It’s the government’s fault.
That, in a nutshell, is Tamara Draut’s explanation for the bi-line to her book Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead. In true pessimistic liberal form, Draut whines and complains for over 200 pages about the increasing costs of higher education, the rising costs of homes, the low wages everybody is receiving, and (most importantly, mind you) the uncaring government that just sits back and watches us all squirm and die without lending a hand like it’s supposed to. When (and if) you get to the final chapter, what follows is her socialist plan for fixing everything: higher taxes to further the redistribution of wealth, more government regulations, and more government handouts. I could write a book myself countering every one of her paragraphs, but instead I’ll just address the major issues she brings up.
I always find it hilarious to watch when upper-middle class liberals living in New York City claim to have the answers for helping the down-trodden, as if they even have a clue about what that it means to be down-trodden (think Haiti). Well, Draut must have realized that and so decides to interview all the Gen-X’ers she can find who’ve got it bad. It’s easy to gloss over some of the details of these personal accounts; the emotional components are her reason for writing them. These young adults are living off of credit cards just to make ends meet, she says, because either their student loan payments are too high, or the jobs they work at don’t pay them enough money – maybe both. But upon further scrutiny we start to see a pattern: they also have to buy nice furniture to make their apartment not feel like a dorm; they’re still paying off that summer in Europe; they have to fly around the country to attend their friends’ weddings; they have to have a great big wedding themselves; even Draut herself tells the story of selling a ton of CD’s from her massive collection, “just to make ends meet.” If Draut were really smart she would have left these details out. Instead she only further illustrates that she doesn’t have a clue, and it’s my main problem with her reasoning—these are all examples of the choices that many Americans make: luxuries. What it all comes down to is personal responsibility. (It’s a term you can tell she hates, since it came from those “dreaded” Reagan years.) Many Americans make bad choices with their money and that’s why they are in debt. It is not the responsibility of taxpayers to pay for other people’s education so that luxuries can be bought.
This brings me to her lamentations on higher education. Draut accurately shows that college costs have risen much more quickly than inflation. But does she blame the colleges for this? No, she blames the government for not giving students more money. You read that correctly: it is not your responsibility to pay for your own college education, it’s the government’s job. (In other words, higher taxes on everyone—so you do pay for it, even if you choose not to go!) Grants are the only way to do it, because college debt is a big, bad burden. Does that mean that if I want a new car, I shouldn’t take out a loan, that instead the government should give me a grant? And I guess that means that I shouldn’t have a mortgage, either? Well, believe it or not, it sounds like that’s where Draut is headed! Housing costs are just way too high, so her plan is to have the government give you money for the down payment. However, there’s too many people getting tax breaks on the mortgage interest deduction, so that has to go. Does she even realize that she’s entering into absurdity? Sadly, no.
She also laments the loss of great benefits from jobs, like guaranteed pensions, more vacations, higher wages, affordable health care, and six month’s paid maternity leave. In her ideal scenario, all of these should be laws enforced by the government. If she’s upset about businesses leaving the U.S. now, watch what would happen if she got her way with those laws. And even if they did stay, does she realize that businesses would think twice about hiring a young woman? Think about it: they can hire the woman, who one day would have a baby, and for six months of the year, while she’s not producing anything for the company, they have to pay her and her replacement; or they can hire the guy. Sure it would be discrimination, but how can you prove it?
There’s plenty more here I could tackle, but let’s just sum up her manifesto: “We should all be able to go to college without worrying about the cost. We should all have high paying jobs with guaranteed pensions, paid maternity leave (for both men and women) and have excellent, affordable health care. We should all be able to buy a house, regardless of our finances. The government should give us all these things.” If you didn’t catch it yet, what she really means to say is that we are all entitled to these things, that we somehow deserve them; after all, the Baby Boomers had most of that. (Her constant comparisons to the Boomers and the Gen-Xer’s brings to mind the image of an unruly child throwing a tantrum screaming, “Not fair, I want that too!”) But can she explain why they deserve it? Can she explain why the successful should be taxed higher and higher to provide the money for all of this? What we’re really talking about here is class envy and the redistribution of wealth. It doesn’t matter how rich people earn their money, it’s not fair to everyone else, so let’s tax them more than everyone else. Even more absurd is how she starts the final chapter with a paragraph showing how she knows full well that people are going to criticize young adults for having an entitlement mentality. Her response? “We expect too little from our society.”
So I guess Draut thinks that by throwing hundreds of statistics at the reader she can dizzyingly convince him or her that the only way to solve all of these problems is with more government help (read: higher taxes). Well, maybe she should take a look at France where all her socialist ideals are the law of the land, where you lose 60% of your paycheck to taxes, and where her fellow 20- and 30-somethings enjoy an over 20% unemployment rate.
Sure, Tamara, great plan.