which it must be built. It can never succumb to woo, and that’s where it was for big parts of that decade…

              Then, in the 90s, I talked with actual scientists. And, despite my completely justified feelings – which are not unjustified even today, I might add – they convinced me, using actual evidence. Which is why I don’t have any patience for people who don’t do the same.


            • A lot of the early environmental movement was wrong.
              Just simply wrongheaded, driven by hysteria, youthful ignorance and lack of perspective, self-aggrandizing vanity and love of theatrics.

              Insert my rant here about how we spent a hell of a lot of resources on keeping harmless paper and glass and aluminum out of landfills (Two of those, paper and glass, are literally impossible to run out of.), when we could have instead spent those resources keeping lead and mercury and americium and lithium and antibiotics and the list of chemicals that will be in our water forever goes on and on…out of landfills. Stop training kids to separate out paper, train them to separate out *batteries*, you idiots. You guys have probably read my rant on that by now, so I will spare you.

              And don’t get me started on nuclear power, because we should be in the middle of talking about slowing shuttering (now that we have somewhat workable solar), as they get outdated, the massive amount of nuclear power plants we built in the 80s instead of continuing to burn coal and oil. Oops! We forgot to to build those! We’ve been burning coal and oil the entire damn time, like morons, because we all knew, uh, solar was better than nuclear. (Huh?)

              I think we are probably making the same mistake today, focusing on the silly adolescents in safe spaces, and not noticing the other activists actually, quietly, doing the hard work of changing society.

              That’s not a mistake. A mistake would be if we’re doing it *accidentally*.

              It’s possible to argue that a lot of what happened with the environmental movement was ‘mistakes’, as in, we actually wanted to do things, but did the wrong thing. But that was after the movement *won*.

              But focusing on the crazies has always been a very good way to stop or slow social movements, and that’s what’s happening with the changes originating on colleges.

              Because, with the slightest bit of reflection, it becomes clear that *most* of what people are talking about is real to some extent, and probably should have something done about it.


            • “A lot of the early environmental movement was wrong.
              Just simply wrongheaded, driven by hysteria, youthful ignorance and lack of perspective, self-aggrandizing vanity and love of theatrics.”

              But the fact is that the even if the antic were offputting, the issues of the early environmental movement were correct: CFCs were destroying the ozone layer, acid rain was damaging forests, rivers were dying or dead, desertification was expanding, biodiversity is diminishing, antibiotics foster the evolution of superbugs, pesticides and fertilizers run in the water and into our bodies, DDT was killing the top of food chain birds, etc., etc., etc.

              We have now a grasp on some of those issues, the ozone layer is recovering, acid rain is not a major issue, fish swim in the Thames again, the bald eagles are not dying anymore. Other issues are still work in progress.

              It’s a counterfactual, and thus I cannot demonstrate it, but I believe that without the hysterics in the background, the serious sober activists would not have received the political support they got to do things like ban CFCs or force power plants to abate SOx/NOx and control acid rain. The hysterics were able to communicate to the mushy middle voter not only that things were bad, but that things could be substantially improved if we were willing as a society to pay for the corrections. And then they voted for the corrections to be implemented.


              • The problem with policy through hysterics should be obvious. For every beneficial policy driven by public hysteria, I can point out one or two that are decidedly not beneficial.

                ETA: It’s fine to point out that in this case, the hysterics were useful. But the statement, “We got lucky” should be attached.


                • It’s still dogging the environmental movement to this day, whether by driving activists down ridiculous blind alleys like being “anti-GMO”, or the way environmentalists still tend to be reflexively opposed to nuclear power, even though the risks are pretty small when stacked up against the risk of climate change (or even when stacked up against the risk of burning coal for electricity without considering climate change).

                  Of course, you see it all over, from every angle. It’s annoying.


                  • Yep. My FB feed has a few ‘environmentalists’, and it’s so hard to take them seriously, when they post one thing about the dangers of fossil fuels & climate change, and then the next post is rabid anti-gmo, complete with claims about BigPharma using GMOs to feed us illness so they can sell drugs (usually then followed by something about water having ‘memory’).

                    And to add some irony, they then make fun of the contrails people, or 9/11 truthers, etc.


                  • I am quite opposed to nuclear energy, because, even if the likelihood is small, given the potential for things to go terribly wrong, I am not comfortable with the risks.

                    And that’s before we even start talking about the long term disposal of the used fuel, an externality that it never seems to appear on the ledger.

                    On GMO, I am open to consider any solid evidence against them, though I haven’t seen any yet. However, all things considered I have a gut feeling that they will prove to be a bad idea.


                    • I’m not opposed to nuclear energy. I am annoyed that hysteria has forced the industry to stagnate onto a single mode of extracting energy from fission reactions, a mode that happens to have all sort of challenges, and meeting those challenges inflates the cost of safe operation considerably.

