Article Reference: https://fee.org/articles/college-student-my-generation-is-blind-to-the-prosperity-around-us
I came across this short article titled, "College Student: My Generation Is Blind to the Prosperity Around Us" and felt like it serves as another example of the disconnect between the ideas and experiences of those that struggle and want to make a more fair and thriving society vs those that have generally had things turn out well for them personally and/or are scared of change and rhetoric coming from the former group. I'm not sure how else to phrase these two mind sets, but politically it's generally left vs right and socialism vs capitalism.
In this short article, Alyssa, the author and a college student, writes about her disagreement with her peers and how they oppose capitalism in favor of socialism, and especially about how she disagrees with this comment from New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talking about Millenials when she said: "An entire generation, which is now becoming one of the largest electorates in America, came of age and never saw American prosperity."
"Never saw American prosperity. Let that sink in. When I first read that statement, I thought to myself, that was quite literally the most entitled and factually illiterate thing I’ve ever heard in my 26 years on this earth.
I see people talking freely, working on their MacBooks, ordering food they get in an instant, seeing cars go by outside, and it dawned on me. We live in the most privileged time in the most prosperous nation and we’ve become completely blind to it.
Why then, with all of the overwhelming evidence around us, evidence that I can even see sitting at a coffee shop, do we not view this as prosperity? Why? The answer is this, my generation has only seen prosperity. We have no contrast. We didn’t live in the Great Depression, or live through two world wars, or see the rise and fall of socialism and communism. We don’t know what it’s like not to live without the internet, without cars, without smartphones. We don’t have a lack of prosperity problem. We have an entitlement problem, an ungratefulness problem, and it’s spreading like a plague...We take our high standard of living for granted...We are so well off here in the United States that our poverty line begins 31 times above the global average."
No. I disagree with Alyssa and do not think that people are blind to prosperity simply because they are ignorant and don't know any different. I disagree with how she assumes everyone is living a prosperous life of luxury just because we have 21st century technology and services. Having a few nice things in a wealthy country doesn't mean you abound in prosperity.
I've heard this argument a few times, comparing the standard of living of poor Americans in the 21st century to people from very poor countries in other parts of the world or even comparing to the poor living conditions of past human history. This a false equivalence. Apples and pears are both pome fruit, but they are not the same. A poor person in America is not a fair comparison to a poor person in Burundi. Poor Americans will obviously still have a better standard of living than a poor person in Burundi simply because of the different laws, government, social safety net, regulations, and proximity to services and technology when comparing the two nations. They are both poor people, but it's not an equivalent comparison. Sure, we can and should still be grateful for what we have in a developed nation, but that still doesn't mean everyone's quality of life is abounding in prosperity. When we compare the standard of living of poor people in America to the rest of the American population and know the capabilities and resources the country has to offer, I agree with the sentiment and say with confidence that they are not prospering.
There are a lot of people that think a poor person in America having anything nice is a sign that they're not really poor and they should be grateful for the good life they have. This Fox video segment highlights this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al5E3KbIfeo. It's nonsense. Having a few basic amenities that are common place in a developed nation doesn't negate the fact that millions of people are just four paychecks away or less from losing it all and being homeless. I guess that line of thinking would still say they are privileged homeless because they are on paved sidewalks instead of dirt roads.
I've seen these same kind of comments and arguments appear when people argue about differences in generational prosperity opportunity with how boomers had it so much easier too. Some will deny it by saying things like this: "As a member of the older generation (almost 50), ever generation thinks the previous generation had it easier and screwed it up for the next. Every generation has different challenges, some easier, some harder. Stop focusing on everything you see as wrong and start working on achieving your happiness. You're complaining about having 1st world problems, I've spent a lot of time in 3rd world countries and unless you have, you truly don't appreciate how good you have it. Your life is so much better than you realize, stop whining and make it even better."
And this comment: "I find this utterly ridiculous. I am in my late 60's and still working, I never felt that I was entitled to anything, worked my ass off to get what I needed to feed and house my family. How can you feel that life owes you anything? You have to have the drive to solve your own problems, not sit and whine that life is so unfair and that you are owed an easy life because you are the SPECIAL person that you are. Grow up, if you don't make enough money, get a second job, reduce your expenses or get another job that pays you what you think that you are worth."
