Arnold Kling  

Random Thought

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From a graduation speech by Neil Howe, reprinted by John Mauldin.

The Millennial Generation is correcting for the excesses of Boomers and Gen Xers who today run America. I need not remind you what those excesses are: leadership gridlock, refusal to compromise, rampant individualism, the tearing down of traditions, scorched-earth culture wars, and a pathological distrust of all institutions.

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COMMENTS (15 to date)
David writes:

Those excesses seem to indicate that he believes the Millennial generation is more friendly toward the status quo and government/institutions than Baby Boomers and Generation Xers. I'm not sure I agree with that or see evidence of it being the case.

rpl writes:

You can never go wrong in a graduation speech by telling the new graduates that their parents' generation sucks and all hope for things to get better lies with the new generation. It is the other side of the "kids these days" coin. We Gen-Xers received a dose of the same guff when we graduated, and I expect the Baby Boomers probably did too.

John L writes:

Let's look at these excesses in detail:

- leadership gridlock. Could be good or bad, depending on what one party or the other is trying to do. Gridlock stopping new development of energy projects is bad, gridlock preventing another trillion or two being added to debt is good, for example.

- refusal to compromise. See above

- rampant individualism. Probably inaccurate, most Americans seem quite happy to follow the herd if it means more money or benefits paid for by someone else (hence, why politicians love earmarks). For a bunch of individualists, they also don't seem to mind the TSA, DHS, the Patriot Act or nationalized healthcare.

- the tearing down of traditions. Have to blame that one on the democrats/liberals/progressives/etc... Conservatives are fairly well-known champions of tradition and the past. Hence, the word 'conserve' in conservatism.

- scorched earth culture wars. Not really accurate. You don't get 'scorched earth' in American culture wars, only in real wars. If the speaker wants to see people who put the 'war' in 'culture war', just go overseas, especially the Middle East or Africa. And no, abortion and gay marriage don't count. Unless hundreds of people turn up dead next year in clashes over these issues, it isn't war-like.

- pathological distrust of all institutions. Laughably untrue for any but the purest libertarians, which is why we just had a gigantic housing bubble crisis, followed by a massive federal spending spree, followed by more calls for the government to 'do something' (aka 'throwing more gas on the fire'). Not exactly the actions of people who distrust institutions.

On the whole, kind of an incoherent stab at the Baby Boomers and Gen X with a random grab-bag of personal dislikes and pet peeves. If I interpret the speakers intent, however, he wants the new graduates to stop debating, get in line and just do what the government (and other 'traditional' institutions) tell them to do. I'm not sure a bunch of twenty-somethings are really going to rally around that sentiment, but who knows, maybe if you got the president to push it, they might go for it...

Joe Cushing writes:

What is an excess?

Collin writes:

Nothing to see here. They could have given that same graduation speech the last 150 years with minor variations.

IVV writes:

Anything that throws the Boomers and Gen-Xers together is suspect.

On the other hand, the Boomers were right: Don't trust anyone over 30.

Randy writes:

I tend to agree with every one of the mentioned "excesses", but I will apologize for none of them.

David R. Henderson writes:

@John L,
I agree with everything John L says in his cogent comment above except for one, the one on tradition.
Conservatives have also attacked tradition. Think about how few of them have spoken out against the drone hits on innocent people in Asia. The drone war is not traditional.

Glen Smith writes:

The only pathological reaction to institutions I have ever seen is pathological loyalty to institutions run by "my side" and pathological phobia when those SAME institutions are controlled by "their side".

John L writes:

@David H.

Hmm, interesting way to look at conservatives and military technology. According to this line of thought, I am suggesting that conservatives should be opposed to Theater Missile Defense, battlefield lasers, stealth technology, tilt-rotor aircraft, caseless ammunition and any other piece of military tech that has been recently introduced (along with armed drones, of course).

This, of course, is nonsense, conservatives and liberals differ over the over-arching aims and goals of warfare, not which 'tool' is used to carry it out (though it can be interesting to watch non-conservatives get the vapors when talking about the atomic bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while completely ignoring the fact that the fire-bombing of Tokyo and Edo actually killed more people. Victor Hanson has written extensively about this odd fixation on certain aspects of 'total war')

jb writes:

Telling a young person that the "excessive" generations before her had a "Pathological distrust of institutions" is just marketing. Lovely.

Mike W writes:

According to Mauldin (I'm assuming via Howe)...a generation is "a 20-year period...and generational social tendencies repeat roughly every 80 years...". That would mean the transformational generation will be the one after the Millennials.

That fits with my experience with the Millennials...i.e., they are generally unmotivated and self-involved and transformation of society is more likely to come from the generation that witnesses the results of those traits.

John David Galt writes:

If we ever get a Tea Party-controlled Congress and President, it will be possible to honestly say that "individualism runs the country today." This has not yet happened (and "mainstream," big-spender Republicans like Romney don't qualify).

Joe Cushing writes:

Mike W,

I realize this post is stale now but I'll give this a shot anyway. Every older generation views the younger generation as generally unmotivated and self-involved. They have been saying that for thousands of years.

RPLong writes:

Rampant individualism? Are you kidding me? Narcissism, maybe. Individualism? Not hardly.

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