By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
I am part of the generation whose parents lived through World War II and the Great Depression and whose children are considered millennials.
To say the least, the two generations that surround many of us who are still working, who have just retired or who are looking forward to retirement view life, work and money in a totally different.
The World War II generation saw and experienced scarcity, sacrifice and deprivation. And a time when those from all walks of life and political philosophies worked together in a common cause.
This generation, called The Builders, or even The Greatest Generation by demographers and sociologists, fought for, won back and even, to a large extent, built the world in which most of us, a generation or two later, work, travel. and dwell.
For this generation, everything was solid and tangible. From “physical media” like records or books, or even cash, value, entertainment, and status were embodied in actual physical objects.
Credit cards were considered an extravagance, which meant that, unlike now, it was very difficult to spend money you didn’t have. In a strange sense, back then, you had to have money to owe money.
To be poor then, as many were, meant having next to nothing – it did not mean having less than nothing – as in debt.
Living in the physical world
Information and music, for example, were “owned” and often displayed to show sophistication or breadth of knowledge and experience.
In work and careers, professional fields did not need to be explained.
The work that a plumber, dentist, electrician or teacher did, or did, was self-evident and did not require explanation.
For this generation, everyone ate the same food, watched the same television and listened to the same music.
The radio stations of the day (and everyone listened to the radio back then) played music that everyone liked. If you were listening to the radio, tuning into a station, or changing dials, you would hear country-western songs, bits of Broadway musicals, rock and roll, folk, or jazz.
Radio stations, unlike those of today, were not defined by demographics or gender. There were no “oldies” stations and no “soft rock”, jazz or gospel stations – everyone played and listened to everything.
Homes back then were “affordable,” although no one used that word. The houses were “affordable” because they provided basic housing.
There were no big box stores or McMansions and few, if any, granite countertops or elaborate building materials.
The houses were made of wood and concrete. And often by friends and neighbors who helped out when they could.
One electrical outlet per room was shared. And few houses had more than one bathroom.
In 1953, for example, the median price of new homes was around $18,000 – double or triple the average income at the time – which for almost all families was a single income.
Estate agents were rare – and sales were often made between friends without legal or professional involvement. I know a few families who have literally swapped homes without an agent.
Mortgages were rare – homebuyers often saved up and bought their homes with cash.
My parents, for example, bought a property (with money), had a basement dug, and with every paycheck bought building materials and they, and an occasional friend, built the house around them as they lived in the basement and the structure that was gradually building up. .
I doubt that such a process is legal now.
But many of this generation had housing – and equity, if not consecutive generational wealth – thanks to such an approach to housing.
It was then
To point out the obvious, none of this is true now.
Scarcity and deprivation or austerity of any kind or even delayed gratification are incomprehensible abstractions to the vast majority of millennials.
When I first heard of people buying “toasts” (avocado or not) at a restaurant, I assumed it was a joke.
Everyone now seems to have “eating problems”; sensitivities, allergies or ethnic concerns around what they eat.
Back then, for example, bread was bread and milk was milk.
Now everything is locally sourced, hand-crafted, grass-fed, free-range, and “natural.”
What are you doing? Sorry, I asked.
Have you ever asked someone under 40 what they do for a living? You are, at least half the time, likely to get an answer that was incomprehensible to a previous generation.
For an earlier generation, being a “consultant” was a password to being unemployed.
For young people, being a social media “influencer” is a perfectly reasonable job title/career.
I know “professional players” – whatever that means.
And they earn way more than me. Or will. A previous generation, as children, might have dreamed of being a firefighter, a doctor or an astronaut. Did millennials, children, dream of being technologists? Or a project manager? A full stack developer? Or even a data scientist?
Moms don’t let your babies grow up to be systems analysts
Many millennials make double or triple what I ever made in a year. Many of them spend more on lunches in a month than my house payment.
SPACs, NFTs and cybercurrencies are the financial equivalent of media streaming – here now, but where tomorrow? And who really owns anything?
The gig economy has become the gig life style
In an economy where “ownership” has become a liability, less, in a way, is in fact more.
Who needs a car (and car-related expenses, from insurance to maintenance) in an economy system with options like Uber or Lyft?
And when it comes to home ownership, I’ve heard of people living semi-permanently in AirBnBs. And concretely, why not? Who wants a house and yard to keep up?
And, like in the Puget Sound area, when the average new monthly mortgage is about $4,500 (which is about $150 a day), why take out a lifetime financial obligation?
No, it’s not your grandfather’s economy.
But maybe we would all be much better off.
Or at least a little closer.
There is, after all, worse than being poor.
Sometimes when I see a particularly extravagant or wasteful youngster in action, I think to myself, “It’s nothing a day of hunger can’t cure.”
A lot of young people I know are making way more money than I’ve ever had, but it, like their music, just trickles down to them, with little meaning or impact.
Life is just a stream
Young people, and perhaps all of us to some degree, live in a streaming culture, where everything seems to pass through or upon us, and nothing is ever entirely “ours” and nothing is even quasi-permanent.
Young people might not believe it, but a little austerity won’t kill us and, as the old saying goes, it could make us stronger.
And, from what I see as the economy ahead, strength and flexibility might be the most important attributes of all time.