From your Big Brother, an Older Millennial
Note: this essay is adapted from a TikTok I posted some months ago (this is a duet of that video someone posted, since I’m no longer on TikTok and the OG post is no longer available)
I was reminded of the TikTok that’s inspired this essay by a drunken conversation I had with an old college friend of mine and his mother. Ma Dukes is a first-generation immigrant to the U.S. from India and was perhaps not so much lamenting, but expressing bewilderment, at the “state of the kids these days,” and the fact that it seems no one really wants to work or build a career for themselves.
This wasn’t your typical finger-wagging blame game that you get from Boomers talking about Gen Z. She was genuinely curious, and was surprisingly receptive to the answer I gave her:
Zoomers have a great work ethic; they just don’t see the point in applying it the way you and I did.
We’ve come a long way, in the wrong direction, since the golden age of capitalism. Pensions, union protections, wage growth, lifetime employment, affordable education, and the American Dream have given way to a second Gilded Age where workers are treated as fungible commodities. I gave Ma the now-famous example of the software engineer who, after an unheard-of SIXTEEN YEARS at Google, was not only laid off, not only laid off by email, but laid off by an automated email after having access to his computer cut off.
The upside for that guy, though, is that nearly 2 decades at Google (plus a severance) probably left him fairly well-off financially. But imagine being subject to that kind of caprice on the salary of a schoolteacher, nurse, EMT, factory worker, mechanic, or, God help you, a worker in the gig economy. Amazon workers are famously hired and fired by algorithms now.
Educating your way into higher income brackets comes with the hazard of lifelong debt slavery. And even if you avoid that by (e.g. getting certified in the right trade in the right place at the right time), the keystone of the American dream — homeownership — has turned into a casino for various classes of speculators, from serial AirBnb hosts looking to become unregulated hotel magnates to corporations gobbling up clusters of houses on spec and leaving them empty just to…