The New Conflict of Generations


Written by Joseph E. Stiglitz:

“Something interesting has emerged in voting patterns on both sides of the Atlantic: young people are voting markedly differently from their elders. The big divide is not based so much on income, formal education or the gender of voters. This division. The lives of both the old and the young are different. Their pasts are different, and so their perspectives are different. divisão

he Cold War, for example, was over even before some were born and while others were still children. Words like socialism do not convey the meaning they once did. If socialism means creating a society where shared concerns don’t just get little attention – where people care about other people and the environment in which they live – so be it. Yes, experiments under this rubric may have failed half a century ago; but the experiences of today bear no resemblance to those of the past. So the failure of these past experiences says nothing about the new ones.

The elders of the American upper middle class and the Europeans had a good life. When they joined the workforce, well-paying jobs were waiting for them. The question they asked was what they wanted to do, not how long they would have to live with their parents before getting a job that would allow them to leave their parents’ house.

This generation took job security for granted, getting married young, buying a house—maybe a summer house, too—and finally retiring with reasonable security. Overall, they expected (and often managed) to be better than their parents.

While today’s older generation has encountered bumps along the way, in most cases their expectations have been met. They may have done more on capital gains in their homes than on work. They almost certainly found it odd, but they gladly accepted the gift of our speculative markets, and credit was often given to purchase at the right place at the right time.

Today, the expectation of young people, wherever they are in the income distribution, is the opposite. They face job insecurity throughout their lives. On average, many college graduates will search for months before finding a job – often only after they’ve done an unpaid internship or two. And they consider themselves lucky young people because they know that their poorer peers, some of whom have also gone to the best schools, cannot afford to spend a year or two without income, nor do they have the connections to get one. first stage.

oday’s young graduates are saddled with debt – the poorer you are, the more they owe. So they don’t ask themselves what job they would like to do; they simply wonder what job will allow them to pay their college debts, which will often burden them for 20 years or more. Likewise, buying a home is a distant dream.

This means that young people are not thinking much about retirement. If they did, they’d just be horrified at how much they should be saving to live a decent life (because social security doesn’t guarantee a decent life), given the likely persistence of rock-bottom interest rates.

In short, today’s youth view the world through the lens of intergenerational equity. Upper-middle-class children may do well in the end because they will inherit their parents’ wealth. However, they generally don’t like this kind of dependency, and they like even less the “fresh start” alternative in which the cards on the table play against anything that even comes close to the basic middle-class lifestyle.

These inequalities cannot be easily explained. It’s not that these young people don’t work hard: these difficulties affect those who spent long hours studying, excelled in school, and did everything “right”. The sense of social injustice – that the economic game is being manipulated – reinforces how they see the bankers who brought the financial crisis, the cause of the continuing malaise in the economy, and got away with it unscathed and still with mega-bonuses, with no one being held responsible for your mistakes. Massive frauds were committed, but somehow, no one was really held responsible for them. Political elites promised that “reforms” would bring unprecedented prosperity. And they did, but only for the top 1%. Everyone else, including young people, gained unprecedented insecurity.

These three realities – social injustice on an unprecedented scale, mass inequities, and a loss of confidence in elites – define our political moment, and rightly so.


More importantly, the young person will not find a smooth path into the job market unless the economy works much better. The “official” unemployment rate in the United States hovers around 4.9%, but it masks much higher levels of disguised unemployment that are at least keeping wages low.

But we won’t be able to fix the problem if we don’t recognize it. Our young people recognize it. They sense the lack of intergenerational justice, and they are right to be angry.”

This article was originally posted on Project Syndicate.

Joseph E. Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001 and the Clark John Bates medal in 1979, is a professor at Columbia University.

Written by Feitosa-Santana

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