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Capitalism And Millennials

Thursday September 2018


Edward L. Glaeser Contributing Editor, City Journal

Young Americans are moving steadily to the left. A recent Harvard University poll found that 51% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 do not support capitalism. The trend is visible on the ground, too. Phenomena driven largely by millennials—such as Occupy Wall Street, the Bernie Sanders campaign, and, most recently, the wave of Democratic Socialist candidates for state and federal office—are all real-world signs of an intellectual shift among the young.

In this year’s James Q. Wilson Lecture, economist Edward Glaeser addresses the challenges of selling capitalism to skeptical millennials and even younger Americans. He counters common misconceptions that have spread about capitalism—most importantly, that it reinforces structural injustices—while also addressing legitimate grievances of younger voters. Indeed, common millennial complaints about "capitalism," such as the high cost of health care, higher education, and housing, are, in fact, examples not of market failure but government failure.

Edward Glaeser is the Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1992, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and a contributing editor of City Journal. He has also served as director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government and as director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston. His work has focused on the determinants of urban growth and on the role of cities as centers of idea transmission. He holds a B.A. from Princeton University and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

Event Transcript

Lawrence Mone: Good evening and welcome to the 2018 James Q. Wilson Lecture.  It is the Manhattan Institute’s honor to host this lecture series now in its fifth year, dedicated to the legacy of one of America’s preeminent public intellectuals.  James Q. Wilson was a political scientist at Harvard and UCLA who contributed invaluably to American public policy and intellectual life.  His textbook American Government has introduced thousands of high school and college students to the basic principles of our federal system.  And his 1989 book Bureaucracy is perhaps the greatest study of American government agencies ever written.  Wilson received the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2003.  The Manhattan Institute had the great honor of a long relationship with Jim.  Just one product of that relationship was an annual lecture series that he delivered here for 15 years between 1997 and 2011.  The diversity of topics he discussed: criminal justice, the origins of terrorism, the nature of democracy, the role of media and television in shaping public discourse, just to name a few, suggest the staggering range of his intellect.  When Jim died in 2012, we decided to honor this legacy by continuing his lecture series.  And we could think of no better intellectual to do so than Edward Glaeser.  Like Jim, Ed’s wide-ranging curiosity generates seemingly endless and always fascinating material.  We know that with Ed at the helm of the lecture series we will have an intellectual feast for many years to come.  Ed is a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and the Fred and Eleanor Glimp professor of economics at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1992.  He is a pioneer in the field of urban economics and has done more than perhaps any other scholar to enrich our understanding of cities.  He has served as Director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government and Director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston.  He has published dozens of papers on how cities grow and the role they play as hubs of ideas and inventions.  His best-selling book, Triumph of the City, is a passionate argument for the importance of thriving vital cities humanities future.  It began life in part as a series of articles for our quarterly magazine, City Journal.  For those in the audience who haven’t read it, I would strongly encourage you to do so.  Ed’s topic this evening, How to Correct the Waning Popularity of Capitalism in the Younger Generation, is one whose critical importance to our country’s future is self-evident.  So, without further ado, I would like to welcome Ed Glaeser to the podium.


