Opinion: The Millennial Left’s most daunting task: Reviving social democracy


Lucas Misera

Lucas Misera

On July 20, the Washington Post published an article from Illinois State University professor Andrew Hartman asserting that today’s Left mirrors that of the early 1900s.

The argument essentially splits the history of modern liberalism into two eras: the “Old Left” (liberals present through President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal) and the “New Left,” those from the 1960s who shifted liberalism’s focus from economic issues to social factors.

In short, Hartman identifies Millennial liberalism as a combination of the two, a push for a stronger social democracy with an emphasis on creating a fairer socioeconomic playing field.

However, he suggests Millennial liberals are more reminiscent of the 1930s movement.

Considering the significance of the New Deal, likening modern liberalism to its iteration from nearly a century ago is bold — but fitting.

The New Deal pushed the United States into an era of social democracy. Safety nets materialized so that capitalism couldn’t prey on society’s most vulnerable victims. Social Security developed as a “pension” for elders, the gold standard dissolved to make way for more flexible monetary measures and policy permitted unions to push back against predatory employers.

Hartman stated it most succinctly: The Old Left “sought a genuine alternative to capitalism.”

Sure, there are similarities in crises faced by the Old Left and its modernized rendition. Borderline-socialist liberals gained strength in the 30s in response to the Great Depression; Millennials battled through the Great Recession, combatting skyrocketing unemployment and stagnant wages.

On one hand, the Great Depression sparked a necessary debate about the efficacy of pure capitalism. Until the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 established collective bargaining for unions and a minimum wage, respectively, the power to set prices in the form of wages rested in the hands of those overseeing the capitalistic food chain. With the addition of Social Security to the New Deal, everybody from young workers to the old-age population saw protectionary devices put in place.

Fast forward to the Great Recession, and the politicization of New Deal mechanisms is the greatest threat to Millennials — and the fuel to their liberal fire.

Take the minimum wage: at a current rate of $7.25 per hour federally for the U.S., The Economist estimated that the minimum wage should be set at nearly $12 dollars today — and that’s in an article from over two years ago.

With big corporations cringing at higher labor costs and the Citizens United ruling allowing those corporations to dump money into electoral races, minimum-wage workers don’t hold enough power to truly push congressmen into fighting for their financial well-being.

Or let’s consider Social Security, a New Deal concept that worked for some time — until the Baby Boomers started to age. Unless the U.S. starts taking in mass amounts of immigrants, it’s unlikely that the national population will be able to grow at a rate that sustains the Baby Boomers that are retiring and living longer than ever (which inherently means they collect Social Security longer). To put into perspective just how dire the issue is, Forbes highlights that the “worker-to-beneficiary ratio is expected to fall from 2.8-to-1 to 2.1-to-1” between 2015 and 2035.

So, instead of three workers per one person collecting Social Security, there’s only two workers.

There are three feasible options for maintaining Social Security well into the future: pushing back the age at which retirees can begin collecting, raising tax rates to fund Social Security adequately or decrease the amount that is doled out per person.

Supporting the first two options ensures that a politician won’t get reelected — after all, Americans hate working past age 65 and surely won’t vote for higher taxes.

So, naturally, a politician’s natural inclination is to postpone any real action on the issue and wait until the only option is to cut the program entirely or decrease the amount aging Millennials would receive.

Thanks, Baby Boomers. You’ve done it again.

After running through all the doom-and-gloom scenarios, what’s my point? Didn’t we all know that Millennials had a rocky road to travel?

The point is that Millennials are facing a more testing challenge than that of which the Old Left confronted.

Liberal Millennials, rather than working with the relatively clean slate that FDR started with in the 30s, are left to pick off the pieces of a New Deal that seems like a relic of the past. They’re fighting for the basic securities guaranteed to preceding generations while those same predecessors vote against the best interests of future generations.

Hartman correctly equated modern-day liberalism to that of the 30s, but the comparison isn’t enough.

The Millennial Left must trudge through an era of incompetent lawmaking to revamp protections set forth by the New Deal while maintaining the inclusivity of 60s liberalism.

If they can’t, social democracy will fall to the hands of the Left’s greatest ideological threat: capitalism.

Lucas Misera is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected]