College students worry … and think

Today’s college age generation has been disillusioned by a decade of recession, the decline of the U.S. in the world, and a general loss of confidence in democratic capitalism as a promise for their futures.images

Hence they are less likely to buy into the idealism and work ethic of 90s kids. But who knows, maybe they have better critical instincts. David Brooks is worried about all of this, as he writes in today’s New York Times:

“Twelve years ago, I wrote a piece for The Atlantic, called “The Organization Kid,” about the smart, hard-working, pleasant-but-cautious achievatrons who thrive in elite universities. Occasionally, somebody asks me how students have changed since then. I haven’t been perceptive enough to give a good answer.

“But, this year, I’m teaching at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale, and one terrifically observant senior, Victoria Buhler, wrote a paper trying to capture how it feels to be in at least a segment of her age cohort. She’s given me permission to quote from it. Buhler points out that the college students of 12 years ago grew up with 1990s prosperity at home, and the democratic triumph in the cold war abroad. They naturally had a tendency to believe deeply “in the American model of democratic capitalism, which created all men equal but allowed some to rise above others through competition.”

“Then came Sept. 11. That was followed by the highly moralistic language of George W. Bush’s war on terror: “Our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.” But Bush’s effort to replicate the Reagan war on an evil empire led to humiliation, not triumph. Americans, Buhler writes, “emerged from the experience both dismissive of foreign intervention as a tool of statecraft as well as wary of the moral language used to justify it.”

“Then came the financial crisis, the other formative event for today’s students. The root of the crisis was in the financial world. But the pain was felt outside that world. “The capitalist system, with its promise of positive-sum gains for all, appeared brutal and unpredictable.”

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