Edward Glaeser: Thank you.  Thank you, Larry.  Thank you all for coming.  Thank you for sharing your incredibly valuable time with me.  It is such an honor for me to give the annual James Q. Wilson Lecture here.  I, of course, was a huge fan of James Wilson.  And his spirit, his ideas, his energy inspire me daily.  And I am also just so happy to be part of the MI family, which I have had a relationship with of some form for many decades under Larry’s leadership and I always feel coming here and being part of this lecture series gives me a sustenance that maintains me through my, you know, return to Cambridge – where not everyone has the same views.  So, normally the past four James Q. Wilson Lectures have had the following structure: that I have focused on a problem, the war on work, a rising joblessness in the American Eastern Heartland, and offered a series of economic policies that I feel quite confident at least are good economics.  In this case, the problem is intellectual.  The problem is spiritual, the problem is in some sense even deeper and more important than any of the other ones that I have talked about.  And I will talk about things that I think are helpful solutions, but I feel infinitely less confidence than I do, than I would  if I were say, for example, talking about a change in restricting disability insurance.  Right?  This is a harder topic and figuring out how to talk to millennials, about capitalism, socialism, is something that is enormously difficult and enormously interesting as well.  And I think it’s a challenge for all of us going forward.  Because in some sense it starts with a failure.  Right?  It starts with a failure that is shown almost every week in stories like this, this is a relatively old one, but since it comes from Harvard’s Institute of Politics, I thought I would start with it.  Right?  So, this is the 2016 Harvard Youth survey saying that 51% do not support capitalism as opposed to 42% that do; 48% believe the American dream is dead; 47% believe our justice system is unfair; four in five say significant reform in Washington is needed – well that one’s probably okay.  This gives you the cuts by age.  And, so, I am in this 50 to 64-year-old bracket.  And just go along the bottom line here, so only 27% of us – and I know there are more than a few of us in the 50 to 64 bracket in this room today – only 27% of us have a favorable view of socialism.  The 65-plus has even less favorable view – that’s at 24%.  Switch to the 18 to 29 years, 55% of them say that they have a favorable view of socialism.  That’s an astounding number.  This is a May 2016 Gallup daily tracking number.  55% socialism as opposed to 57% of capitalism so they are running neck and neck here.  And you can see sort of this generational shift.  Note one thing, I’m going to come back to this later, the 18 to 29-year-olds are not down on small business, they have if anything the most rousingly positive views.  98% of them said that they favored small business.  I don’t know what you get 98% favorable ratings on anything in the modern world, it’s astounding.  And 90% say that they like entrepreneurs.  And I think that fact is something that we are going to have to work on.  And I’ll come back to that in a second.  This is from an August 2018 – so this was just recent – a YouGov poll.  Again, 18 to 29-year-olds – in this case they show you that 40% are unsure as to whether or not they are favorable or unfavorable of socialism, so that suggests that there is something at least to work with.  But when you compare the very favorable versus very unfavorable groups you have a 35% they are saying they are favorable or somewhat favorable as opposed to 26% who are saying that they are somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable.  So, in this recent poll, the favorable views really beat out the unfavorable views in terms of socialism.  And the last one that I will show you – this is again YouGov – this is comparing May 2015 versus August 2018.  Within each one of the age brackets you have falling support of capitalism, and I tend to think these numbers are quite low in the YouGov numbers.  Now, again, a lot of these questions have slightly different wording, as we know slightly different wording can get you quite different results in terms of polling.  But, you know, this is a 30% favorable view of capitalism in 2018 among 18 to 29-year-olds as opposed to 39% three years ago.  So, those are really striking numbers.  And for anyone who believes in the cause of freedom, they should be worrisome numbers.  Right?  I mean, I think it’s impossible to look at this and thing that all is well in the spiritual lives of the young.  And if you needed more reminder of this, there are political repercussions of having these beliefs going forward.  This may very well play a non-trivial role in the election of the next president of the United States.  So, this is something indeed that has major importance for all of us.  I found this article which just came out in August 24, 2018, to be particularly striking and deeply Orwellian, in fact when I read it.  So, the socialist argument against capitalism isn’t that it makes us poor – it’s that it makes us unfree.  Okay?  So, this guy is a Yale-trained – and I want that emphasized – a Yale-trained professor of political science at Brooklyn College.  And he is writing, of course, in a page of The New York Times, capitalism makes us unfree when my well-being depends upon your whim, when the basic needs of life compel submission to the market and subjugation at work, we live not in freedom, but in domination.  So, now you understand the obligation to go to work, to do something, to earn something, is now akin to slavery – right?  In this view of this.  Right?  Socialists want to end that domination to establish freedom from rule by the boss, from the need to smile for the sake of a sale, from the obligation to sell for the sake of survival.  I sort of find that so mind-boggling in terms of a viewpoint.  And so far away from where I would have started on this.  This is Hayek and The Road to Serfdom, our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact that if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes we can turn to another.  But if we face a monopolist we are at his absolute mercy.  And an authority directing the whole economic system of this country would be the most powerful monopolist conceivable.  Right?  So, the problem that we have – and I suspect many people in this audience have – the same problem that I have.  We read the Hayek words, we think they are obviously true and that any right-thinking person should immediately nod and say that this is right.  And yet, if that is your viewpoint, you have no ability to communicate with anyone who reads those words and think they’re right.  Okay?  So, that is the leap that we have to make if we are going to have any success in actually making this communication.  That we cannot just read Hayek and nod, as great as Hayek is, we actually need to have a story, a narrative, a way of communicating to people who read Corey Rubin’s article and think boy that sounds right to me.  I need to be free from the domination of having to work for a living.  One other thing to point out, the rise of the Democrat Socialists of America, several prominent political candidates in recent days have been members of this group.  The growth has been from 5,000 to 49,000 in three years.  That’s a self-reported figure.  Another figure is 35,000, but it has grown substantially.  And just to give you, it’s often hard to pin down what socialism means – and I will return to that in a second – but the DSA constitution at least spells it fairly clearly out: We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships.  Okay?  So, this sort of throws it all in together.  Now, it’s good that they have a story because it’s often pretty hard to figure out what socialism actually means to the people who say that they are favorable of it.  Right?  It’s not clear that they know all that much about the history of socialism in lots of contexts.  One thing is pretty clear.  Certainly, they are all in favor of more redistribution to the very poor.  And I have always had the view that this is in fact, you know, MI has been committed, at least as far as I’ve known it, to making the lives of the poorest Americans, the poorest New Yorkers better.  Right?  That is something that we all share a commitment for.  There is no sense in which we do not want to deliver better things to the poorest members of our society, to make those people, whether or not they are non-employed 45-year-olds in West Virginia or immigrants in the Bronx, making sure that they have every opportunity to use their talents to make the world a better place.  I think we all believe in this.  We may differ slightly on means, but, you know, that is not the area in which we can possibly disagree.  There is also the view that it is about more distribution to them, in particular, whether or not they are lower income or middle income, the sort of more free stuff for me agenda.  That’s a little bit easier to fight against.  And I think we probably should – especially if they are middle income.  Then comes the stuff that is even slightly scarier.  A really widespread distrust of free markets, a distrust of freedom more generally, a belief in price controls, a belief that prices should be free, right, in the case of lots of things.  And, in some cases – and you saw that in the DSA agenda – public ownership of more services; education, health care, perhaps even other currently free industries.  And it is not clear what they actually want where they want it, but certainly this is conventionally what socialism means – and certainly the DSA agenda at least suggests popular control of resources and production that they are actually signing on for that.  