                      I mean, it’s great that the world now has enough installed solar & wind generating capacity to equal coal, but had nuclear hysteria not happened, we may have been able to stop burning coal decades ago, instead of just thinking about getting around to it now.


                    • It’s not clear to me it’s less neglected from the ledger than the externalities associated with the resource extraction necessary for manufacturing solar panels.

                      I’d be much more comfortable about general environmentalist opposition to nuclear power if it were more frequently framed in terms of carefully and consistently accounting for all the costs, risks and externalities associated with various power generation technologies and showing that nuclear power is sufficiently bad, FSVO “sufficient”, that we shouldn’t use it.

                      Unfortunately, that’s usually not what happens, and often it’s not what happens in a way that leads to environmentalists effectively defending coal, which, like, what?


                      • There’s a lot of unaccounted for externalities in power generation. I won’t ask about PVs because I don’t know much about it, but I can talk about the rest.

                        We have the tools, if not the will, to get a good handle at what the externalities of thermal power air pollution, of large dam and run of river hydro power, and of wind power are. I haven’t seen anywhere near as good an estimate of the externalities of nuclear power


                        • The biggest externality, waste storage, is much more a political problem than anything, and not because of Yucca Mt. But because we refuse to recycle spent fuel.


                  • I think there is a line (albeit a fizzy one) between outrage and hysteria. Trayvon was clearly outrage (people were not, for instance, claiming that the lack of investigation was because Zimmerman was a member of the Illuminati).

                    Why would the refineries care about leaded fuel? Also, the oil industry was labeling lead fears as hysteria long before the EPA got involved, despite very clear evidence that it was toxic. I’m sensing a pattern with that industry…


                    • Outrage and Hysteria simply sat down to tea. You were invited, of course, but your tea smelt strangely of bitter almonds.

                      I suppose you drank anyway. At least the Self-righteous Sandwiches were filling.


                    • This is the flip side of the problem with hysteria: a lot of political actors will label pretty much anything hysteria in order to discredit their opposition. Sometimes they’ll do that and attempt to foment their own sort of hysteria at the same time.

                      It’s annoying. Like many annoying things in life, though, it doesn’t seem like there’s a great alternative.


                    • Why would the refineries care about leaded fuel?

                      They cared because they had spent hundreds of millions building gasoline additive units that suddenly became obsolete, while they were forced to spend hundreds of millions to build new additive facilities that would not be reimbursed through higher gasoline prices (unlike scrubbers in power plants that could be passed on to customers in the tariff)

                      One of my old jobs was working for the design and construction of an MTBE (a gasoline additive that replaced lead) plant. In the early 90s the tab was about 300 millions.

                      MTBE was banned in the USA as a gasoline additive not 10 years later. Another investment down the drain.


                    • “I sense a pattern with that industry” makes me think of the weird media bias most people have. They’ll read a story about something they know quite a bit about (perhaps they were involved, or it’s their field of expertise, etc) and say “They didn’t get anything right!” and then turn to another article outside their own personal experience and say “That sounds right” — they don’t extend their experiences logically, into the notion that reporting on fields that require heavy knowledge or expertise is often…really bad, because reporters lack the knowledge and expertise to cut through the BS and the flack.

                      It’s not just the oil industry — which cheerfully lied about lead, and CO2 it turns out, to profit it’s bottom line. Tobacco did it to, quite happily. Name a pharmaceutical company, and they’ve got a drug that costs 100x as much and, at most, works just as well as another….

                      And oh god, moving into historical examples….

                      In the pursuit of profit, there are very, very few things industries won’t do in the name of higher profits, even if such things are long-term stupid. They’ll happily take short-term profits now, because the fallout will happen to someone else.

                      Which is why, by and large, I’m suspicious of nuke plants. I don’t like the design history (derived from naval designs, with the ready access to seawater, the localized failure, and the compact, high-energy designs), I don’t like the fact that the failure mode is…expensive….and I don’t like the number of things they’ve been caught cutting corners on.

                      It’s not that I don’t trust commercial nuclear power. I don’t trust the most common designs in the hands of private, profit-seeking concerns.

                      In the hands of the Navy? Not a problem. In the hands of, oh, Reliant Energy? Less so.

                      Give me a safer, more sensible design? I’m all ears. Place the development of the reactor, and subsequent maintenance and safety in the hands of non-profit seeking entities with the power and ability to make sure things are well and good? I’m listening.

                      That’s not because radiation is scary. It’s because I’ve seen a pattern in industry I don’t like the idea of seeing in nuclear reactors.


