Whenever you hear the phrase the millennial generation, its generally not attached to a compliment. These individuals, born between 19802000 and led to believe that everything they have ever done is miraculous, have been disparaged as sheltered and overconfident about their abilities and achievements.
Kids these days may have some interesting character traits. After all, does anyone really need a photo of the #bestgrilledcheese? But we shouldnt lose hope in this generation just yet. Its best trait may be one most likely to engender criticismits skepticism.
Indeed, millennials have been accused of being some of the biggest skeptics in recent history. A Harvard poll, for example, found that nearly half of 18-to-29-year-olds lack confidence that the justice system is fair to all people. There is a stark divide over whether the United States should have an active foreign policy. As a whole, the group lacks confidence in the president, the military, Congress and the United Nations.
Despite growing up in the digital age, when every concert, football game and sandwich is posted immediately to Facebook and Instagram, millennials are deeply concerned about their privacy, and they jealously guard their civil liberties. In fact, over 50 percent of millennials agree that the U.S. government targets specific groups for surveillance in the course of its larger data sweeps. More than 70 percent do not believe that combating terrorism requires giving up civil liberties.
Their distrust should be encouraged. The first lessons I teach my economics students are about means-and-ends and tradeoffs. I tell them that whenever we analyze a policy matter, whether its the minimum wage, health care, ivory hunting or abortion, we have to ask ourselves these questions. First, do the chosen policies achieve the desired goals? Second, what tradeoffs do we face with regard to a particular policy; that is, are there alternatives that would yield better results?
These kinds of simple questions often are ignored by policymakers and the public. Millennials, however, seem to ask them almost intuitively. What are we trying to achieve? Does a proposal work? Is it the best alternative?
The millennials low confidence in every branch of government reflects the fact that public policies not only fail to achieve their stated objectives, but directly undermine what matters to them most.
Perhaps millennials are more skeptical of government surveillance and other programs than previous generations because reports and data like that are so readily available. Maybe its because they are a generation of digital natives. Growing up immersed in technology, they seem more immune than their elders to cyber scare tactics.
Whatever the reason, one thing is clear. Millennials wont let peoplein the government or otherwisestep on their toes without justification. Whatever your age, thats an admirable quality.
|Abigail R. Hall is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Tampa.|