And, you know, the DSA candidates have had some success lately.  Okay, so now I am just going to pivot slightly and talk a little bit about why we think this has occurred.  So, some part of this is assuredly the normal generational churn and that part we probably shouldn’t be that excited about.  Right?  Or shouldn’t be that upset about.  So, there is a famous line which has been alternatively attributed to Churchill, Clemenceau and Disraeli, all three at once, perhaps: Any man who is not a socialist at age 20 has no heart.  Any man who is still a socialist at age 40 has no head.  A little bit of looking on my friend Google has suggested that at least there are two alternative versions.  This one I particularly love, this is John Adams from 1799, so this is a confirmed quote from him: A boy of 15 who is not a Democrat is good for nothing and he is no better who is a Democrat at 20 – pretty close – but I think the real origin of this quote is Guizot who says that: Not to be a Republican at 20 is proof of want to heart.  To be one at 30 is proof of want of head.  So, Guizot actually seems to be the oldest side of this.  But, you know, we can’t rule out earlier generators of this idea.  The other Guizot quote I think that’s really important that we keep in our minds as we go forward, is that we are not going to win if we are just against stuff.  Right?  We need optimism.  We need the cause of freedom to be a cause of hope as it ever has been and ever will be.  Right?  And the Guizot quote that I like is that: The world belongs to the optimists, pessimists are only spectators.  And whatever we do has to be about empowering the millennials, not about saying that they are wrong or foolish.  It has to be about helping them change the future and recover their dreams.  Now, this generational churn doesn’t always occur.  So, I am of a generation which I like to think of myself as a Jimmy Carter Republican – okay?  Meaning, that I was nine when Jimmy Carter was elected and 13 when he lost his office.  And, you know, this was an experience which very much seared me and made me fairly unenthusiastic about Jimmy Carter and his legacy.  And, you know, I know a lot of people of my generation who share this view, who had this coming of age, it’s very associated with Reagan in 1981 and this can happen – of course it happened in earlier ages, right?  The 1964 Republication National Convention was very much of a generational fight and the young generation was the one on the right.  The young generation were the Goldwater Girls and the Goldwater Young Republicans.  So, it doesn’t have to be, but it seems like the current generation eventually are conspiring.  And I think one variant of just the simple Guizot, Clemenceau view is it’s about reaction to the status quo, especially when things aren’t going very well for you.  So, you know, a view that you just reject the views of your elders, especially if things aren’t going so well, and it’s not too hard to see why they might think, why the young might think, that their lives aren’t going that well.  Remember, this is a generation that was raised in the shadow of the Great Recession.  Right?  Their entire sort of adult waking life has been starting in 2007 for many of them, or 2006, and so they have experienced a great deal of stasis, a great lack of dynamism.  This is median usual weekly real earnings, which you know 16 years and older, so this is the world that many of them are experiencing.  Fairly static wages.  At the same time, the things that their elders own, like stocks, right?  Have been going up.  Or houses, for another example, have been going up.  So, you know, you see a world in which your elders are getting rich and you are facing the same static wages and that doesn’t seem like a great world for you.  And you want something else.  And the old Left has been out of power for so long that they can bear no blame for what went on.  Right?  The center-Left is complicit in Obama, the center-Right is complicit in Busch, whereas the guys who were, you know, on the Eugene Debs ticket, those guys have nothing to blame for.  And that’s only part of what’s going on.  It’s like it is harkening back to a group that is so far out of touch that it doesn’t bear any blame.  And there is a narrative which is around a zero-sum economy, where rising inequality means that younger, poorer voters are being robbed by older insiders.  That’s the story that they are being told.  And sometimes that’s not totally false.  Right?  So, I view the world of NIMBYists, sort of opposition to new growth, as very much of being one in which insiders are protecting their rights against, you know, the economic growth, the new development of housing, that would in fact empower and strengthen the young and provide more affordable housing.  But most of the time this narrative is false.  Moreover, things which we thought should have been seared into the consciousness of the world are being forgotten.  Right?  The failures of communism are being forgotten, the downsides of a century.  I think I have an op-ed by a student of mine that she wrote in the Harvard Crimson a year ago, I’ll just read you a few words on this.  So, 100 years, 100 million Lives, think twice.  And she is responding to the rise of fashionable communism on the Harvard campus.  The words are pretty powerful: In 1988, my twenty-six-year-old father jumped off a train in the middle of Hungary with nothing but the clothes on his back. For the next two years, he fled an oppressive Romanian Communist regime that would kill him if they ever laid hands on him again.  My father ran from a government that beat, tortured, and brainwashed its citizens.  Right?  This is a memory that should not be lost.  This is an important memory, and indeed it’s a memory that, you know, as my father grew up in Nazi Germany and my grandfather grew up in the czar’s Russia, those are memories that are lodged with me and make me always skeptical of the benevolence of government.  Right?  The Scandinavian model is extolled without any real understanding of how much market-friendly reform was required to make it work.  And the right answer is not that Denmark is hell, it is not hell, but the right answer is that in fact for Denmark to work the whole original socialist model had to be reformed in a way that empowered entrepreneurship.  And I was at an event, for example, last week, in Sweden done by a thinktank of the same sort of genre, which was full of Swedish entrepreneurs, Swedish unicorn leaders, of people who felt empowered by their system because they had returned to a model that respected entrepreneurship.  Because they knew that socialism wasn’t enough, that wasn’t the model.  And that’s being forgotten.  And, finally, the plight of Southern European social democracies, Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, is completely ignored.  And if you think a more socialist America how confident are we that we would end up looking like Sweden relative to looking like Greece?  Right?  And I’m certainly not at all confident that we would end up with the sort of relatively benign market-friendly view of social democracy relative to a view that is, you know, much more painful and much more difficult.  And part of what has to happen is memory, the forgotten joys of soviet shop queues.  Part of it is just looking around the world, right?  You don’t need to look back fifty years to see the failures of a communist regime.  You just need to look at Venezuela today.  You just need to look at the difficulties of Argentina.  This is around us.  And we can see the flight of thousands from Venezuela to nearby Colombia on a daily basis.  Right?  Fleeing what happens when you go too far in this direction, showing the dangers of it.  I will say so this morning I talked to a student of mine who now is a professor at the University of Chicago who said I don’t understand how millennials can possibly think communism is a good idea.  I lived through, I grew up in China and, you know, it seems to me absolutely achingly obvious that Deng Xiaoping’s decision to allow in some degree of market capitalism was responsible for incredible uplifting in the quality of life for millions and millions of people.  This is an incredibly big story that should be obvious to everyone, and yet it is a story that is not being told, it is a story that is not being heard.  Okay?  I think in general within the U.S. our old story that capitalism engenders growth doesn’t seem to work anymore.  And I don’t know the extent to which it’s because millennials just feel like wealth is not the story or whether or not they don’t believe that story, but it’s certainly deeply worrisome to me.  And it means that we need new stories.  We need new stories.  As true as this one, as much as we should not forget this one, we need a narrative that speaks more to 23-year-olds than, you know, the glories of American capitalism.  So, a few things.  And while we get into the mindset of millennials.  I have been told – I think the first thing for all of us to do is we need to take a selfie together.  I think that’s the MI, the excellent MI – let’s see if we can do it.  There we go.  We are all taking a selfie.  Okay.  So now we have entered the mindset of millennials.  The first thing that some of us have trouble with dealing with millennials is occasionally they might have a tad of a sense of entitlement.  A tad of a sense of entitlement.  Which is not totally unrelated to a sense that having to work is some egregious obligation on us.  And, I love this quotation from a discussion with graduate students.  I actually, there’s a slight typo on this, but the graduate students said we are outraged, meaning we graduate students are outraged that our professors won’t spend long hours with us.  