I'm an optimist. I usually focus on all the progress the world has made during our lifetime. The end of the Cold War. The spread of literacy. The decrease in poverty. The decrease in racial and sexual discrimination. The increase in life expectancy. Advancements in science and medicine.
But sometimes, just sometimes, you see the other side of the coin.
The other day I ran across a post on Reddit, a social media outlet targeted toward Millennials, in connection with a spike in certain stocks on Wall Street. I don't know if you paid attention -- but smaller companies like Gamestop were bid up by a group of individuals from social media, and the phenomenon was billed as a kind of revolt against Wall Street. The situation quickly passed. It was just a media-hyped fad. But I think a significant Millennial sentiment was captured by an ER doctor who wrote an open letter to Wall Street:
When I was a resident physician in Detroit, Obama was president. During his presidency the quality of life of the predominantly African Americans in Detroit did not improve. Despite Obamacare, I saw little improvement in the health outcomes of the patients I worked with. I saw continued proliferation of illicit drugs, overdoses, and gang violence. YOU have left these people behind.
I spent the last several years working in a small town in the Midwest, when Trump was president. During his presidency the quality of life of the predominantly white Americans also did not improve, and have in fact worsened. I saw continued proliferation of illicit drugs, overdoses, and suicides. These patients I care for are also people YOU have left behind.
With the pandemic I have seen those who are already at the brink of financial solvency lose their jobs and I see lines outside food banks. I see the health outcomes of my patients decline as they forego preventive care. I, on the other hand, kept my job, got a raise, and saw the value of my 401K rise as the economy crashed around me. Going to work every day is a constant and stark reminder of the brokenness and disparity of the economic system and my sheer powerlessness to change it. I realize now that it is not political. It is YOU.
This brought home to me the reality that I have not suffered at all financially from the pandemic. My Social Security deposit arrives on time. My IRA balance has only gone up. And since I'm spending less, I actually have more money in the bank -- even though my wife and I sent extra contributions to various charities during December.
Do I feel guilty that the pandemic hasn't impacted me as negatively as others -- that my IRA keeps going up as so many other people are suffering? No, I don't. Do I feel lucky? Yes, I do.
There's a lot of irony is this "revolt." First, it didn't come from the poor and disadvantaged. It came from middle-class people who had the time and money to speculate in the stock market. Also, there was a tinge of nostalgia about the whole thing. The Reddit crowd didn't bid up shares of Apple or Amazon. They plowed into Gamestop, AMC theaters, Blackberry, Nokia and other struggling companies that were popular back in the 1990s. The Millennials must think that things were better back then when they were growing up. But don't we all think that to some extent?
Was this physician right to blame Wall Street for all these problems? Maybe . . . but Wall Street was just as big and powerful in the '90s as it is now. Is it the political system? Is it big tech? Or should he blame his complacent, self-satisfied Baby Boomer parents?
Beyond the blame, what can we do that neither Obama nor Trump could do repair our economic system? To help lift the despair felt by so many that leads to taking illicit drugs and committing suicide? To give people more opportunity . . . and perhaps even more importantly to rekindle the feeling that the future is brighter than the past?