My So-Called Generation

Tucker Carlson
Round Three: Concluding Remarks - August 25, 1999

I'm still hung up on this idea that while the rest of America is richer than it has ever been, Generation X is somehow just barely holding on. It seems to me that if anything, Generation X is too comfortable for its own good -- overfed, underchallenged, and prone to whining. Wracked with anxiety over a financially uncertain future? No generation with an expectation of ever being poor would spend so much on mountain bikes.

From Post & Riposte:

"The entire discussion of 'Gen X' is predicated on the invisibility of those who don't fit the stereotype: the poor and others who have been TRADITIONALLY disenfranchised. So when members of 'Generation X,' by whom we actually mean educated, young, white people, complain about their lack of opportunity, we should properly respond by saying, "JOIN THE CLUB! STOP WHINING! and GET TO WORK!" Certainly, young people today have less opportunity for political participation, certainly they have more forces arrayed against them that promote apathy and self-indulgence. These things are real and must be acknowledged. What is intolerable and positively nauseating, however, is the insistence of one, traditionally privileged SUBGROUP of the young complaining about their highly relative misfortune. Few spectacles are more disgusting than this. What is the answer? Organization by people who disregard the concept of 'generations.' Concerted efforts to expand the political arena in MEANINGFUL ways--like joining unions, participating in boycotts and nominating authentic candidates for office. Above all, 'Gen X' must abandon the idea of their entitlement, organize with other marginalized groups, and simply get to work changing things."
--Matt Struckmeyer, "Generational Costs/Benefits" (08/22)

What do you think? Join the conversation.

Bah, says Ted Halstead. Generation X is teetering on the economic brink. In Round Two he comes up with three pieces of evidence: 1) "the vast majority of Xers" aren't making a killing in the stock market; 2) two-thirds of them "will never receive a four-year college education"; and 3) "most are working harder and harder just to make ends meet." To which I say: 1) no kidding; 2) so what; and 3) says who? Of course most people aren't getting rich from Internet IPOs. (Though the guy who's putting new shingles on my roof says he is.) Very few people made fortunes in gold during the 1850s in California, either. But thousands of others made comfortable livings in industries spawned by the gold rush. The interesting question is not how many Steve Cases the Internet boom has produced, but how many poorly educated twenty-six-year-olds now have decent-paying jobs thanks to AOL and companies like it. The answer is, lots and lots.

Which leads to Halstead's second point: too few young people are spending four years in college. My gut response is, good. College is a bore, and for many people, a total waste of time. The average person would be better served by a few years in a decent trade school, or, ideally, in an on-the-job apprenticeship. (If you ran a software firm, would you be more apt to hire someone who'd spent four years earning a sociology degree, or someone who'd spent the same amount of time learning to write code?) A lot of people our age seem to be catching on to this. Which is why, despite the easy availability of college loans, relatively few are choosing to waste four years on campus, drinking beer and reading fourth-rate feminist novelists. They could be making $50,000 a year in an entry-level job at AOL instead.

Whether they are working any harder than their parents did is another question. Halstead says they are. So do the newsweeklies, which every year or so, usually during the August news drought, run stories about how Americans are increasingly overworked, pressed for time, forced to multi-task, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah, whine, whine, whine. I've been reading essentially the same story since I was little. Has the standard of living in America really been declining for twenty-five years? Someone needs to get to the bottom of this and other such frequently repeated factoids. Let's start an organization -- The Foundation for Cliché Research -- and get some data together. Until then, I'm going to have to dismiss Halstead's assertion as unfounded. Every generation thinks it has to work harder than the one that preceded it. I don't see any evidence that ours actually does.

I do see evidence that Generation X complains a lot about politics. Farai Chideya maintains that young Americans aren't simply bored with the present political system, they are "disenfranchised" from it. Like Ted Halstead, she believes a longer menu of political parties is part of the answer. "Creating a third (and fourth and fifth) viable political party," she says, would give more power to people who are passionately interested in specific issues. She's right. But there's a cost attached. More parties mean narrower, more fractured politics. Giving political activists more control over the workings of government means -- or will inevitably come to mean -- empowering the political fringes. Upset about the influence of the gun lobby? Wait till the NRA becomes a political party.

There are more sensible ways to reform government. I hate to sound like a public service announcement, but if you don't like the way the country is run, you could always just vote.

Next page: Farai Chideya

What do you think?

Join the debate in Post & Riposte. We'll highlight selected readers' remarks as the Roundtable progresses.

Tucker CarlsonTucker Carlson writes for Talk and The Weekly Standard. His profile of George W. Bush appeared in Talk's premiere issue.

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