But at the same time, we deeply resent the undergraduates who think they are entitled to our time.  So, you know, it’s a sense that we are entitled to the people above us giving us all the time in the world, but we have no obligation to give time to the people who we teach.  Now, notably the student who said this grew up in the former Soviet Union.  Right?  So, in fact, he was not an American millennial at all.  He was just observing them from the eyes of someone who had seen a world that was much worse.  But at the same time – so this is a challenge – but at the same time I taught both graduate students and undergraduates this morning.  And I find them teaching them inspiring, absolutely engaging.  They are full of energy.  They are full of hope.  There are lots of good things about them.  This is not some, and if we approach this with some view that they are some entitled generation that we can’t, you know, we can’t love or admire, we’re going to lose it from the beginning.  And there is a lot to admire.  There is a lot of social spirit in them.  There is a lot of sense of hope.  There is a lot of sense of dynamism in them.  And we need that.  They are, of course, deeply skeptical of both parties – especially the GOP – the recent Pew numbers are that millennials are 44% independent, 35% Democratic and 17% Republican.  But they have also watched – and you saw this in the numbers of entrepreneurs and you saw this on the numbers on small businesses – they have also watched individual entrepreneurs do amazing things.  Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, while the public sector often appears stagnant, right?  The natural response for them seems to be at this point to buy into some dynamic figure who is going to socialize everything, but they have got to understand that that is a recipe for an utterly stagnant government in the future.  And they have to understand the right model is one in which we use talents, and skills, and ideas like those of Jeff Bezos or Steve Jobs in order to transform social services.  That in fact the right model is the model that they have seen work, is the model of private entrepreneurship and private innovation.  It just needs to be directed a little bit better towards solving social problems rather than just finding a more user-friendly version of Twitter, right?  Okay.  So, my big question, then – and I think it’s with this question that I think we should start our discussion – what system and what policies are going to empower you, the millennials, and your generation to make America a better country?  Will this system impose a lot of rules from Washington?  Will it impose a lot of public ownership?  Or will it empower nonprofit and for-profit entrepreneurs, right?  Will the system enable the dreamers of tomorrow to solve today’s problems, or will it lock current problems in place?  And I think the message of hope is absolutely critical for this, right?  Who is going to give us better cities, HUD or millennial entrepreneurs?  I think every 24-year-old knows the right answer to that, okay?  And that question leads you inexorably towards a world of asking why is it that we are holding back entrepreneurs, why is it that we are holding back the food trucks, and why is the right answer to be public ownership of food trucks?  How can that possibly be a sensible thing to do, right?  Except that the current system has often failed them.  But ask them how can the right answer be big government, right?  The history of millennials is full of objections to government policies, of cases in which they don’t like government, how can the answer be more big government for them?  So, I feel inspired by Reagan’s ’81 inaugural address.  Again, remember I was 14 then, so this was a big deal for me.  In this land we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent that has ever been done before, right?  They are inspiring words that are still inspiring.  The problems of our age still require us to unleash that energy and genius, yet the millennial and tech industry public sector solutions feel more akin to the age of Karl Marx than to the age of Sergey Brin.  Universal basic income, just putting everyone on the dole, how can that possibly be a creative answer to the change in demands for labor?  Price controls are deeply unfair and they limit the ability of entrepreneurs to make things better, right?  Where’s the focus on creative education programs, whether for the inner cities of for the Eastern Heartland?  The right answer for a jobless future is for them to use what they saw work, which is innovative entrepreneurs doing new stuff, for them to do it themselves, not for them to come down with a rigid top-down solution.  And it has to have some story that is like this.  Private creativity for public good.  Now, I love, and I am speaking at YIMBYtown in a couple weeks, and I am really excited about this.  I love the YIMBY movement.  And it is a millennial movement, and it’s a movement that has got the point that freedom is actually a progressive thing, that in fact if you want to promote more affordable housing for ordinary Americans, the right thing to do is unleash the supply of housing, right, is to get rid of the regulations that hold housing back.  Thinking about how YIMBY got there is really important for understanding what might be able to work with it.  Now, they haven’t gotten there everywhere, right?  We certainly have plenty of people running for office, particularly in New York State, who still seem to think that universal rent control is the right answer, because rent control has worked so well to promote affordable housing in the left 75 years in New York City.  But, we really have got a growing movement that sees the case for freedom as being the right answer for affordability, right?  We have got our 75-year history of rent control, we’ve got the evidence on public housing projects, you know, the quintessential book is written by our own Howard Husock here.  Everyone can see that housing is inexpensive in much of America, right, where we allow relatively free building.  The enemies of growth, the NIMBYs, are easy to demonize, and that helps.  The unfairness of rent control is very powerful, and I’ll come back to that in a second.  And other causes of the young, inclusion, environmentalism, right, can be tied to allowing more building.  We’ve got a case against the quasi-socialist status quo in favor of more, not less, market capitalism high-cost housing markets.  We have to understand how to do this in more markets.  We have to understand both how to enable the YIMBYist movement to grow and how to make sure it works in labor markets in entrepreneurship areas, in other areas where we crucially need change, right?  Obviously there has been a cottage industry by the New York Post and others in demonizing the beneficiaries of rent control for the past 40 years.  That demonization is unfortunately part of making the case for anything, right?  Because they certainly do it to their enemies all the time, right?  Demonization has been a huge part of everything and unfortunately, you know, as a point that I try to make when understanding the political economy of hatred, unfortunately hating the haters tends to often be a more effective strategy than preaching love.  So, it’s unfortunately true that almost certainly there needs to be a bit of demonization.  I prefer there to be less rather than more, but we need to have some of it.  Permits issued, this just shows the places that build a lot aren’t expensive, the places that are expensive don’t build a lot.  So, taking this argument, taking the case for freedom to other markets, now, unfortunately just see again the Orwellian nature of this.  So, Bernie Sanders wants to make college tuition free and debt-free, okay?  So free.  So, this means no prices for anything, you know, obviously forced.  This is not a freedom that I understand, but it’s a certain type of freedom, I guess.  Obviously, there’s the economic case, won’t poorer colleges just shut down, or hide fees, or lower quality, but it seems to me that in many cases the stronger argument, and the stronger argument against socialism more generally are that it’s not fair, that your actual understanding of fairness is misplaced.  So, it’s not fair because often these services are not benefitting the poorest Americans, they are benefitting richer Americans, they are benefitting whiter Americans.  Often you know, when you have rent control it has gone to people who are not at the, you know, on the margins of living, but who are wealthier.  When we promote employment with high minimum wages then poorer customers pay the cost of income redistribution, that’s not fair.  When low prices or no prices generate overuse, or in some cases like driving that’s unfair as well.  So, let me just show you some pictures.  So, this just points out that when you look at who is getting college, right, overwhelmingly it’s white non-Hispanics, not blacks or Hispanics.  So, if you are favoring free college, you are favoring racial distribution in the U.S., and how can that possibly be something that good socialists actually want?  You are favoring redistribution to the rich away from the poor.  So, this is just income of people who are, you know, have college degrees or graduate degrees relative to people who don’t have it.  By making it free you are taking somebody’s earnings and you are giving it to someone who is richer.  How can that possibly be fair, right?  And I’ve tried this.  I tried this on a – this is my focus group of one, I tried a twelve-year-old who happens to live in my house, me, I’m trying to work on how to talk to young people about socialism.  A twelve-year-old – hmm.  Me: Who do you think should pay for schooling?  