Two-thirds of millennials–the 18-29-year-olds who were key to the election and re-election of President Barack Obama–now say that government is inefficient and wasteful. And yet just as many of them say they want more government, regardless: they want government to provide health insurance, they want government to guarantee a living wage, they want government to pay for college, and they want government to provide for the poor.
Those are the results of a new Reason-Rupe poll released Thursday. The headline at Reason.com focuses only on millennials’ skepticism of government: “Millennials Think Government Is Inefficient, Abuses Its Power, and Supports Cronyism.” Yet the poll numbers showing millennials’ support for big government are at least strong, if not stronger. (The full study accounts for the paradox by calling millennials a “politically unclaimed” group.)
There is a disconnect here, a failure among millennials to draw the obvious conclusions from their experiences of big government. Or perhaps it is a failure to distinguish between political sentiment and political reality: they know that big government does not work, and yet also derive some utility from political idealism. The thinking here seems to be that while government is wasteful and inefficient, if it helps in some small way, that is enough.
The fact that there might be better ways of helping people without government is one that seems not to have occurred to them. This is a generation that “knew not Reagan,” and that was never taught anything about the Cold War, except that communism was a nice idea that failed in the USSR but might work elsewhere. This is a generation failed by the education system, and by a political opposition that struggles to provide alternatives.