It’s Time to Unstack the Decks

In his recent book, Ben Rhodes wrote, “This is the apathy that those with unchecked power seek to engender in others: the idea that it’s not even worth caring about something because it’s not going to change.”

He was writing about creeping authoritarianism and the threat to democracy, but I hope that he will forgive me for appropriating this sentiment to talk about the apathy of some commentators in the millennial personal finance space who, after rightly pointing out that the deck is stacked against them, express no support for systemic solutions. Worse still are bloggers who display their indifference to political discourse as a badge of honor.

Only 53% of millennials and Gen Z voted in the 2020 elections. In the 2018 midterms, millennial participation reached 42%. And that’s the “finals.” The rate of participation in primaries — which often matter more — is surely less. While both 2018 and 2020 turnout were an improvement on previous years, no one should be satisfied with that number.

Moreover, the work does not stop when the ballot envelope is mailed in. When was the last time you called the office of your Congressional representative or Senator, rather than just retweeting his or her latest outrage? The remedy to many well-justified complaints will require changes in public policy and new legislation.

To be clear, millennials are not uniquely guilty of this. Many Americans — and particularly those with the most to gain from more progressive politics — do not participate in elections or the post-election political process. But, alas, as the personal finance space (and Medium) is awash in “Everything is f*cked for millennials” soliloquies, I am going to have to single them out.

If, Millennial Dear Reader, you believe that your prospects are diminished by student loan debt, what are doing to elect leaders who care about the cost of college education? If you believe that you will never be a homeowner (and that this is necessary to your personal happiness), are you supporting candidates in local and state elections who are working on creative solutions for affordable housing? If you think that the wealthy profit at the expense of the working class, are you supporting the kinds of progressive policies that can address that inequity?

Are you telling your elected representatives to support voting rights and eliminate gerrymandering so that we can have a Congress that actually reflects the will of the people?

Student loan debt is crushing. Housing costs are outrageous. The social safety net is a joke. The legacy of systemic racism diminishes the prospects for people of color. I am here to tell you that buying crypto or GameStock is not a useful response to any of that.

The pursuit of financial independence is not a solo endeavor. It requires not only investment in financial assets, but investment in political change.

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