Archive for September, 2014

Millennials Have Soured on Obama; Will Republicans Capitalize?

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Originally published at Forbes

A perfect storm is brewing on the horizon of American politics. Older Millennials, who came of age during the tumultuous Bush years and were inspired by the rise of Barack Obama, are questioning the validity of the President’s promises at record rates.

Younger Millennials, who weren’t as politically aware when youth yearned for Anybody-But-Bush, are increasingly part of an emerging counterculture. This combination of sobering disappointment and youthful rebellion has the potential to change the political landscape—if politicians seize the moment.

Rebellion, regardless of the form it takes, will always be en vogue. This adage goes a long way in explaining the appeal of Barack Obama circa 2008. Obama was the perfect David to the establishment’s Goliath. After all, he defeated standard-issue Democratic and Republican choices in Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

What was less obvious at the time was how shallow that narrative would quickly become as the President doubled down on the cronyism and civil liberties violations young voters roundly rejected under Bush.

In recent months, polls have captured this dissatisfaction. Youth approval of Obama has largely tracked with that of the country overall. To the extent that it’s diverged, the President barely cracks 50% with the cohort that swept him into office.

This bipartisan disappointment helps shed light on why Millennials are much more politically independent than older Americans. 50% of 18-29 year olds choose not to identify with any party, whereas political independence of this nature ranges from only 34-39% among other generations.

As Nick Gillespie of Reason Magazine aptly puts it, “After growing up under the Bush and Obama administrations, the Millennials are overwhelmingly skeptical of government’s ability to do anything well.” Enter the new rebellion.

Although young people are far from dedicated Republicans as a result of this disillusionment, poll after poll shows that Millennials aren’t as loyal to Democrats as is often assumed. If this generation is anything cohesive, it’s as a recent Pew survey found: Fiercely independent, driven by technology, and unimpressed with traditional ideology.

In the same vein, a new Reason-Rupe poll shows that those between 18 and 29 are largely non-partisan and quite socially liberal, yet lean fiscally conservative. This ideological mix provides free market advocates with both an opportunity and a major challenge.

The basic struggle for conservatives rests with the fact that to the extent Millennials identify as liberal, it’s because of traditionally defined “social issues.” As Tyler Koteskey at Reason explains, “When we investigate liberal Millennials, the report shows that only about a third of respondents describe their own liberalism in both social and economic terms.”

This means that even if Millennials value liberty overall, economic freedom has taken a backseat to personal freedom in the minds of youth—a fact that speaks to an unfortunate disconnect.

Perhaps it’s not immediately obvious to all advocates of personal liberty that economic freedom is a prerequisite necessary for their vision to flourish. After all, progressives have done a good job of erroneously separating the two and placing a superficial focus on the social absent the economic.

Government-run economies, which only 32% of young people support, are a huge impediment to social mobility in both the economic and personal sense. Ultimately, that authoritarianism inherently produces cronyism and corruption – something 66% of Millennials recognize.

After all, when economic incentives force a company to lobby politicians (when government is too large) rather than focus on the needs of consumers (when the market is free), what else can one expect? Absent the autonomy to transact with others in a reasonably free setting, social liberty will, by definition, be restricted or at least subordinated to established interests.

Ever heard of the developing sharing economy and the government’s Luddite reaction to it? Think Uber, AirBnb, and other innovative markets that big corporations and their politician buddies are trying to squash. God forbid you create economic value while exercising social freedom without the government’s permission.

If politicians want to reach a generation that sees Republicans and Democrats as similar appendages of a corrupt system (only 31% see a major difference between the two parties), they need to start with first principles. If freedom is the cause of Millennials – as it seems to be in many facets – it must be said at every turn that true social freedom is impossible to achieve without economic liberty.

An entire generation disillusioned with traditional institutions is open to this message. Will any politicians be brave enough to break the mold and emerge as defenders of a new choice-minded paradigm? If so, they might just earn the backing of Millennials, party labels aside.


