“You Don’t Know How Good You Have It”
A plurality of American twenty-somethings support common-sense public policies like Medicare-for-all, a living wage, and tuition-free public universities. As a result, we frequently receive chastisement from the older generations—the sort that impugns our work ethic and questions whether we appreciate the value of the Almighty Dollar.
The logic seems to go something like this:
“In my day, people had to scrimp and save to go to college. I don’t believe in free rides.”
“Minimum-wage jobs were never intended to support a family.”
“If you give somebody something for free, they’ll never appreciate what it is to earn. They’ll never understand the value of hard work.”
Consider, though, that at one point in time, virtually every human being spent their entire day struggling with the tasks of gathering food, tending the fire, and caring for the young and infirm. There were literally no other roles available to these primitive humans. Every moment in life necessarily had to be an all-encompassing struggle for survival because resources were scarce.
But eventually, modern technologies made life’s necessities more widely available to the population. This enabled them to turn their attention from mere survival toward more important pursuits, such as developing new technologies.
For our primitive ancestors, the resources necessary for survival were little more than food, water, and shelter. These days, we’ve expanded this list to include economic dignity, access to healthcare, and a decent education. In plainly written English, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes each of these as an essential human right. 48 nations formally adopted this charter, including the United States. But for some reason, we never bothered updating our Constitution to reflect this new consensus.
Perhaps it’s time to make good on our promise. It just so happens that the one survival resource we use to acquire all the others (Dollars) has never been less scarce.
The United States is the richest country that has ever existed. Our nation’s current GDP is $17.914 trillion per year. But our “personal consumption expenditure,” which takes into account the basic necessities of each person in the US, only comes to about $12.39 trillion per year. That’s according to data aggregated by Wolfram Alpha. I’m sure it’s not perfect, but it’s a good-enough ballpark figure.
In other words, there’s absolutely no excuse for letting even a single one of our citizens go without food, or potable water, or shelter, or medical care, or an education. There is no reason to withhold life’s necessities, because we now produce not just what we need for survival, but a great deal more than that. To put it another way, resources are no longer scarce.
And consider this:
“Conventional wisdom” says that if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.”
In other words, the solution to poverty in America (a problem that persists only because we choose to let it) is not to provide ongoing welfare, as it’s currently understood, but instead to provide opportunity.
And in the year 2015, opportunity looks a lot like economic dignity for all, unconditional access to healthcare for all, free access to the minimum required level of education (college—not high school), and a minimum wage that at least keeps pace with inflation and the cost of living. There’s nothing radical about any of this, is there?
Demanding these things of our government, and our captains of industry, does not mean we have a work ethic problem. We are not categorically lazier, more arrogant, or more entitled than any previous generation. We ask that you not judge our generation according to our least flattering specimens. Trust me: you want us to extend you the same courtesy. You really, really do.
You needn’t have been born into poverty to appreciate the value of hard work. You also needn’t have pillaged your life’s savings to pay for college, or a medical operation, or gone without either of these, to have learned that same lesson.
It’s precisely because my generation has a deep respect for education, and modern medicine, and economic dignity, that we want to make them more widely available to each member of the next generation.
Is this not, in fact, the very purpose of Civilization? Is this not the moral imperative that each generation owes to the next? To see to it that our children have it better than we did?
If a society does not create opportunities for success, we cannot be surprised when people do not achieve it.
This also appeared on Medium.