The Greatest Generation bequeathed Baby Boomers a nation on the rise. After saving Western Civilization from fascism, they rebuilt a war-torn world, powered an economic renaissance, sent a man to the Moon, banished Jim Crow, cleaned up the environment, and won the Cold War. Of course, they made their share of mistakes. But every American child born between 1946 and 1964 had a great shot at a better life than his parents.
We Baby Boomers were the main beneficiaries of that legacy. So what are we leaving behind for the next generation? Some sorry numbers tell the tale: About 90 million Americans of working age aren’t working; 47 million are on food stamps; 14 million collect disability; once-thriving cities are bankrupt; public schools aren’t educating. The economy is moribund, but this isn’t just another brief cyclical downturn. It really is different this time.
We’ve empowered incompetent bureaucrats to effectively nationalize the banking and health care industries, encouraging crony capitalists to crowd out market capitalists. Yes, Baby Boomers invented the Digital Age, showering gewgaws on our children that our grandparents would have thought magic. But we allowed Washington to continue on an unsustainable trajectory, captive to a two-party duopoly that mortgaged our future. As a result, Millennials may be the first Americans whose living standards don’t exceed that of their parents.
And how did we prepare them for the challenge? We taught them that everyone deserves a prize regardless of merit, that self-esteem is a birthright that doesn’t have to be earned, and that someone will always be there to protect them from character-building adversity. And then, after loading them up with debt to pay for expensive college degrees few employers value, we invited them to move back home—with health care coverage until age 26.
And now we expect them to pay for the retirement we never saved for? Imagine their surprise when Uncle Sam reaches into their pockets to make good on the trillions in IOUs that Social Security racked up after Congress looted the so-called trust fund.
The Millennials now venturing out into the world and their older Gen X siblings should be scared about their future, and mad as hell at us for screwing it up. So what can they do about it? Well, if I were giving a high school commencement speech with the usual quota of unsolicited advice, it might go something like this:
1) Stop voting for people that are robbing you! You don’t owe it to “society” to indenture yourself to wealthy and middle class retirees.
2) Run away from anyone who tells you the government can pay for its profligate spending by robbing the rich. There just aren’t enough rich people to go around—and they didn’t get rich in the first place by not knowing how to protect their wealth.
3) Hope is not a strategy. No village has your back. We are not all in this together. If you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will. So if you’ve decided to go to college, pick a major that pays well. You’ll have the rest of your life to appreciate art and literature.
4) If you decide not to go to college that’s fine, but learn a trade that’s in demand. Plumbers and electricians make a good living, and their jobs can’t be outsourced to China. Call center operators, not so much.
5) Challenge the status quo, anywhere and everywhere. Growth comes from creative destruction, and without growth you are doomed. Tune out anyone who tells you stagnation is the new normal. Less is less; it will never be more.
6) Take chances while you can – outsized rewards can still be earned taking prudent risks. Failure isn’t fatal in America, and there is no better time to start a business than when you’ve got nothing to lose.
7) Stop obsessing about the planet; it’s mightier than we are. Mother earth has taken care of herself for almost five billion years and will continue to do so long after we’re gone.
8) Start appreciating the power of market economies to deliver the goods, compared to the failure of centrally planned economies. If you study the disasters socialism has visited on the world, you may not be doomed to repeat them.
9) Learn to be critical of the propaganda served up by established cultural and educational institutions, as well as the mainstream media. There is no excuse not to develop a broad set of independent information sources to shape your world view. Seek your own mentors.
10) The world is your stage, and your feet are more powerful than your vote. If you can’t find opportunities in your own backyard don’t just sit there, pull up stakes and go. Our country was built by people who did exactly that.
As bleak as things may look, keep in mind that Rome wasn’t destroyed in a day. It will take yet one more generation to turn America into Greece, so you still have time to avoid that fate.
About the Author: In the 35 years since Bill Frezza graduated from MIT with degrees in electrical engineering and biology he has been a scientist, an engineer, a product manager, a salesman, a consultant, an entrepreneur, an author, a technology evangelist, and a venture capitalist. His early career on high-tech’s bleeding edge included the development of first generation electronic newspapers, home banking, home shopping, cable modems, multi-user videogames, wireless LANs, and wireless email, all of which became a success – for someone else a decade later. His 15 years as a venture capital investor working with early stage telecom, semiconductor, and biotech startups taught him humbleness, risk aversion, and the ability to identify ten fatal flaws out of five in any startup business plan. Frezza is a frequent guest on CNBC, FOX, and CBN News where he is challenged to reduce complex economic and policy issues into thirty second sound bites. More writing by Frezza can be found at BillFrezza.com. This article originally appeared in Forbes and appears here with permission from the author.