“Ideally, I will die a lifeless husk, having spent decades paying hundreds of thousands in rent, driven further away from the city, all my labors amounting to nothing.”Encouraged from a young age to work hard and follow his dreams, 21 year-old Jeff Smith of Akron, Ohio finished college early and moved to San Francisco to, “maximize the availability and extractability of the surplus value of my labors to third parties—be they Wall Street banks, drunken landlords, or on-demand employers.”
The optimism in Smith’s voice was both palpable and seemingly boundless. “I’m a believer,” he said.
Smith’s ambitions are not unlike those of Americans from prior generations. What’s different is the likely outcome of those ambitions, and Smith’s realism about his chances. After all, Smith is part of a generation that grew up in the Information Age, and he knows the facts: In America today, social mobility is lower than in many other countries and falling steadily.
“I’ll start small with bank fees. Then, in a few years, I’ll have a minor health problem that snowballs into a catastrophic bankruptcy,” he enthused. “But the rest of my 20s? It’s just a warmup for the real action—when I try to have a family.”
Smith went over the statistics, explaining the advantages, in his view, of one day becoming a family man.
“First there’s the birth itself. That alone could costs tens of thousands. Then there’s the cost of childcare because my wife will have to go back to work right away. And when we finally get our child ready for kindergarten, the public schools will be so disastrously bad, we’ll have to look at private schools.”
Smith ticked off other sources of his future family’s financial stress.
“Throw in runaway housing costs, wage stagnation, a toxic food and water supply, crumbling infrastructure, random gun violence, and you have the perfect storm.”
In the end, Smith said, his demise wouldn’t come only at the hands of others. “Ultimately, I’ll be impoverished by my refusal to perpetuate the same system that took advantage of me.”
“Ideally,” Smith added with a glint in his eye, “I will die a lifeless husk, having spent decades paying hundreds of thousands in rent, driven further away from the city, all my labors amounting to nothing—except profits for someone else, of course.”
He leaned in to whisper a last confession.
“Look,” he said, “I get it. Dreams are hard to achieve. But you gotta believe. Gotta believe! And I have zero doubt that one bright, shining day, a regular guy like me can wind up face-down in a gutter, stepped on by the next generation of strivers in a never-ending chain of aspiration, futile resistance, and ruination. It’s definitely nice to feel like you’re part of something larger than yourself.”