Friday, March 7, 2008

We can reform now or face revolution later...or, thoughts on the pessimism of today's youth.

One of the reasons I haven't been blogging much lately is that I've been spending a lot of time hanging out with some high school students from a very well-to-do area here in Southern California. Their school is a national "Blue Ribbon" winner. Many students from this school go on to populate Ivy-League campuses and the top state schools. I've been shocked, however, to see the growing pessimism in high school students! If there is anyone who you'd hope to see brimming with optimism, it would be high schoolers: they have all the opportunity in the world in front of them! Well, that is not how these kids feel.

  • Rather than feeling the freedom of impending adulthood, these students feel that before they can do anything important, have anything important, or be anyone important, they have at least--at least!--4 years of college in front of them. So in this way, college and university education become the necessary gauntlet to significant societal influence. Therefore, rather than entering adulthood upon graduating from high school, these students enter into what amounts to a secondary high school experience. Further, now that bachelor's degrees are so common, many students feel that to get an upper-hand, they must go on to get master's degrees....They have no sense of freedom, just bondage to education and institutions that hold a proverbial carrot in front of them.
  • Rather than feeling the significance of societal contribution, these students again feel marginalized. It is innate, I believe, in young people to feel a strong desire to shape and guide the society that one lives in. Historically, some of the most amazing movements and inventions have come from young people who are full of life and vigor. When we, as a society, continually tell them that they can't do significant jobs and own significant things until they are in their mid to late twenties, then all of this creative and revolutionary energy simply is wasted and we create institutional drones who only go on to oppress future generations. Look around, people are getting married later, having kids later, getting settled careers later, and all these things mean they are contributing to our society later. Young people are one of our greatest assets and our society has, wittingly or unwittingly, put them in cages and made their lives insignificant.
  • Rather than feeling economically optimistic, young people face rising debts. There is nothing like starting out your life with debt that accrues interest. Rather than being able to purchase a home that will accrue equity, you'll spend the next ten years of your life trying to pay off the debt before you can sniff a house to buy. Then, you'll struggle to get a house and save, but you'll by no means be ready for your kids to go to college so either a) your spouse will also have to work and you won't be able to raise your kids in a traditional family setting or b) you'll offer your kids no money for college and the scenario will start over for them, or c) some combination of both a and b. All this and not to mention the fact that as more and more people have less and less money for retirement, taxes will have to go higher and higher for young people, and this will just make things worse.
So, what are we to do? I'm not an expert on government, economics, psychology, or sociology, but I've got a couple of suggestions for the state and the church that could help alleviate the problem:

1. The state: the state needs to step in and deal with the problem by doing a couple of things.
  • Regulate the financial sector by ensuring that home loans are more equitable for young people. The financial institutions have made a killing on the middle class, which, ironically, makes the middle class disappear. We need to make sure that banks make money on loans, but the amount of money they make should be far less than what it is right now. Essentially, interest rates should be lower or calculated differently.
  • Regulate businesses by ensuring that there are many jobs available for those who do not have college degrees. We need less education (in terms of years), not more. Ask anyone and they'll tell you that Americans are not any smarter now than they were 100 years ago. We need better education, not more education. Businesses should be prepared to hire, train, and pay high-school educated people to do jobs that currently require college degrees. Then, in turn, we will see people getting married earlier, having kids earlier, buying houses earlier, paying taxes earlier. In short, many of our economic problems would disappear. Somehow, in someway, the government has to encourage and assist businesses in developing apprenticeship programs and training for jobs for high-school grads, rather than forcing them to jump through the college hoop.
2. The Church: the church has to do a couple of things as well, in my opinion.
  • We have to stop making young people insignificant in our church congregations. Make younger people elders! Don't relegate younger men to the role of youth pastor! Don't allow the older part of the congregation to wield all the power, regardless of whether this is where the money comes from. I love being a youth pastor, don't get me wrong, but I think that we cheat ourselves of great energy and passion by putting all our guys who are in their early 20's through early 30's in the role of taking care of the kids. We have to balance this out by letting these young men have a significant role in the church.
  • Also, we have to teach our kids that marriage at a young age is good, and that work at a young age is good. We've got to stop cramming the idea that they have to go to college, and put off marriage and work, down their throats. This is only hurting them. Instead, we should encourage them to pursue the things that matter most: service to God and, hence, the raising of a Godly family. They will learn what they need to learn: don't worry so much about whether or not they go to college! I've seen a lot--and I mean a lot!--of college graduates who are absolute fools. And you know what, you can skate through college without learning too much. Just go interview the people at your local co-ed dorm. Many of them are not staying up all night studying (except very rarely). Instead, they are up all night playing video games, downing mixed drinks, and fornicating. College isn't essential, let's get that straight!
  • Finally, the church has got to pick up some of the educational slack. We've got to encourage our lay people to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty in Scripture and outside of Scripture. Most of one's education happens outside of the walls of the institution. The church should be a place that encourages its people to pursue knowledge, wisdom, and skill for the glory of God.
If some of these things don't change, revolution will be the only option for future generations. The state has to do its duty of regulating institutions and keeping them from becoming oppressive. The church has to do its duty and train Christians to model godly pursuits to the rest of society....