The people who go to schools and get the benefits, or the taxpayers?  Twelve-year-old: The people who go to school, obviously.  Right?  Implication that the adult is a bit slow as usual.  Me: How about other things?  Twelve-year-old: The people that use them.  Me:  After all, somebody needs to pay.  Twelve-year-old: Obviously.  Right?  Same thing.  And the point there is that actually if you get them before the political indoctrination, they kind of understand that like the person who gets something should pay for it.  That is not something that is hard for a nine-year-old to grasp.  After all, they have got siblings and when their siblings get stuff they want their siblings to pay for it, right?  That’s pretty clear.  But you know, that logic gets missed in – as they get older, right?  I have made a big point about how airports should be self-funded by user fees, and that’s not just an issue of sort of good management, that’s also an issue of fairness.  The average user of JFK airport is much richer than the average American taxpayer.  We should have airports that are of course independent of Port Authority and much, probably private in most cases, and funded by user fees.  Social Security.  Social Security goes more to people who live longer.  People who live longer are typically richer.  It’s not fair.  Medicare goes typically to people who live longer.  People who live longer are richer.  It’s not fair.  All of these policies one can demonize with the fairness lens.  I think it’s even more powerful the demonization of minimum wages.  Who pays for minimum wages?  The customers.  What, you know, what cockamamie system is going to try and solve the problems of income redistribution by charging the people who go to McDonald’s to pay higher wages to the people who work in McDonald’s.  That is the most backward system of thinking about what a fair system would look like that I could possibly imagine.  Whatever we think we want to do for the people that work for McDonald’s, surely that should be paid for by taxpayers everywhere, not saying in particular we want the customers at McDonald’s to bear this burden, and yet that is exactly what minimum wages do.  It’s not fair, right?  Freeways.  Free highways, making these things free encourage more people to drive, how can that possibly be good for the planet, right?  We have a long cottage industry of people on the Left demonizing for-profit entities of a variety of forms, they are very good at it, and it is easy to demonize those companies that take federal subsidies.  But the problem with that particular road is it doesn’t give us enough that is positive, right?  We can do the not fairness thing but the hope is to get off of that, off of the it’s not fair line, try to neutralize their it’s not fair line, and get to something that is full of hope.  And that is where I am going to end on this, right?  So, you know, Robin has this line when the basic needs of life compel submission to the market and subjugation at work, we live not in freedom but in domination, right?  Either Robin is believing that freedom requires our needs to be met by someone else as in universal basic income, which sounds more like slavery, right, and prying someone else to work for you to not work, that feels like not freedom to me but something else – or that somehow or other we are all going to work but no markets are going to be involved, right?  I know an older line of this: What will be the manner of life among men who may be supposed to have their food and clothing provided for them in moderation, and who have entrusted the practice of the arts to others, and whose husbandry committed to slaves paying a part of the produce – that’s Plato, right?  He’s talking about the lives of his guardians, who, like Robin’s people, he expects to be able to not subject themselves to the market in their working, but at least he comes out and says that he expects slaves to do the work, right?  So, there is a you know, there is a form of you know, of serfdom that inevitably comes by going down this route, and it’s a route that involves a larger and larger share of the GDP being spent on entitlements.  Now, I weighed in last year again about the costs of expecting people to be on universal basic income and just not working and having this paid for them, I think I cannot stress enough this is self-reported life satisfaction, employed low-income people, maybe 12% of them among single, childless men are unhappy, but if you are not working that rises to over 30%, right?  The misery of the jobless cannot be overestimated.  And a view that we are going to have 30, 40% of the American population that are paid for by universal basic income who aren’t working, that is a hell.  That is not a positive role.  It is much healthier for them in the long-run to subject themselves to the subjugation of the market and does something that yields joy to someone else.  To actually give someone a smile when selling something.  That’s not a horrible thing.  That’s an upside, that’s a plus, that’s being of service to the world and that’s something that brings satisfaction and a sense of purpose.  Federal job guarantees seem even worse.  This is a Gillibrand, Cory Booker idea, a Bernie Sanders idea, that the federal government is going to guarantee everyone – they haven’t specified the wage – the cost of this is obviously likely to be enormous, but is also is not going to train people to do new skills, to be entrepreneurs, it’s going to create these guys.  This we can’t show online, though.  I don’t have copyright on any of that.  So, what’s the positive thing?  So, we have to start with the idea of a free market for social entrepreneurs.  We need to start with a vision that starts with heroes.  Heroes who everyone can see has done something good for the world, right?  I am perfectly happy to defend the Steve Jobs and Sergey Brins, but choose ones that everyone Right and Left agrees have done something good.  Jane Addams, Geoffrey Canada, right?  Mother Teresa, right?  People who are obviously in the service of the world.  They were also entrepreneurs of a form.  Many of them have also been held back by undue regulations, right?  Then once we have understood that those are the people the millennials can be and should be, we need to broaden it.  We need to make it clear that the entrepreneur who starts their grocery store in a low-income neighborhood, that’s also a social entrepreneur.  That’s also an entrepreneur who is providing a path forward, and yet that is an entrepreneur who is blocked by a need for 17 permits in New York, okay?  So, that person is not someone that we need a socialist answer, we need a capitalist answer, we need an answer that’s about freedom, we need an answer that is about empowering them.  We also have to include those ordinary for-profit entrepreneurs who provide new jobs for the people who have lost their jobs, for those who fight this herculean effort of creating employment in the Eastern Heartland, in the parts of America where 25, 30% of Americans are jobless.  We need to start with this notion that there are entrepreneurs that everyone can applaud, can appeal, and then we have to broaden it to make it clear that other people are achieving the same ends, whether or not they are for-profit or not-for-profit, right?  We must convey our faith that the millennials, will provide the greatest generation of social entrepreneurs yet, and as long as government empowers instead of restricting, and that is fundamentally the freedom agenda.  That it is fundamentally not one about restrictions, that it is one about enabling them to do their dreams and make the things better.  Now, to be concrete to sort of five policies, you know, as I have said before, employment subsidies, not minimum wages, not free guaranteed government jobs, competitively sourced out-of-school programs that provide vocational training, right?  We want to unleash the genius and entrepreneurs of 25-year-olds to figure out how to provide skills in the inner city or in West Virginia that will lead to jobs.  We want to reward skill providers, not enforce zero costs, not say that you have to provide your education for free, but reward them.  Give them some form of payoff.  We want one-stop business permitting for all social startups everywhere, and all startups in disadvantaged areas.  We want to start including entrepreneurial innovators into the cost-cutting side of government.  Can we make Medicare cheaper without cutting quality and we want them to participate in this.  Finally, we want to applaud YIMBYism.  We want to applaud anyone who understands that freedom is the path towards more affordable housing.  And just my final thoughts: The cause of freedom has one great advantage over its enemies – it is true, it is right, okay?  And we never need to forget that.  But every generation we need to fight the battle for it again, and we are not doing very well right now with this generation.  I have tried to put together my thoughts.  I am not sure that they are right, okay?  I am sure that whatever the answer is has to be full of hope and has to be full of respect for the millennial generation, because I think they are incredible in lots of ways.  They are just a little bit mislead right now.  I am sure that you know, freedom will inspire them to change the world, and I think in fact they can do it.  But, we all need to come together and make sure that they don’t get trapped in this socialist era that has caused so much harm over the course of the twentieth century.  And you know, my final observation is that thank god that twelve-year-old girl that I was talking about thinks that Alexander Hamilton is the greatest guy in the world thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda, so I just want to end by thanking Lin-Manuel Miranda on this, and end there.