The Government Hates When We Share

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Originally posted at Rare

It seems like an obvious statement: With the advent of technology comes progress. New ways for people to connect, transact, and help one another are continuously emerging as smartphones and social media make previously impossible interactions commonplace.

When it’s easier to cooperate one-on-one without the need for a middleman, convenience skyrockets. Whether it’s making money on the side with an online business, renting out extra space in your house, turning your personal vehicle into an Uber or Lyft, or making your home into a doggy daycare, these examples barely scrape the surface of the growing “sharing economy.”

These types of peer-to-peer transactions have the potential, according to an analysis from the McKinsey Global Institute, to unlock $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in trapped capital. This is exactly the kind of jumpstart the economy needs, particularly when you consider the United States’ 15.1% youth unemployment rate and $1.2 trillion in total student loan debt.

What better way to help the young and technologically savvy than to allow for these bottom-up dealings that decrease consumer costs and increase provider incomes? Unfortunately, too many regulatory agencies and established corporations hold an opinion on that question at odds with those bettering their lives through these innovative businesses.

Increasingly, the rise of new economic paradigms is met with resistance from government officials. If an emergent technology doesn’t fit into an existing regulatory scheme, the first instinct of bureaucrats is often to ban it instead of allowing for growth and updating regulations in response.

This is an extremely backwards and damaging approach to dealing with progress. It’s also an attitude pervasive within a big government more interested in protecting equally big corporate interests than it is in empowering consumers.

Take Uber, for example. Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Robert McNamara explained during a Generation Opportunity-hosted panel recently that only one major city responded to the ride-sharing technology in a remotely rational way. Chicago saw the advent of Uber, and instead of immediately trying to get rid of the new service, city officials recognized that it had yet to produce a regulatory scheme for this model. Regulators therefore decided to let Uber continue operating while they worked to develop new standards. The resulting regulations, while arguably unfair and crony-minded, at least represent an effort to bring Uber into the fold rather than evict the company outright.

Unfortunately, nearly every other city has reacted by attempting to ban ride-sharing technologies while trying to figure out how to deal with them. For example, Uber is still outlawed entirely in Las Vegas, a tourist-centric city where this kind of service would flourish. These types of bans have almost always been instituted with the urging of the government-protected taxi cartels and against the wishes of consumers clamoring for just this sort of product.

Uber has even gone so far as to hire David Plouffe, one of President Obama’s former chief strategists. When a company introducing a disruptive technology into the market has to invest in political clout to receive fair (or special) treatment from regulatory agencies, it illustrates what’s fundamentally wrong with letting government run amok. Instead of focusing on how to serve consumers, emergent companies must divert resources to jumping through regulatory hoops set up largely to protect the government’s favored firms.

Welcome to the inevitable cronyism that big government, which naturally protects its big corporate counterparts, yields.

Unfortunately, this problem transcends ride-sharing. AirBnb, a website that allows people to rent space in their homes, has found itself in trouble with many local governments – most notably in New York City. A recent example in suburban Boston, where police repeatedly fined residents for the apparent crime of hosting guests in their home, further speaks to the problem. Instead of pushing to move people’s use of their property rights into the modern era, local authorities are largely relying on outdated laws to justify treating people trying to make a few extra bucks like criminals. Often, this is done at the insistence of established businesses.

While companies like AirBnb, HomeAway, and VRBO claim to be distinctly different from hotels in their business model, they haven’t avoided the ire of hotel advocacy organizations. As a representative for the Hotel Association of New York City stated: “(AirBnb takes) revenue from local municipalities and jobs from local employers, and could deter travelers from returning.”

This attitude sums up the problem so common among established businesses accustomed to being legally protected. Despite their claims, changes in the economy aren’t part of a zero-sum game that leads to the wholesale destruction of jobs and income. Revenue streams and employment structures are simply adapting to new advances, and in the process, unlocking untapped potential that could help both our country’s struggling middle class and the economy as a whole. This is a good thing for consumers, as we’ll be able to access additional services and participate more readily in this emerging economy ourselves.

Try as it might, the heavy-hand of government ultimately won’t be able to stop us from sharing.