Debunking the millennial cliches

Author Malcolm Harris examines one generation’s economic burdens

The cover of Harris’ recent release.

The cover of Harris’ recent release.

Photo courtesy of hachette book group

Kids These Days will be published on November 7. Malcom Harris will discuss his book at 7 p.m. November 21 at East Bay Booksellers, 5433 College Avenue in Oakland.

Millennials are all grown up, and the national media conversations bemoaning porn-addled sexlessness and avocado-toast-gorging couch surfers reveal a generational vexation about their trajectory. Millennials are doing everything wrong, according to the data and financial lords of the op-ed columns. Yet broader, more nuanced takes than these click-bait headlines are few and far between.

Enter Malcolm Harris. In his book, Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials, Harris details the historical and structural factors that have shaped the lives of millennials. He illuminates how the external factors of the pre-millennial economy created the conditions that appear—to so many cursory glances—as contradictions.

He argues: The millennial cohort isn’t afforded the freedom of self discovery; they’re the hardest working, most educated demographic in memory; they have the least economic mobility and the most debt without an emergency parachute; and they’re suffering massive burnout because of the hyper-competition for fewer real-world resources in a variety of labor markets.

In many ways, the expectations of millennials are framed by the exuberance of the baby-boom generation. However, the boomers had an ascendant economy, room for growth, factories to employ them. Millennials have none of this.

Because domestic production has been in decline since roughly 1973, our economy has seen a series of non-starts and sputters. Neither the housing bubble nor Silicon Valley has eclipsed a random day in 1957 in production and profitability. This appears as massive under- and un-employment, and there’s no solution in sight.

These are the economic doldrums from which millennials emerge.

Harris knows this. His conclusions deftly locate a series of choices facing the millennial cohort. None of the historical fixes on offer have made any effective change to the economic world system we’ve inherited. Harris astutely locates the results we will be dealing with in the coming years, including the nascent rise of technologically enabled fascism as a result of the increasingly displaced white middle class clinging to the vestiges of a disappearing status quo.

Though they didn’t create them, millennials will be tasked with solving these problems and more simultaneously. They’ll have to combat and overcome the failures of our previous generations who, like the “bourgeois snitches” of Land Park criminalizing the unhoused individuals most directly affected by socioeconomic failures, continue to champion the myopic policies of an empire in decline.