Paging Reality: The Me Generation?


Time Magazine recently ran an article that labeled the Millenial generation “lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow.”

The article spawned an online debate over the problems with the methodology that was used, the fairness of comparing generations at different times of their lives, and much more.

I’m not interested in defending my generation as unselfish or not entitled. Let’s be honest, anyone who has taught a class in junior high, high school or college in America knows our generation has its problems.

Ask your nearest professor for a horror story. They’ll tell you about a student, a student’s spouse, or a student’s parent (yes, at the college level, a parent) whining about grades and demanding an ‘A’ for substandard work. I had one professor tell me he couldn’t be honest about students’ work for fear he’d be sued. Really.

Simply put, we’re indefensible.

The accusers, however, are an intriguing subject. The Great Gatsby opens with some friendly advice from the father of Nick Carraway that is applicable here.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone … just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

Let’s consider the advantages this generation has been born into, specifically the examples of its parents. Millenials are the children of Baby Boomers and Generation X. What were those generations like?

Before I get too far into an indictment of previous generations, I should say unequivocally that I am not indicting any specific member of the generations discussed or defending the selfish behavior of Millenials. Rather, I’m painting with the same broad brush that is used to derisively refer to “our generation” and the problems we have.

Is the discussion fair? Well, no. Not really. I’m simply returning fire here, and, in the words of their musician Billy Joel, “We didn’t start the fire.”

Back to comparisons. The Baby Boomers were first labeled the “Me” generation in the 1970s, and it wasn’t out of irony. Time similarly attacked Generation X before retracting that attack in 1997.

What about crime rates? Committing violent or property crimes are acts that society considers so selfish it appropriates punishments to the offenders.

According to the FBI, violent crime in the United States started to increase dramatically in the 1960s just as the first Baby Boomers were becoming adults. This escalated to even higher levels in the 1970s and 1980s, peaking in 1991 when late Generation Xers and the first Millenials started becoming teenagers.

How far have we come? The rate of violent crime in America in 2010 hasn’t been this low since 1972. It is approximately 53 percent of what it was in 1991. The trend is the same for property crimes, though the rate in 1968 was the last time it was lower than in 2010.

In short, we’re less likely to commit crimes than our parents.

Given that alone, I think we’re doing far better than could be reasonably expected. We’ve defied the examples of our parents and built a less criminal society. But there is much more. The generation now calling us selfish and entitled has spent itself to the point of bankruptcy at the city, state and federal levels, running its total debt over 100 percent of our annual GDP.

I don’t doubt there are some in our generation that will want to deficit spend like previous generations have, but I’m not sure it is possible. At some point, we’ll hit a tipping point where interest rates go too high and lenders aren’t willing to deal with us. S&P has already downgraded the U.S., and Moody’s threatened to do so if the country can’t get its financial house in order.

So, previous generations took crime in the United States to a much higher level and ran up an obscene amount of debt. Fortunately, we’ve already demonstrated less propensity to commit crimes and the financial world will prevent us from being nearly as irresponsible on the financial side.

Our generation is selfish. It has a problem. But the biggest threat facing the United States, our debt, is not the result of our selfishness. That distinct honor goes to the generation currently telling us to get off their proverbial lawn.

It only takes six words to describe exactly what that Time article was really saying.

Hey kettle, the pot is calling…

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