WASHINGTON, October 3, 2016 — Hillary Clinton’s campaign says that for her to appeal successfully to millennials, she must suggest policies that are fair and just because millennials want a fair and just world. What exactly does that mean?
In a speech Clinton gave earlier this year to a gathering of donors, she describes millennials as a hopeless group of potential voters with low life goals who live in their parents’ basements. The recent release of this speech is unlikely to attract millennials to vote for her.
Since 2005, there has not been a single year where U.S. economic growth exceeded 3 percent. In fact, President Obama is the first president in U.S. history not to have at least one year of economic growth above 3 percent during his tenure. Conversely, after the great 1981 recession, the U.S. embarked on a growth path that exceeded 4.5 percent for four straight years.
Because of the slow growth of America’s economy, relatively few jobs are being created. This frustrates a legion of millennials who can’t find decent jobs after graduating from college with a mountain of debt. To appeal to them, Clinton wants to emphasize “fair and just.” But how do millennials view the concept of “fair and just”?
That has been a hard question since Plato tackled it. Most Americans and probably most millennials would describe “fair and just” as an environment in which individuals are free to pursue their interests, and where each is paid according to the value of the contribution made. Millennials want opportunity, they want to be justly rewarded for the outcomes of pursuing that opportunity and they possess a social conscience that reflects the kind of society in which they’d prefer to live.
But how, operationally, do we define “fair and just?”
Suppose 100 people get together and produce 1000 units of output. At the end of the day the output must be divided among them. How?
The output could be shared equally so each individuals received 10 units. This may seem fair, but what if a few people have made large contributions, while others have contributed little?
High contributing individuals, seeing that they receive no extra output for their large contributions, will naturally begin to produce less. Thus the economy contracts. Countries that have adopted this basic philosophy as fair and just experience little growth and low standards of living. But there is no income inequality.
We could divide the output to pay each person according to the value of his or her contribution. Some who contribute substantially, may receive 40 or 50 units of output while those who contribute little may receive only two or three units.
This results in substantial income inequality, but the ability to increase income by increasing the value of one’s contribution is the mechanism that fuels growth. As a result, the US, which has most closely followed this philosophy, has experienced some of the fastest growth and has among the highest standards of living in the world. Many conclude that being paid according one’s contribution is the fairest and most just policy of all.
Clinton’s appeal to the millennials is to give them what they haven’t earned, like free college tuition, a higher minimum wage and free health care. Since these programs must be paid for by raising taxes on contributors to the economy, this will reduce income inequality, which Clinton believes will appeal to millennials’ sense of social responsibility.
But this policy may be very much against the basic beliefs of most millennials who are looking for opportunity and want to make contributions. That conclusion may appear contrary to the appeal that Bernie Sanders had for millennials. Sanders promised free things and he promised to reduce income inequality by raising taxes, particularly on the wealthy.
Sanders did appeal to the youngest millennials, those under 24 years old, many of whom are still college students. Older millennials likely have a different view.
If millennials define “fair” and “just” as each individual being paid according to his or her contribution—recognizing that we all have a responsibility for those who cannot contribute—then those policies geared toward growing the economy and providing appealing opportunities for millennials are what should appeal to them.
Donald Trump, despite of his character flaws, is emphasizing a policy supporting economic growth and leading to the opportunity for all to contribute to the American economy and society. Hillary Clinton, like President Obama, is emphasizing a policy geared toward somehow curing perceived social injustice. Which policy do you think will prove more appealing to millennials?
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