A Roadmap for the Lost Generation

Column by Robert Taylor.
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"Society is a contract between the living, the dead and those who are yet to be born."  ~ Edmund Burke

For the first time in history, the amount of student loan debt now exceeds the amount of credit card debt in America. For centuries, the US government has been heavily subsidizing student loans and propagating the myth that everyone should be a good little American and go to an expensive, over-sized university, learn all about American expectionalism, noble public servants, and take on lots of debt.

The result? A huge increase in the costs of education, as an understanding of basic economics would predict. Whenever you subsidize something, you get more of it, with very little incentive to keep costs low. Government schools are crippled by these factors. One-size-fits-all standards and useless tests are used to please the bureaucratic hand that feeds them and a bland, mass mediocrity rules the day.

It would be easy to cite statistics on how poorly American kids are being educated, but all it takes is a knowledge of how government functions. Government programs reward failure, shuffle money and paper around, provide lower quality and increasing costs, and suffer from a lack of market prices that help coordinate rational economic decisions.

What government schools are good at, however, is doing precisely what they were intended to do: teach young, malleable minds to obey orders, respect authority for authority's sake, and provide just the amount of skills to be a corporate cookie-cutter who pays their taxes and doesn't ask too many questions. Unfortunately, where there are no job prospects, this leaves many graduates without any ability to function as responsible, mature individuals.

And given that a huge majority of Americans are unfortunately imprisoned in these schools for at least 12 years, this generation is really feeling the effects. People my age are working hard in school to graduate, get a degree, and find that there is no market or jobs open for their degree. So what do you do? Either work at Starbucks, move back home, or join the military--they're pretty busy these days. The economy's flat. And the student loan debt will be paid off for the rest of your life with dollars that lose more and more of their value every day with every bailout, bombing raid, and Bernanke stimulus.

It is for all these reasons that Americans under 30 have completely lost faith in the US economy, their long term job prospects, and are mad as hell. Are we the lost generation?
The Greatest Generation?
If so, the future gives very little hope to be found. Even in the unlikely possibility that Ron Paul is elected President, reins in the empire, cuts spending, and abolishes the income tax, there are still badly needed corrections that need to be made for the economy to turn around.  Yes, these steps in the right direction may cushion the blow a bit, but a country that is tens of trillions in debt with a currency that is approaching little to no value is a recipe for disaster.

When, not if, the dollar breaks, will there be riots? Shortages? Price controls and rationing after Paul is impeached for taking away the heroin from the addicts who soon demand the restoration of their benevolent dictatorship?

Or will Americans, as they have done many times before, shrug it off, pick themselves up, and build something better?

This all depends on if we either learn from the tragic mistakes of our grandparents or instead look back at them with the romantic lens that too often shapes our memories of the past.

Popular history tell us of "the greatest generation" that crushed the Nazis and liberated the world in the "good war." What resulted under this generation's watch, however, was a massive expansion of government power and the implementation of large social welfare programs.  Given that the state is an institution of force and a coercive monopoly over a geographical area, it's hard to blame the victims entirely for a growth in the imposition of violent power. What you can blame them for is a glaring lack of philosophy. Those in that generation that supported New Deal programs like Social Security suffered from an often unseen form of moral hypocrisy: refusing to practice what you privately preach.

For example, I doubt that many of them would have personally picked up a rifle, threatened their children or infant neighbors with aggression if they did not cough up an arbitrary amount of their future income for the rest of their lives, in order to provide for their retirement. The thought of doing this would rightly appal many. Individuals have rights, and to aggress against these rights, no matter the intention, is immoral.

But when a politician with neatly-combed hair offered to do it for them, it suddenly became okay. Decades later, we have a system that is absolutely bankrupt, institutionalizes theft, and leaves the unborn with thousands of dollars of debt-slavery. The refusal to apply their private ethics consistently to the most important realm of ethics--how humans should, and shouldn't, interact with each other--is the tragic failure of "the greatest generation."
Live, Breathe, and Teach Liberty
In the short-term future, as the laws of economics that have been bent and pulled by money printing, taxation, and government spending that, like gravity, become reality, there will be pain. It is also unrealistic to expect a society of statism to be turned into a free and voluntary one overnight. In order to counter decades of indoctrination that instill thoughts of panic, fear, and chaos at the very thought of a free society, those who understand the ideas of liberty must first educate themselves. It's an uphill battle, but the philosophical consistency of a powerful idea can be incredible ammunition.

But it is not enough to talk liberty; one must live it, breathe it, and to, as Albert Camus put it, become "so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” Freedom is an internal, blissful state that no government can confine, cage, or conscript. Liberty is the practical application of this state to how we treat others and how we expect to be treated in return.  Education is the only way that these ideas can spread and grow, and this is how we can learn from the mistakes of previous generations. They taught their children that it is wrong to to initiate aggression against others at the very same time that they cheered, or passively accepted, this same aggression being institutionalized.

The only thing that I can do is to reject this moral Bizarro World when raising my eventual children. Initiating force is always wrong, no matter who you are, and to always find non-violent solutions to addressing the problems of the future. Love, logic, and reason over spanking and silent treatments. Since I have come to discover the ideas of liberty on my own, it would be a violation of these principles to shove Rothbard down his throat.

This is the "contract" Edmund Burke speaks of, the chains of values and ethics that tie a society's past, present, and future. If these chains are littered with contradictions, moral exceptions, and outright violence, then they will either break or be passed on in even weaker links. Leading by the force of a good example is not just wise advice from the Founders on foreign policy, but the only way to sow the seeds so that liberty can develop, breathe, grow, then spread like fire.

When it comes to the financial future, I am the last guy to ask. My only advice would be to find a practical job, save money, buy gold, read voraciously, educate yourself, withdraw your consent from Leviathana in every way possible, look for the best, and prepare for the worst.

And though I may not see human liberty in my lifetime, I sure as hell won't repeat the pattern of ethical hypocrisy that will only make a free society impossible. This is how my generation, lost in the spider web of statism our ancestors left us, can be found.

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Westernerd's picture
Columns on STR: 7

lives in San Francisco, California. He spends his time reading voraciously, ranting, and advocating the virtues of economic and political freedom. He has written for multiple websites and hopes to play a small part in bringing a voluntary market society into fruition. He enjoys billiards, whiskey, and sabermetrics. He blogs at A Little Rebellion.


jd-in-georgia's picture

This is a great article. Just this past week, Jessi, a girl under our guardianship, had just written a paper on the perils of social promotion. Social promotion is where one is pushed through the system so that they will graduate with his or her peers, regardless of their level of intelligence. I was genuinely touched that a public school teacher cared enough to challenge a student to voice her opinion on the bogus nature of public education.

Peter McCandless's picture

Excellent piece. Yes, many of "greatest generation" sacrificed to fight aggression overseas only to institutionalize more of it here. Excellent point.