Millennials understand that the economy is not meant to work for us. We see a system that exclusively serves a tiny number of individuals at the top. These lucky few amass extraordinary amounts of wealth while a vast majority of us struggle to get by, as median wages have barely risen and almost all of the post-recovery gains have gone to the 1 percent. As Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren likes to say, the game is rigged, and it’s time to fix it.
Throughout this nascent campaign season, I’ve been struck by the incredible chasm that exists between Republican priorities and those of my generation. The GOP candidates have occasionally used the right buzzwords – like “inequality,” “opportunity” and “middle class” – but they are dramatically failing to give the explanation that we know to be true about how our economy ended up the way it is.
Frankly, it is somewhat surprising (and encouraging) that Republicans acknowledge that these problems exist at all, even if they do so only sparingly – or in the case of Thursday’s Republican debate, very sparingly – and only to win votes. They claim that deregulating markets and lowering taxes would fix the inequitable status quo. In their view, doing away with the anti-growth policies of the Obama regime would lead to an economic boom that would solve all of our problems, including the grave (and somehow immediate) threat of unbalanced budgets.
Besides the fact that there is absolutely no empirical evidence for the idea that deregulation or tax cuts encourage growth, they are fundamentally missing the point. Economic growth is not an end in itself or a panacea for our current crisis; we need growth in which the benefits specifically accrue to the 99 percent.
On some level, even worse than their nonsense policy prescriptions is their narrative about how this unequal situation came to be. They almost entirely blame oppressive government policies that stifle markets and individuals, and impede economic activity.
And herein lies their downfall.
There is absolutely no recognition – not even a hint! – of the role that uninhibited markets and the super rich have played in creating and perpetuating this current crisis, nor any willingness to take actions that compromise the power of the wealthiest individuals. To me, this is perhaps the most disappointing, and frankly terrifying, aspect of contemporary conservative ideology, and something that I doubt my generation will tolerate for much longer.
We saw a underregulated financial system destroy the world’s economy (which, by the way, Republican presidential candidate and former HP executive Carly Fiorina attributed exclusively to the government’s backing of mortgages), only for the banks and their wealthy employees to be bailed out by the federal government. And now, beyond their unwillingness to hurl even one word of criticism at Wall Street, we see the continued efforts from conservatives to undo the few successes of a watered-down Dodd-Frank financial reform bill and to staunchly oppose any future regulation that would crack down on the risky financial sector.
We understand that the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage, and that left to their own devices, private corporations would pay their workers even less in their never-ending quest for greater profits. Meanwhile, Republicans lament that American businesses are not “more competitive” globally, opposing any efforts to lend American workers a hand.
Many of us personally know individuals who have been victimized by insidious predatory lenders or fraudulent for-profit colleges, institutions that can only exist in an unapologetically capitalist society like ours. But to Republicans, these are merely small costs that come with what they call the economic freedom afforded to us by this great country.
We also realize that the super rich – whether it be private sector executives, corporate lawyers, or those in the financial industry – are the individuals responsible for much of this situation, thanks to their armies of lobbyists and the huge sums of money they spend on campaigns. They alone stand to gain from the increased corporate profits, irresponsible lending and risky gambling that results from unregulated markets.
But again, Republicans are unwilling to identify their role, or even suggest that they share the burden of reform. To them, slashing funds for schools and social programs is a prudent way to balance budgets, but asking the extraordinarily wealthy to pay any more in taxes would ruin the economy.
Those of us who have come of age in the past 15 years have seen the consequences of a capitalist society run amok. We understand that the problem is not the government giving too much aid to the poor or spending too much on education, but being too acquiescent to the interests of the rich and big business. They can hide their true intentions behind vague policy proposals and dishonest rhetoric, but my generation won’t buy the nonsense narrative Republicans are selling.