Lawrence Mone: Alright.  Actually, we have quite a bit of time for questions, and Ed is perfectly capable of fielding them himself, so why don’t you just raise your hand, tell us who you are, and give us your question?

Edward Glaeser: Sure.  Yes, sir.

Questioner #1: So now I’m on the microphone.  My name is Hank Salzhauer and I think that everybody in this room agrees with you.  My question is how can you change the faculty, which really is inoculating this whole problem into a whole generation which graduates from college and thinks they had an education but they really have not?

Edward Glaeser: So, I can’t bear any responsibility for any faculty members other than the economics faculty members, who I bear some responsibility for, and by and large I will defend my colleagues in economics at Harvard pretty strongly.  I think I have a great set of colleagues that I feel deeply proud to come to work with every day, and they range the ideological spectrum, but you can hardly – the largest economics course at Harvard is Ec10, and you can hardly accuse Greg Mankiw of being a closet socialist.  But you are absolutely right.  In many universities, including my own, there are certainly many college professors whose views are not akin to those in this room.  I certainly have no idea how to change the hiring practices around that.  I do have a different solution, which is to try and get the students without changing the teachers.  So, for example last year I voluntarily gave Harvard an extra course on the economics of cities because I wanted to reach more students.  And, you know, I think there’s a way to compete for student minds which doesn’t involve trying to you know, stop other faculties from growing, but just competing for their time.  Competing by giving them courses that are more exciting, that are taught with maybe more balance, that are taught in a way that appeals to them.  And I think that’s at least my own way of doing this, is to try and offer something – not even particularly with a – I mean I certainly went about teaching my course on the economics of cities not because I had any ideological agenda whatsoever, although I think it is true that if you hear me lecture for twelve weeks you are going to hear some aspect of a particular viewpoint.  But because I wanted more access to them, which is, after all, a privilege.  So that’s at least my strategy.  But I don’t know beyond that, but it’s – and just to be clear – it’s not like it just starts in colleges, right?  I mean it’s high schools, it’s junior highs.  I mean there is, you know…

Questioner #1: (Inaudible) of having graduated from the college where that’s where they got indoctrinated.

Edward Glaeser: I think you don’t – so let me rephrase what I said and say it again, right?  I think the right answer is not anything going negative.  I think it has to be about a positive vision, a positive alternative, whether or not we are talking about courses or a philosophy that is exciting, alternative, and true.  And that’s what we should be pushing.  Yes, sir.

Questioner #2: Thanks for being here.

Edward Glaeser: You are supposed to say your name.

Questioner #2: Andrew (inaudible).

Lawrence Mone: And we will get a microphone to you also.

Questioner #2: In your discussion with the millennials and researching the question, how much of the framework that they are espousing you think is a shifting of worldview priority, a different emphasis placed on wealth accumulation versus the standard baby boomer mentality versus the fact that there’s less access to these things and therefore the mentality kind of changes around the set of realities, right?  And, so, had their set of opportunities been greater, we wouldn’t be talking about this.

Edward Glaeser: I don’t know.  I mean I think to some extent it’s – so certainly they feel like the past ten years have been pretty grim, but at the same time they don’t feel that they are so grim like they have to immediately worry about, you know, getting an engineering degree.  Or, you know, I mean some of them do, and those aren’t the ones who are saying they are socialists.  Those are the ones who are, you know – but it’s, I mean some of it will presumably change as economic opportunity changes, but I think so much of it is unrelated to the economic fundamentals and related to you know, losing the war of ideas.  I think unquestionably there were headwinds but the larger issue is that, you know, the cause for freedom is losing in the war of ideas for younger Americans.  Yes, sir.

