“The wealthiest 1 percent possesses 40 percent of our nation’s wealth; the bottom 80 percent owns 7 percent.” We have all read or heard this account, or some variation.
Some will think this is the result of preferential treatment by business, government, or the tax code. And, of course, some will think that this is how it should have always been.
Thinking about this statement, I entertained a thought that the dramatic shift in assets (wealth) could be happening because many younger people seem to no longer care about owning anything.
If this is generally true, then why?
One argument is that the new generation doesn’t buy stuff because they can’t afford it. We (baby-boomers) cut our own taxes in our prime earning years, disinvested in infrastructure and education, and passed these costs along to the next generations.
Some believe they are now saddled with enormous student debt, and are obligated to invest in the institutions and infrastructure that we have let deteriorate. Without their investment, they risk doing to their children what has been done to them.
These also believe that while their grandparents were the “Greatest Generation,” their parents are the “Most Selfish Generation.” They see the icons of their parents not as JFK and the Beatles; but as Gordon Gekko and Ronald Reagan.
While certainly not all young Americans believe their teeth are set on edge by the sour grapes eaten by their parents, they seem to have some very different habits that have taken both established companies and small businesses by surprise. The most obvious pattern is that they don’t seem to enjoy purchasing things.
Have you ever wondered why many young Americans don’t buy cars? Is this a generational shift, or just a really lousy economy?
And if it’s not an “age thing,” then what’s causing this strange new behavior (or rather, lack of behavior)? The “ownership shift” isn’t necessarily isolated to young folks. An article in USA Today suggested that all ages are in on this trend. Instead of an age group, it blamed the change on the “cloud,” which is the omnipresent, cyber home where our entertainment goes when current media models die. As all forms of media eventually make their journey to this digital space; some research shows that people are beginning to prefer this disconnected reality to owning a physical product.
So then, is technology the reason? Although it often seems to be the driver, it is not that necessarily because technology is simply an extension of the way we think. New technology is created because someone has decided to think differently about the world. While this may lead to more new technology, the new thinking must always come first.
Then, could new thinking be the origin?
Perhaps humanity is having an evolution in consciousness. Maybe a lot of people are starting to think differently about what it means to “own” something. This would explain the indifference towards ownership in areas from car-buying, to music listening, to entertainment consumption. While technology helps this evolution and new generations embrace it, perhaps the big push is that collective thinking is changing.
Could it be that the reason to acquire “stuff” is becoming more about what you get from the acquisition? Is the new thinking that purchasing something is not just about the thing anymore, but rather about how the thing connects people to something (or someone) else? Does it have impact because we can do something worthwhile with it, tell others about it, or have it say something about us?
Perhaps the traditional long-term things to buy will be iconic of only past generations. Maybe youth today have observed that while aspiring to purchase these “things” provided a kind of stability, in many cases it brought a staggering kind of sadness.
Whatever the reason, if the ownership shift is indeed true, leaders and entrepreneurs will have to think about the “stuff” that they sell in very different ways. And, our “consumer society” will certainly look different in the years to come.
Jim Surber is the Darke County Engineer and the president of the Darke County Democratic Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.