I’ve feared for a while that my generation would become libertarians by default: the social safety net has been so thoroughly worn down that there’s little social contract left; I fear that people expect Medicare and Social Security to be gone by the time they retire. If that’s what people expect, then they stop lobbying to strengthen Social Security and just look out for #1. Republicans, meanwhile, have never stopped trying to destroy Social Security. Current retirees will never let Social Security end, but maybe my generation will. My parents’ generation expects Social Security to be there, and many of them have pensions. My generation might well expect Social Security to die, and we all have very weak 401(k)s instead of reliable pensions. So we may not know what to lobby for, because we’re not used to having a social safety net to fall back on. We may not know what we’re missing until it’s gone. Hence libertarianism by default: the libertarianism of apathy.

This is all just speculation about what might happen, of course. This generation might turn out to be just as passionate about liberal causes as was FDR’s generation — particularly after watching several bubbles and crashes over just the last decade. Certainly *I* think that this calls out, more than ever, for more active management in the economy, and particularly for more protection against the business cycle. I think a lot of people my age think the same way. Now if only our elected representatives would stop merely trying to prevent the death of Social Security, and instead take the fight to the Republicans.

These thoughts have all been bubbling for a while. They were brought to a boil by a terrific short piece in the New Republic (via Matt Yglesias). Well worth your time.