For the past 70 years, America's fortunes and freedom have coincided with the wave of Baby Boomers who have dominated the global economic and political landscape. That era is coming to an end. It will be a slow, and hopefully happy ending, but regardless of happy or not, the Baby Boomer era is in its final innings.
Taking the place of the Boomers in the economic, political and social landscapes are the Millennials. This too often maligned generation has suffered a slow start to financial life through almost no fault of their own. They have not had a slow start at life however.
While in their formative college years, the oldest Millennials witnessed the 9-11 attacks which led many of them, in a call to patriotism, overseas to fight wars which are easily questioned today. Nearly a million have come back physically, psychologically and/or emotionally challenged. The shame of their return is that they have received, even today after much attention to the problem, inferior care and help in returning to a pursuit of the American dream. To date, 4502 American military have died in operations in and near Iraq since 2003 and 2382 have died in and near Afghanistan since 2001 - the vast majority Millennials.
The Millennials have also had to withstand accusations of being lazy and self-centered for a host of reasons, almost none of which are not correct.
Beginning in the early 2000s, a host of problems that the Millennials certainly did not create as children, met them just as they were ready for the work force. They walked into a pump and dump economy, that had roots to the early 1980s, that didn't create jobs for the better part of a decade. The jobs that were created, went primarily to Boomers until very recently. In addition, the wages that Millennials are making are lower than what was available a generation ago on an inflation adjusted basis. So, in addition to inheriting a wartime period, they were handed the worst economy since the Great Depression.
I have known a lot of Millennials through various activities I've participated in. I have met thousands through running the Milwaukee men's baseball league for a decade, coaching the youngest of the generation - my kids and their friends, online, as well as, on my annual tours around the country by car. Here's what I know about them. The vast majority are willing to work hard to get ahead. They save more than their parents did. They'll switch jobs for more money. They don't like being told what to do, they prefer to be led. They are a no bullshit generation.
If you have read the Fourth Turning, then you will know that the Millennials correspond to the WWII generation in the four generation cycle. That means it is their turn to save society. And saving it does seem to need.
Here are ten hurdles the Millennials will face if they are to successfully save American freedom and help the world too:
- Self-righteous, self-validating attitudes. This problem seems to have gotten worse in the age of the internet. It's pervasive and Millennials need to soften it down. It'll be a problem for younger people to deal with this psychological challenge. This is a constant battle for all younger generations. People looking down on you. Don't tolerate it. Keep on keeping on. You're the future, and if you handle your attitudes well, that's all you need to know about attitude.
- Aging demographics that threaten to cripple the global economy. The Boomers are largely broke, with 3/4 having no real retirement savings. Millennials will need to make sure that they take their inheritance up front by making money helping the Boomers. The best advice I got in college was "lay down in front of the Baby Boomers, they'll make you money." Many Millennials would be well served to take that advice too - think healthcare services and opening businesses in place of those the Boomers shutter.
- Terrorism inspired by religion and ideology. This one is a wildcard. Things could get much worse in a world where many people are disaffected, under educated and manipulated. It will take cunning geopolitical skills to slowly turn down terrorism, along with continued development of the global economy - give people something to care about and they are less likely to want to fight and risk it.
- inward thought. The idea that globalism has ruined economic opportunity is false. What has hurt economic opportunity is cheating and manipulation. Turning inward would have the same damaging effects we saw in the first half of the 20th century. History is worth learning from. Today's moment gets a lot of attention, but we ought to be aware of how we got here. Closing ourselves off from the world and history is a major threat to our freedom and security.
- Deteriorating cities. Millennials will need to fix the cities to keep America from turning into a terrible movie set. This is imperative. Here in Milwaukee the Millennials are doing well to rehab several neighborhoods, but they have to deal with a terrible mayor, police chief an city council. Similar problems are everywhere. Rehabbing the cities provides jobs and peace, however, it has to be a complete effort to get people to care and participate, rather than obstruct and deprecate.
- Top down management of the economy. I know socialism made a little feel the Bern comeback, however, it has failed everywhere it's been tried with the exception of nations with a lot of oil. As we should know now, oil is bad and dying. Even Norway, especially Norway, is going to feel that in coming decades. The answer to today's inequalities is not socialism. Socialism is the greatest idea that doesn't work.
- Crony and special interest capitalism. While regulated capitalism is what made America rich and great, it is clear that power and wealth have flowed to a very small subset of people. This happens because as some get wealthy, they spend money to fortify their positions by lobbying for rules, laws and tax breaks that benefit them. There is also a financial and industry executive class that has always participated in a big skim on the economy. Control the manipulators by taking away their privilege and tax breaks. That is all capitalism needs to work for everybody again.
- Climate change and unsustainable practices. While there are still those who poo-poo the idea that mankind has severely impacted the planet, they are fools. In fact, if you don't think that the planet is getting worse because of us burning a lot of fossil fuels, over-fishing, ruining water supplies, dumping waste and a host of other things, please, cancel your subscription. This hurdle is also the greatest opportunity on the planet - for those seeking meaningful work, as well as, investors. Use this opportunity to help the world and get wealthy doing it.
- Your own youth and inexperience. While I know Millennials like to think they are very smart - and in may ways you are - you are still inexperienced and that matters. Take a lot of deep breaths and be thoughtful in your words and actions. It comes with age, I fought impulsiveness and overconfidence a long time, but we could use you to skip ahead if you don't mind.
- Technology. While technology offers great potential, it also offers great risk. It is not impossible that IoT and AI become ways to take your freedom. Monitor and control technology, not the other way around. And, make sure you keep going to parties (I'm serious), it's extremely important that social interactions and your relationships don't get caught by the apps.
There are of course more things I could list, but the long and short of it is this. Millennials you're up. Take the challenges as opportunities and you will make America great again. You don't need demagogues to help you. If you hire the right politicians (which probably means getting rid of most incumbents), work for the right companies, start your own companies and support your family, friends and neighborhoods, you'll do fine and the world will get better again.