David Robertson: Millennials Are Mad As Hell.

The Occupy Wall Street movement that emerged in the financial crisis of 2008 was interesting because a general sense of discontent seemed to merge. Also interesting was the lack of consensus as to the causes of dissatisfaction. More recently, the trading mania surrounding Robinhood and Gamestop reflected many of the same dynamics. A broad sense of anger was channeled variously against Wall Street, “suits,” boomers, short-sellers, and a sundry list of other participants deemed to be bad actors.

Bull, Statue, Symbol, Animal, Finance, Stock, Exchange

One thing is clear: Just like in the 1976 movie, “Network,” a lot of people are “mad as hell.” That anger is a symptom of a bigger problem, however. Digging into its root causes reveals insights about society and how it can reshape and defuse anger and become more productive.

Roots Of Anger

It is not hard to understand some of the sources of anger. Perhaps one of the most revealing single indicators is the variance in wealth distribution over time. In the 1990s, when Baby Boomers were in their late 30s, just slightly older than Millennials’ age in 2020, they owned seven times the share of household wealth (21% vs. 3%). The opportunities for income and wealth accumulation were massively more significant for Baby Boomers than for Millennials.

Mad As Hell, David Robertson: Millennials Are Mad As Hell.

Missing The Target

As a result, it isn’t too surprising to observe a fair amount of discontent directed at the Baby Boom generation, and it is clear from a number of the Reddit/wallstreetbets threads that this is happening. Further, any reader of The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe can come away with plenty of material for younger generations to incriminate the Baby Boom generation.

For example, Baby Boomers in the US grew up in an environment of enormous economic growth in one of the world’s wealthiest countries. Yet, those prodigious benefits seemed not to be enough; massive debts got used to boost consumption even further. From a historical perspective (and to younger generations), Baby Boomers’ generation appears rapacious in its consumption, like locusts stripping the country bare.

A Generalization

Of course, such a view is a generalization that belies the existence of countless individual Baby Boomers who act and behave in ways that are utterly antithetical to that characterization. It is not hard to find smart and talented individuals and are generous with their time, financial support, knowledge, and experience. As a result, it is hard to consider the entire generation of Baby Boomers an appropriate target of opprobrium.

There are other targets. For instance, short-sellers have received a great deal of anger following the Gamestop and Robinhood episode. Such too appears unjustified. For one, there are at least two sides to every story, and it is essential to hear both to get closer to the truth. Besides, given the upward bias of stocks, short-sellers must work even harder to make a living. Some of the most accomplished (and humble and generous) investors are short-sellers.

As a result, the targeting of outrage against groups such as Baby Boomers or short sellers is at best misguided. At worst, such efforts are both malicious and counterproductive. It only makes things worse by directing outrage in a general direction, including people sympathetic to the cause.

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