Then there was this response: "We will never be able to own houses. I could work two jobs and still struggle. You've had privilege, recognize that. Yes, we still need to work hard and don't deserve everything handed to us, but we still deserve an actual fucking chance."
I'm not going to get further into the generational fight with this post, but the degree of prosperity argument has a heavy presence there as well. The point of this post is to talk about how life for poor people in America is still difficult and stressful. Upward economic mobility for many people is getting more difficult for people that don't have connections or support, mainly because of the high costs of housing and education and jobs not paying enough. I find it rude to tell them they're not really struggling just because they are still better off than people in other countries or other timelines. So what!? Instead of silver lining the problem and dismissing it, let's talk about it.
Poor people in America are still faced with any number of struggles such as having to work two or more jobs just to make ends meet with meager wages, high housing costs and other bills that both keep going up while their wages remain stagnant or fail to keep up with the increases. They forego medical treatments because of the costs, even if they have insurance they still need to meet deductibles and copays. They may struggle with not being able to get a better job while being abused at current jobs. College costs are exorbitant and getting a degree, even a "good" one, doesn't always mean you'll be offered lucrative career prospects. Poor Americans struggle in many ways and knowing the amount of money and resources out there shows that it CAN indeed be better.
Alyssa also referenced in her article ways that capitalism leads to prosperity and how it built America, gave it its strong economy and power, and cites these capitalism facts as "universal truths." She continued to write, "However, these universal truths don’t matter [to the people favoring socialism]. We are told that income inequality is an existential crisis (even though this is not an indicator of prosperity; some of the poorest countries in the world have low income inequality), we are told that we are oppressed by capitalism (even though it’s brought about more freedom and wealth to the most people than any other system in world history), we are told that the only way we will acquire the benefits of true prosperity is through socialism and centralization of federal power (even though history has proven time and again this only brings tyranny and suffering)."
I agree with Alyssa that capitalism has been good for propelling humanity's advancements in recent history, but maybe it can still be better with the right policies. OSHA, the FDA, the EPA, and various labor laws and other agencies have been created because pure capitalism was failing people by not providing proper safety precautions for society. Maybe it's time to make new adjustments where faults are found. That's not always a bad thing. Just because the foundation of this fairly new system in human history called capitalism is cracking, doesn't mean we ignore it because it was originally great and should never be touched, but it also doesn't mean we should scrap it entirely either. How is it cracking? Look at the people struggling to do everything right economically and still struggle to improve their quality of life. Alyssa just dismisses inequality by again comparing to poor countries where everyone has nothing. Hard to oppress people when you lack the tools to oppress (money and the control of it). Yet, growing inequality is what's causing the growing distress and creating more political extremes.
I also agree with Alyssa in being against full socialism and centralizing federal power, but I don't think that's actually what most of these people want. Most people want to actually live the old American dream of being able to work your way to success in the way that job wages could actually afford a decent lifestyle. The fight over income inequality isn't about making everyone actually be equal - it's about full-time employees not requiring government welfare while the corporate bosses pocket record profits with pay discrepancies 1,000:1.
Yes, capitalism helped build this great nation and economy, but the "prosperity" Alyssa cites her peers as enjoying is fake and comes with a heavy cost. Many people can barely afford housing, healthcare, and many other things that can be considered basic comforts, but hey, some people drive SUVs, some people order from or work for the likes of doordash and uber, and most people have cell phones and laptops so we ALL must be thriving in abundant prosperity, right? Never mind the fact that having a phone and laptop is practically a requirement in our society for school and work in a 21st century developed nation. Again, never mind the fact that millions are just a few paychecks away from losing it all and spending a decade or more recovering what was lost, if they recover at all.
I want people to live their best life and wish I could do more to help them get there. I want people to be at peace with their finances and overall well being. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to be rich, but as long as you are debt free, have basic comforts to ward off stress, and time to do what you love. That is true prosperity.
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