Bling

BLING….Ezra Klein meditates on why the iPod generation (hey! another synonym for “20-somethings”!) doesn’t seem to be politically motivated to do anything about economic insecurity:

My sense is that economic status has been cleaved free of economic security. So the sort of goods that signal affluence — iPods and iPhones and laptop computers and plasma televisions — are becoming much cheaper, more broadly accessible, and thus more widely owned. Lots of people, particularly young people, can thus claim economic status. The trappings of our wealth are all around us.

….Meanwhile, from where I sit, the American Dream is a pretty weak force. White picket fences aren’t the culturally transmitted vision of prosperity. Electronics are. Awesome stuff is. We’re seeking goods, not security. And we can buy goods. Which makes us feel prosperous. And if you feel prosperous, if you consider yourself affluent, you can’t merge that self-conception with economic insecurity, and thus it’s hard to consider yourself part of a coalition in need of economic reform, or more advantageous public policy. By offering status without security, folks lose the class discontent that would turn them into a constituency for the security. And so they don’t get it.

Hmmm. I’m trying to figure out if I think there’s something to this.

I guess I’m not sure that all the electronic doodads Ezra is talking about have really taken the place of a house in the suburbs. My guess is that they’ve mostly just taken the place of other doodads that used to signal status. Maybe it used to be whitewall tires or a leather briefcase or a European vacation (a status good that’s long since become a commodity), and now it’s an iPod or a DSL connection or an xBox. It’s not that we have more non-house status markers than our parents and grandparents did, just that we have different ones.

But I’m not sure about that. Maybe we do have more. Or, more to the point, if the urban hipster crowd has flatly given up on the prospect of ever owning a home, maybe they simply have more money for doodads. After all, there’s no point in socking away money for a down payment if you’re never going to be able to use it. So why not spend that dough on a copy of Halo 3 instead?

But then….well, it turns out that home ownership is higher today than it was 30 or 50 years ago, subprime crisis or not. So homeownership is hardly a dying dream. Though it sure seems to be among young people living in cities, doesn’t it?

I dunno. For now, I’m going to go with (a) we have different status doodads today, not more status doodads, and (b) yeah, housing in crowded urban centers is a problem.