Questioner #3: James (inaudible)…

Edward Glaeser: Okay, go on – I was going for the gentleman behind you, but we’ll get you next, okay?

Questioner #4: Harvey Weiss.  Are the views of millennials that you describe the same across all demographic groups, or are there differences for example between college students and blue-collar workers?  Are they the same across all universities?  Are they the same for recent immigrants and nonrecent immigrants?

Edward Glaeser: Assuredly not.  Often the sample sizes get relatively small here.  Let me just show you – but even, for example, I just showed you the overall race differences which are in one of these things.  There is a lot of heterogeneity.  I don’t know that we have a – I mean what we would really like to know is an actual social science agenda and what changes beliefs, right?  So, that’s actually what we would like to have.  We are very far from having that, where you actually need natural experiments around.  So, for example, this gives you age, gender, and race categories.  There are – and this is for all age groups – so for example the, you know, I didn’t look at the say, for example, the race differences and think that they were enormous gaps on that, but assuredly there are huge differences between different parts of the country on this.  Historically there certainly have been.  But it’s true that we actually, if we are going to take the war of ideas seriously, we actually have to get in, understand more where is it that this trend is stronger and where is weaker?  And we need to understand that better.  You, sir, who are in front who I cut you off.  Yeah.

Questioner #3: (Inaudible) studied the generation of growth in 1930, so there are a lot of similarities for kids that grew up then versus those that grew up during the current downturn.  Cynicism around financial institutions, big government, socialist policies, high unemployment, have you looked at that?

Edward Glaeser: So, I think we know a bit of the intellectual history.  I have looked at Gallup data going back to the 1930s on different things.  I have not focused particularly on this issue.  I mean, we know the normal story, right?  The normal story is that socialism and communism enjoyed a huge vogue in the 1930s, which became both discredited and almost illegal after the Cold War began.  So, there was a – and the fact that we were facing off against the Soviet Union, we kind of saw what the Soviet Union was, discredited that viewpoint pretty quickly in terms of mainstream American.  So, I think that didn’t last, but it didn’t last because of an accident of history that I hope does not repeat itself and I doubt will repeat itself.  So, at least that’s how at least I would look for it.  But, certainly, socialism – we saw socialism enjoy a huge vogue in the Great Depression, so indeed there is an echo of that here.  Yes, go ahead.  Absolutely.

Questioner #5: So, my concern is this is fabulous data, it’s a fabulous presentation, but I question whether it is grounded right now in the data we see in terms of what is happening in the world.  Number one, Bernie Sanders won I think 44% of the Democratic vote, primary vote, in 2016, a giant number that no one predicted.  Donald Trump, I am sure most of the people here didn’t think Donald Trump was going to win the election in 19 – early 1916, didn’t think of it, or even 15, didn’t think he was going to win.  We are sitting here right now where there is – if Donald Trump, who I voted for, so let me – I’m putting my cards on the table – is the Republican candidate for the presidential, for our president in 2020, so we just – we basically have two years, less than two years, a year-and-a-half, to get all of this knowledge out there, no matter how positive, and we see this enormous power of the other side, A, being negatively opposed to Trump, and they see the chance, whether they are right or wrong doesn’t matter very much at this moment – they have the right to vote – doesn’t the data that we have, the sign of enthusiasm, the sign of discontent with the current president with whatever good he has done, which I think is significant, aren’t we just sitting here right now where the next accident occurs?  If Trump was accident number one in ‘16, isn’t this the logical, sort of in effect a regression to the mean, it’s an overshooting of that mean, but isn’t this – if you study politics isn’t this sort of this natural reversion that young men and women feel that this country is just going in the wrong direction?  Whether they are right or wrong isn’t the issue.  So, my question is not as an economics professor, but as a political observer, what’s the strategy?  How does this actually manifest itself?  This is a great strategy for the next ten years.  We are not going to educate all of these young men and women in college in the next 18 months.  What do you want to do?

Edward Glaeser: One of the great virtues of not being a millennial, of being over the age of 50, is I know which things are my job and which things are not my job, okay?  And as much as I feel the pain of what you are talking about and I care very deeply about it, and I care very much about a politics that is based on ideas and that does not cycle from different extremes from one way to the other, I really don’t know how to change that.  And if someone does I am happy to subscribe to their newsletter and be part of their fight, but I don’t know how to do that.  What I believe I should be in the business of, and indeed I have been in the business of for quite some time, is fighting in a long-term war of ideas.  And that in some sense is really much more of MI’s mission than it is winning the next election either.  I mean that’s an MI mission, which is laying the groundwork with the idea that ideas laid even in unprofitable political times can bear fruit thirty or forty years later.  I mean think about you know, Milton Friedman’s discussing housing vouchers sixty-odd years ago, right?  He was seen to be loony when he discussed this.  There was no chance that it was going to go – going to occur in that period.  But the ideas were there, they spread, they percolated.  You know, they got a little bit of traction in Milwaukee thirty, you know, twenty-odd years ago, and you know, we have a movement that uses those ideas.  This has to be about a long game.  I agree there’s a short game as well.  And I agree I’m not telling you how to win – whatever it is you want to do in that short game, I don’t know how to do it, okay?  But I am engaged every day with talking to 19-year-olds, talking to 23-year-olds, and I think that is also a battle that is well worth waging.  And if we try and just play the short game and not play the long game we don’t win either, right?  We have to actually play both games and you know, I’m going to keep on playing the game, fighting the fight that I actually know how to fight rather than the fight I don’t know.

Questioner #5: (Inaudible) 100,000 of you.

Edward Glaeser: Yes, sir.

Questioner #6: Steve (inaudible).

Edward Glaeser: Of course, Steve.

Questioner #6: I wonder what fraction of American households parents spend any time talking to young children about some of the ideas and the kind of thing you were talking about in your sample of one, and what fraction of American households, I wonder, are people speaking to their children about the kind of ideas that you brought up in your own household.

Edward Glaeser: It’s a great question.  I have never seen a Gallup poll on it.  It would not be featured in the American Time Use Survey, which, the main things you learn from the American Time Use Survey is most parents spend very little time with their children period, let alone whether or not they are talking about these ideas, but absolutely.  That’s a great question and indeed, you know, for all of us who are parents, this is part of the answer as well.  Yes, in back.

