The impoverished younger generation deserves our sympathy, says Patrick West
By Keir Milburn
Polity Press, 140pp, £9.99/$15
Young people don’t get a good press these days. Sure, “the youth of today” is a grumble as old as mankind, but the millennials of the early 21st century are mocked and denounced to an unprecedented degree. If not demonised as hypersensitive “snowflakes” who seek to ban anything they find offensive or hurtful to their feelings, they are criticised as whiny, spoilt brats who don’t know how good they have it.
Whether such opprobrium is deserved is a moot point; what is undisputed is that ours is an age divided between young and old.
Keir Milburn agrees that we live in times of generational conflict and incomprehension. Yet he wouldn’t concur with the “snowflake” stereotype. Quite the opposite. He is sympathetic to the younger generations who seemingly will never be able to own a home, who face the prospect of being the first in living memory to be poorer than their parents, and for whom the future looks bleak.
Indeed, rather than asking the young to pull themselves together, Milburn believes that it is the Baby Boomers and Generation X who need to re-examine their ways.
We’ve been tinkering with a “neoliberal” capitalist consensus for decades now, a fundamentally flawed model which, as 2008 proved, is inherently prone to chronic collapse, and a system that today perpetuates growing inequality. “Generation Left” are drawn to the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders because they see figures who are no longer content with appeasing those complacent conservatives who are too selfish or blinkered to see the contradictions inherent present-day society.
Milburn writes with clarity and sympathy, even though his overuse of the word “neoliberal” makes him sound like the left-wing activist Owen Jones. But he is essentially right on one level: young people in 2019 are unfairly caricatured. At the same time, Baby Boomers are also unjustly demonised. How were they, as callow twentysomethings coming of age in the 1960s, to know they were living in the golden years?
Yet, as much as today’s twentysomethings deserve our sympathy, especially in the economic realm, there is something wholly depressing about their Year Zero politics.
Will humanity ever learn? Revolutions never solve anything: they always beget chaos, violence and death. Perhaps the youth really should listen to their elders and betters.