Saturday, March 22, 2008

If Life is So Awful Today, Why Do So Many College Students Own Cellphones, iPods and Digital TVs?

A few weeks ago I gave a talk on the state of the economy to a group of college students -- almost all Barack Obama enthusiasts -- who were griping about how downright awful things are in America today. As they sipped their Starbucks lattes and adjusted their designer sunglasses, they recited their grievances: The country is awash in debt "that we will have to pay off"; the middle class in shrinking; the polar ice caps are melting; and college is too expensive.

I've been speaking to groups like this one for more than 20 years, but I have never confronted such universal pessimism from a young audience. Its members acted as if the hardships of modern life are making it nearly impossible for them to get out of bed in the morning. So I conducted a survey of these grim youngsters. How many of you, I asked, own a laptop? A cellphone? An iPod, a DVD player, a flat-screen digital TV? To every question somewhere between two-thirds and all of the hands in the room rose. But they didn't even get my point. "Well, duh," one of them scoffed, "who doesn't have an iPod these days?" I was way too embarrassed to tell them that I, for one, don't. They thought that living without these products would be like going back to prehistoric times.

As late as 1970, air conditioning, color TVs, washing machines, dryers and microwaves were considered luxuries. Today the vast majority of even poor families have these things in their homes. Almost one in three "poor" families has not one but at least two cars.

From Stephen Moore's WSJ commentary "The Bare Necessities: A Generation Tries to Imagine Life Without iPods"


At 3/23/2008 3:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People always have complained and always will complain.

A common complaint is not necessarily a statement of fact so much as an example of human nature.

At 3/23/2008 6:36 AM, Blogger juandos said...

In today's US of A, life is very good for everyone though its not the same for everyone...

Its all relative...

I mean who today looks for a house that has but two bedrooms and no central air?

At 3/23/2008 3:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the bitter feeling of being "without" is not so much about money as it is about other facts of life here. That unsettled feeling we have upon waking up is NOT centered on our personal finances, but more dissatisfaction over the qualities of life. Expectations we may have had for a higher moral ground from the leadership leave us empty, fearful and full of pain. Ipods, nice cars and other things do not fill us up. That is the poverty we suffer from.

At 3/23/2008 5:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may have more to do with age and maturity.

Having started out a liberal and ended up a fiscal conservative, I can recall how preoccupied I have been for many years in "social" problems as though I had to prove that I was a caring and socially responsible person by examining the plight of the family farm, or the challenges of developing nations, etc. I had to demonstrate a social conscience, gravitas if you will.

I am not saying that social issues are unimportant merely that one can do very little about some of these issues. It seems to make more sense to donate to charities like Doctors Without Borders and to volunteer at a local hospital in one's community where you actually can make a difference.

One can only worry about those things that are within one's control. Eventually, we all end up having to let go of what we cannot change.

Eventually, one stops trying to impress others and becomes comfortable with one's skin. Once we let go, life gets decidedly more interesting and far more fun.

So much of one's youth is spend trying to develop an identity. Am I pretty? Am I good company? Will someone love me? Will I be successful or will I fail? Each of us must find our own path and each of us has fears that we won't make it. Funnily, our lives turn out taking many turns that we don't expect.

Mr. Moore has forgotten as we do, the insecurities and fears that are so much a part of this process.

At 3/24/2008 8:50 AM, Blogger Marko said...

I'm not sure why I was not an idiot in college, but I don't think "they are young" is really an excuse. I blame George Bush, as the head of the Republican (conservative) party for failing to make a convincing case for conservatism. The left has been saying how awful things are for years now with no convincing response from the right. Either that, or things are so good that people have just become lazy idiots.

At 3/24/2008 9:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since when did material goods make people happy?

Electronic goods may be cheap these days, but homes and college is much more expensive. I would trade an iPod and an HDTV in return for home prices falling back to 2X median income. Taxes are also much higher on the young because we aren't eligible for any tax credits. 30% of my income went to tax last year.

With homes and education so expensive, young people have to work longer hours at crappy jobs. And that makes people unhappier than cheap gadgets.

At 4/01/2008 10:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been shocked at how many of them have "new" cars as well.

We drove around beater cars and needed that $5 for gas instead of a coffee.


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