Libertarians far and wide, hear my cry: Liberaltarianism (or left-libertarianism) is the future.
This is the second part of a three-part series that will argue that unless libertarianism embraces important tenets of the left wing, libertarianism will be entirely lost on this generation.
Please note that these facts and statistics represent the majority of the population born between 1982 and 2004. Not all views will be shared by all Millennials, but they are general trends. Part 1 can be found here.
Millennials have a complicated relationship with money
Let’s be honest: Millennials are poor. According to the Pew Research Center, over 50% of Americans earning the minimum wage are between 16- and 24-years-old. As of 2012, 53% of recent college graduates were under or unemployed. Time Magazine reports that the average graduate owes roughly $25,000 in debt—and it’s well known that total college debt has climbed well over $1 trillion.
Millennials are not making money, and that is affecting how they’re living their lives. Fifteen percent of 25- to- 34-year-olds are living at home—compare that to Boomers living at home in 1979 (during the energy crisis): nine percent. As of the first quarter of this year, homeownership for people under 35 hit a historic low.
Being so pitifully broke leads Millennials to become more conservative with their finances. A recent report from UBS found that Millennials are as conservative as those who grew up in the Great Depression with their money. They take personal responsibility seriously with their finances, and aren’t the frivolously spending stereotype that as so often portrayed.
As a generation so money conscious, it would make sense that Millennials would be against more government programs that come paired with hefty taxes. But they’re not. According to the Pew Research Center, the generation that most strongly advocates for bigger government is the Millennials. While they don’t support Obamacare, specifically, 54% agreed that it was the government’s job to issue insurance coverage for all. Even when it comes to Social Security, a strong majority of Millennials (67%) oppose cuts to address the long-term spending problem. The reasons why hearkens back to supporting their community.
So Millennials are personally conservative, but quite economically liberal. What can libertarians do?
1. Stop shaming the poor
There is a right-libertarian/conservative line of argumentation that advocates that the poor get what they deserve, because they’re somehow worth less to society because they don’t make enough. There is a cold economic calculus and backwards logic that incentivizes this line of thinking: If you’re worth more to a company, you get paid more. If you’re worth more to society, you make more money.
Well, for Millennials, that logic just isn’t going to fly. After growing up learning that they are special, and they aren’t going to accept that they are no longer so because they are waiting on a job (and I mean literally waiting. They are participating in the internship spiral and applying to salaried positions when they’re not at their hourly jobs. They are waiting for their big break). Most Millennials are optimistic about their future—particularly about their financial future. There is a fabulous article circulating about how poor people can sometimes have nice things, and that’s okay (really!). That is the reality for most Millennials—they have some nice things but are lacking in financial resources.
When trying to sell policy ideas, shy away from denigrating poor people, because you’re most likely isolating a huge swath of the biggest generation alive today.
2. Emphasize policy effects on personal paychecks
Millennials like the idea of Obamacare, as noted in the above-mentioned Pew study, but they don’t like paying for it. If only conservatives and libertarians had emphasized this sooner. The problem with social programs is that Millennials, in their desire to take care of their communities, tend to be idealistic about these programs. There are two ways to address this issue.
The first, and most obvious solution is to appeal to the Millennial sensitivity to their own finances. Generation Opportunity is great at this. They translate policy jargon into numbers for the money-conscious young person.
The second, and perhaps more frustrating solution, is to wait. Millennials, largely as teens and 20-somethings, are in an idealistic phase that they will age out of. As they get older, they will have less Mom and Dad and more bills to pay. As more Millennials enter the real world, fewer of them will support government programs trumping their paychecks.
3. Focus on policies that go easier on the young
Getting rid of the minimum wage is much harder than decimating the drug war. Libertarians offer a plethora of policy solutions to alleviate poverty that don’t immediately cut into the programs that they benefit from. I’ve written extensively on this before. Millennials would rather get behind cutting corporate welfare, farm subsidies, and the War on Drugs before touching schools or social spending—and it’s probably more economical and less cruel.
The reality is that left-libertarianism offers more to Millennials than right-leaning approaches. Left-libertarians are more sympathetic to Millennials’ vision of community and offers a more reasonable step-by-step to engage in issues of poverty and economy. While, in the end, the views of right-libertarianism and left-libertarianism are largely the same, the left-libertarian approach is the only option to attract the biggest generational voting bloc in the United States. This opportunity should not go wasted.