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.
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.
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