Questioner #7: Thank you so much for your presentation.  I hope we can a transcript of it and a copy of your – so I can teach my children and grandchildren.  Here’s my question: We all know what’s happening with overdoses and people dying from – what’s happening with the illegality of hard drugs.  What is your position on decriminalizing all drugs and basically saying instead of having to buy it from the underworld where you don’t know whether you are getting a high dose or a low dose, sort of regulating and disclosing you know, the potency so that people will not accidentally overdose and just basically solving this tremendous social problem of gangs, crimes?

Edward Glaeser: So, one of my closest friends is the economist Jeff Myron, who has made this cause his own.  Jeff is your man on this.  I’m, you know, one of the things – one of the other things I learned with being over 50 is I’m not going to divide my audience by taking a stand on something that undoubtedly 50% of them don’t necessarily agree with the other 50% of them.  I will tell you typically on this view I have typically favored some form of decriminalization, perhaps not as extreme as you would like, at the national level, but I have also been quite strongly in favor of criminalization at the very local level, meaning that I am generally okay with adults choosing to buy drugs, I am generally okay with it being regulated, but I don’t want it around my own children and I don’t want it you know, in my own community.  I don’t mind if my neighbors do it in the privacy of their own homes, I just don’t want it sold and smoked on the streets where I take my children to school.  So, I see it as more of a local regulatory matter than I do as being a largescale matter.  But these are complicated issues and I will just raise another thing – I do a fair amount of engagement with Latin America, and from their perspective obviously the American war on drugs has been an unbridled curse, right?  And that’s a serious issue as well.  But these are complicated issues and what I want you to take away from the opioid crisis is this is yet another thing that in fact is an American social problem that requires the engagement, and innovation, and entrepreneurship of the millennials to solve.  And every social problem has that aspect to it.  And it’s not going to happen if we just try a top-down solution for it.  We need them to figure out smarter ways to do it.  Yes, sir.

Questioner #8: Yes, Marshall Jaffe.  I’ll preface my question with a brief anecdote.  My mother grew up in Brownsville in the ‘20s and ‘30s.  She was the daughter of a reasonably prosperous shopkeeper.  She was a member of the communist party.  I asked her mom, why were you a communist?  She said that’s where the boys were.  So, in that context – to what degree do you think the love affair with socialism by millennials is kind of a passing fashion that speaks to social acceptance and may change with the length of hemlines or sideburns?

Edward Glaeser: I can’t say.  Certainly, the trends look more worrisome than just merely hemlines.  And I think it’s a mistake to be too blasé about it, but I think unquestionably in any social movement you have a lot of people who are there because it’s the cool thing to do.  Unquestionably that’s right.  But, even if a movement forms for that reason, it can still have larger consequences.  So, I think just because you know, people are moved by the things they are always moved for, a desire for acceptance, a desire for love, a desire to meet cute members of the opposite sex, or the same sex, the – it still can have a large consequence and it is still worth thinking about, absolutely.  Yes, ma’am.

Questioner #9: I’m a…

Lawrence Mone: Just wait for the mic – wait for the mic so we can all hear your question.

Questioner #9: Most of the millenniums today I don’t think have ever suffered like not having food, not having a roof over their heads, not having a chance for an education.  I don’t think, you know, they haven’t been through a Depression, or the Second World War, or the postwar.  I can speak for myself that I come from a military family.  I lived as a young girl in Berlin when it was a four-power occupation and I certainly knew what it was even at a small age of eight of nine, what communism/socialism meant.  It didn’t take a lot for me to see, I just had to look across, a little bit, across Berlin and saw the Soviet occupation.  And I don’t think they have any idea what it is not to have.  If they had their iPhones taken away, or their laptops, or whatever, then what is life going to be for them?


Edward Glaeser: That needs no response.  That was great.  That was great.  Okay, yes ma’am.  Yeah, yeah.


Questioner #10: Hi, my name is Mora Riley, and I actually am a millennial.

Edward Glaeser: What?  Finally!

Questioner #10: I’m kind of in the middle, and I have to say I don’t find a lot of common ground with some of the younger millennials, but I have to say that the social entrepreneurship argument really does resonate with me, and it resonates with a lot of my colleagues and friends who I have seen go to business school and pursue opportunities that are very aligned with that.  The one thing I will say, though, is that requires a sense of optimism about the ability to change social problems, and I have seen some conflicting data on how millennials feel.  You know, are they optimistic, are they pessimistic about the future of the country, the world, etc.?  So, it seems like the trend may be towards a bit more pessimism, so how do we continue to encourage social entrepreneurship and use that as an argument you know, to favor capitalism if folks are feeling more pessimistic about their ability to change things?

Edward Glaeser: Yeah, this is a real worry and I feel the pessimism too.  And I think this is absolutely right.  So, a couple of things.  I mean, by celebrating some social entrepreneurs we will be highlighting the ability of some people to you know, to change the world.  Secondly, you know, the technology story over the last twenty years is a story of just a world – you know, mind-numbing change that has been affected.  So, there is sort of a story of change that they can see and feel tangible.  And the other thing that is sort of even more important is part of this history is remembering the bad stuff, right, is remembering Berlin and you know, my own memories of East Berlin were from ’77, when I remember walking along Unter den Linden in those grim times.  But you have also got to remember the longer track record of humanity.  And when I think of, you know, what we as a species have gone through over the past – whether or not you want to take the past 500 years, or the past 2,500 years – it’s full of miraculous things.  I mean, we as a species have done over and over again by working together, by collaborating, by using this collective human ability to innovate, to come up with new ideas, we have worked miracles time and time again, whether or not it is in business, or technology, or in the arts, or in culture, or in politics, we have worked miracles.  And the age of miracles is not gone.  And their age of miracles is still ahead of them.  And they need to believe that and you know, we need to tell them that.  And that, you know, enduring optimism is absolutely critical, and I believe not just in Guizot’s comment that like the world becomes to the optimism, I believe at some fundamental level optimism beats pessimism, because it’s just a lot better in life to go through life as an optimist than to go through life as a pessimist.

Questioner #11: Last question…

Lawrence Mone: I think that’s a good place to end up, so thank you, Ed.