                    • Why would the refineries care about leaded fuel

                      Because the alternatives for raising octane level were more expensive. It’s like any industry being told that their costs are going to go up. (I recall guest editorials in the Wall Street Journal that the replacements were going be more toxic than lead, but the fishing EPA was too fishing stupid to fishing understand that. Lies, of course.)


                        • I’m sure they did. There’s two kinds of expense, of course: the stuff costs more, which you can pass right along, and whatever capital expenses are involved in the changeover, which you can’t, at least not immediately, and which divert capital from where you wanted to invest it.

                          But I’m not sure what you’re asking: don’t most businesses lobby against new regulations?


                          • I can understand what J_A said about large capital investments with the additive equipment. But (and this clearly shows how little I know of the specifics of the refining process), isn’t raising octane just additional refining?

                            ETA: I’m not trying to argue here, I’m genuinely curious.


                            • The octane number is just a comparison of how an engine fuel compares with how a mixture of iso-octane and heptane (eight and sever carbon atoms hydrocarbons) would burn. 90 octanes neans it burns just like a 90-10 octane-heptane mixture. You can get octane numbers above 100 if it burns better than pure octane (racing fuels and AV gas are 100 plus octanes)

                              You get to improve the octane number not just by adding more octane (which is indeed a matter of refining, not that refining is cheap) but you can do it by adding additives like lead tetraetyl, ethanol, or MTBE (ethanol has less energy than gasoline, so ethanol improves the octanes but reduces the energy content by volume).

                              Though (basic) refining is just (just, hehe) a physical process that separates the different hydrocarbons present in the mixture we call oil, most additives (ethanol being an exception) are petrochemical products that require fairly complex chemical processes to manufacture.


                              • OK

                                So, unleaded is more expensive to produce, which should mean it’s a pass through cost, right? Once you get past any capital investment on new equipment, producing the new formulation just means the price at the pump goes up. So I can understand petro resistance to making the capital investments needed to change the formulation, but not resistance to anything beyond that (which is what Mike was implying, that the resistance was about producing the new formulation long term, not just buying new equipment).


                                • Unlike electricity delivery, in which companies are protected by the natural monopoly structure, gasoline production , like Coca Cola, is fully exposed to market pressures.

                                  Phasing out lead, or MTBE, does not mean refiners can automatically pass on the price increase to customers. Additive manufacturers and gasoline makers need to compete, and they do, fiercely. Refining is a very low margin business, and a great way to lose enormous amounts of money.

                                  In reality, the only place you make money in the oil business is in the crude production. All the rest is a really crappy business, requiring enormous investments and subject to both regulatory and market pressures.


                • I think you are letting your engineer grown up mind drive away your political three year old mind (*). You won’t get far this way.

                  Reasonable people making intelligent reality-based observations, and proposing coherent, value-cost driven solutions, will never, ever, ever, ever, bring political change (and banning CFCs or leaded gasoline is political change). You need the common people to engage, and for that you need noise, and storm, and drang. Lots of it.

                  The French Revolution wasn’t going anywpwhere until the fishmonger and baker mobs assaulted Versailles. Talk about hysterics.

                  (*) Pot, You say your name is? I’m Kettle. So pleased to meet you


                  • Yeah, let’s NOT hold up the French Revolution as a positive example of political change through hysterics, ‘K?

                    As I said to Mike, there is a difference between outrage & hysterics. Kind of like the difference between a bomb and a biological weapon. Both kill, but only one of them is certain to have a very limited area of impact.

                    ETA: For a more real world example – Outrage helps get us political action, (hopefully) useful regulation, and some enforcement. Hysteria get us firebombed research labs.


                  • I think you are letting your engineer grown up mind drive away your political three year old mind (*). You won’t get far this way.

                    Reasonable people making intelligent reality-based observations, and proposing coherent, value-cost driven solutions, will never, ever, ever, ever, bring political change…

                    Not sure why we would want to incentive more three-year-old-mind political thinking as opposed to intelligent reality-based thinking. It may be politically expedient to speak directly to people’s hindbrains to get them to take or demand action on certain issues, but in the long run that is how you end up with Trump and various other populist movements.

                    If more people had the knowledge and the ability to make fully informed micro-level decisions in the context of true costs and benefits, the less political change we’ll need.


      • PS If anyone is wondering, it was “I’m shocked that YOU didn’t even mention climate change,” given that has some experience in writing about climate change – she even mentions it in her bio. I know she knows about it so I’m surprised she doesn’t count it into the balance. Is all.


      • As Chip mentioned, we imposed draconian regulations – even when, in e.g. the case of DDT, there was actual harm in doing so. And massive governmental investment in unproven technologies.

        All of which will surely bear fruit, since we’ve done the same with climate change since the evidence became overwhelming in the late ’90s. Oh, wait…