“Kids These Days” by Malcolm Harris: Book Review

Woke and Broke: Why Every Millennial and Gen Z-er Needs to Read “Kids These Days”

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“…owners always think of workers as just another cost to be reduced.” ~ Malcolm Harris

Of late, my psychotherapy practice has been flooded with millennials in various stages of crisis asking how they got into this situation and why they feel so burnt-out and betrayed. The first book that I recommend for them is Malcolm Harris’ “Kid These Days.” Young Mister Harris has the most crystal clear vision and insightful understanding of the world that our children are inheriting. Working harder. Earning less. Feeling duped by a system for which there was no “Opt-Out” button. Every American interested in the future of our country should read this book.

Students of economics and sociology could have predicted what has transpired, but Harris states it most elegantly and precisely. Marx claimed that workers would become more and more disenfranchised and alienated from work as the distance grew between them and the fruits of their labors; Piketty proved beyond any doubt that capital expands faster than labor (the rich get richer and the 99% work to fill the 1%’s coffers). Now Harris beautifully unpacks the “Student Debt Industrial Complex” that his generation was coerced into and lays it bare for all to see: there has been a cataclysmic subconscious shift and our society has grown to regard human beings as capital. A young person’s life is now viewed as an investment that will yield returns years down the road. But these investments end up more akin to indentured servitudes or trafficked sex-workers who can almost never repay what they or their parents invested in them as they try to claw their way up the almighty mountain towards the unreachable 1%.

Fervently declaring that expensive investments in advanced degrees will return high dividends, “Every authority from moms to presidents told millennials to accumulate as much human capital as we could, and we did, but the market hasn’t held up its end of the bargain.” So millennials are better educated than people of my generation, yet enjoy fewer job opportunities, receive lower real wages, are burdened by boatloads of debt, and suffer from the stresses of working in a highly competitive job market where their McJobs are disposable to owners trying to maximize profit.

A livable wage? With such high rents you much be joking!

“Higher education is, in addition to other things, an economic regime that extracts increasingly absurd amounts of money from millions of young people’s as-yet-unperformed labor. For anyone who takes out a student loan — and that’s two-thirds of students — succeeding at contemporary American childhood now means contracting out hours, days, years of their future to the government, with no way to escape the consequences of what is barely a decision in the first place.”

Easy money convinced universities to build more amenities — stadiums, cafes, pools — and become more like corporations luring young people on 4–5 year vacations instead of the intellectual Ivy-covered towers they were originally intended to be. Then the universities hired countless managers, reduced tenured professors, and handed all of the costs onto the students.

I went to university to learn. Apparently a novel idea — or rather an idea of yesteryear. I went for 3 graduate degrees and 8 certificates because I love learning. I still take classes as a senior scholar at UCLA. According to Mister Harris, this seems like a luxury that dear few of his peers can afford today.

Are millennials analogous to cannon fodder in some way?

Are internships, blogging, influencers and “entrepreneurship” the new slavery?

Is it any wonder why so many people are suffering from burn-out and quarter-life crises?

What are the possible endings to a system based on the exploitation of people born with less opportunities, whether they are fellow Americans or Mexicans or Chinese people or Indians?

As a psychotherapist I find the constant connectedness to work via mobile phones and the dearth of authentic intimacy in the lives of millennials to be staggering.

Now these weathered young people are showing up in droves with dire uncertainty if anyone really cares about them as people…. or are they only valuable as human capital?

I believe that you will greatly enjoy young Mister Harris’ step-by-step exegesis of the rough beast that business has become in just one generation. His research is solid and his conclusions are irrefutable. If you agree that “Capital and the 21st Century” was the most important book of the first part of the decade, then I’m sure you will agree that “Kids These Days” is the most important book of the second part of this decade. And without bringing this bankrupt system fully into the light, there will be little hope of avoiding a revolution.

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