Let me know if y'all have some differing ideas...


K-Funk said...

You say that banks should make less money on loans than they do now. But aren't a lot of banks going under because people aren't paying their loans?

Matt Wilcoxen said...


It seems, ironically enough, that the reason people aren't paying their loans is because the banks are greedy. That is, the interest rates are exorbitant and they are adjustable, making it impossible for people to pay them off. Also, the banks have been greedy in risking loans on people who didn't have any down payment up front. So, the greed of the institution is killing the institution itself. At least that is my understanding. I may be wrong though.

Damian, this may be your area of expertise.

Norman Jeune III said...

I am also not an expert in finance or banking, but from what I understand, from recent statistics, over 95% of people are paying their mortgages. The problem with the banks is not that they aren't getting paid, its that the high risk loans were grouped together as profitable investment packages for large investors.

Then, when a large number of variable rate mortgages adjusted (roughly around the same time, because of the housing and mortgage boom from a couple years prior), everyone tried to sell or refinance at the same time, and the market could not bear both declining market values and the glut of people trying to find a way to refinance their inflated mortgage balances.

Consequently, the large scale investors who put their money into these packages of high risk mortgages (mostly adjustable rate mortgages given to buyers who would not mormally be able to purchase a home), began to lose money causing a backlash in the banking industry that looks to be driving us into a recession.

The banks are greedy in the sense that not only did they create poor investment packages, but they also underwrote loans for people who should have never gotten them. Despite that, the banks are still making money because the mortgages are all insured (premiums paid by the home buyer).

At the same time, I agree with Matt in the sense that education loan providers are making excessive amounts of money; that university education is an overpriced product; and that the entire education system is largely ineffective.

In terms of young leadership in the church, I think that has the potential to be a dangerous issue even though it sounds like a good idea. In the end, I think that you would still have to rely on the wisdom of the older people in the congregation to find those youth who could fill the role.

Finally, I agree that young seminary grads should not necessarily be pigeon-holed into youth pastorate roles. I know I could not be a youth pastor, so I chose to wait until I could find a position in college ministry; it has to be about your gift and personality as opposed to a ladder based almost exclusively on age and experience.

Damian Romano said...

Well, with respect to banking, the mortgage industry is not my forte. And while I believe that there shouldn't be a cap on how much money a bank can make, surely there are questionable credit underwriting practices that take place. Norm pretty much laid out a good explanation of how the industry became corrupt due to poor investment practices which include the ARM loans. I also see problems in the credit card world. Giving college kids a high credit limit, say $5-10k, with an annual rate percentage of 22-30% is sure to be disastrous. Especially when you consider the average monthly payment on $7k with an annal percentage can range between $200-$300, at which the majority is only paying the interest.

Anonymous said...

Regarding your comments on education and college students -- Obviously engineering majors weren't polled.

Norman Jeune III said...

Good point, although I would say that engineers,doctors, and lawyers are the primary exceptions to the rule. Good comment though

Damian Romano said...

Here is an example of shifty underwriting practices.