Ever since the phrase “the generation gap” was minted — by a headline writer at Look during the youth rebellion of the Sixties — trouble has been brewing. Today, there are two generational conflicts in play around the world: one within the depopulating wealthy countries, and another within the more fecund, but far poorer, countries of the developing world.
Both conflicts are being shaped by new economic realities, principally a largely sluggish world economy that is, particularly in Western democracies, further hamstrung by a growing push for “Net Zero”. The adoption of green “de-growth” philosophy impacts both on the youth of the West, who face a consciously scaled-down quality of life, as well as a new generation in developing countries desperate for growth.
In high-income countries, the youngest generations already face fewer opportunities than their parents and grandparents. Slow growth and lack of opportunity mean they can look forward to a future characterised by a greater economic insecurity, poorer living conditions, less chance of owning a home or car, or even eating well. Such attitudes are exacerbated by the relentless hysteria poured out by the green movement and its media minions. Indeed, according to one recent survey, a majority of young people around the world see the planet as essentially doomed by climate change.
Perhaps as a result, when it comes to politics, many new voters seem comfortable rallying around polarising and extreme figures. In the 2016 primaries, Bernie Sanders amassed more votes from people under 30 than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton combined. In France, meanwhile, Le Monde described this “political de-socialisation” as having fuelled support for the likes of both the Trotskyite Jean-Luc Mélenchon and far-Rightist Marine Le Pen.
But alienation, rather than radicalisation, is a more fitting description of the emerging Western generation. The biggest problem lies not in lack of jobs or even skills, but a population that is increasingly “unengaged”.
Nor is this merely confined to the West. Evidence of a “great resignation” is also emerging in East Asia. In Japan, young adults, according to David Pilling, are “pioneering a new sort of high-quality, low-energy, low-growth existence”. In China, meanwhile, the children of largely upwardly mobile parents face an increasingly fraught economic future. Xi Jinping may hope for a generation that will follow the path of devoted Stalinist Stakhonovites or Maoist Red Guards, but confronts a generation more concerned with 20% unemployment and limited options than ideological fervour. As in Japan and the West, China now sees a generation — including an increasingly underemployed surplus of educated people — who eschew their parents’ work ethic, embracing instead a desire to “lay flat” as they essentially avoid the congestion and stresses of urban life.
Combined with rapid demographic decline in East Asia, Europe and the United States, the mass disengagement of the young will make building a stronger world economy an even greater challenge. The remarkable economic boom of the past century sparked a population explosion — 75% of the world’s population growth was born in the last century. Yet, birth rates are now dropping, especially in more developed nations. Globally, last year’s population growth was the smallest in a half-century, and by 2050, some 61 countries are expected to see declines.
Read the rest of this piece at UnHerd.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.
Homepage photo: Studio publicity photo of James Dean circa 1955, in Public Domain.