A former and fellow University of Kentucky alum recently posted an article on Fortune.com about why he cannot buy into the Bernie Sanders “revolution,” and it quickly went viral. It was all over my Facebook feed and after reading it, I was kind of irate. Not because I am a hardcore Bernie Sanders supporter (I love the guy but I am #teamhillary) nor was it because everyone posting it was from the most entitled backgrounds possible, but because he offers up an argument that has been proven wrong time and time again, since the 1980’s.
The argument goes like this- yeah the system is a bit jank, but if you work hard enough, you can become a millionaire just like me. He even ends it with the most cliche line ever “But the wonderful thing about America is that if you are willing to make the right sacrifices, you can achieve whatever you want.” He goes on to tell his “inspiring” story of working so hard that it impacted his personal relationships, his health and his financial security. How he had to suffer through grueling board meetings, the fears of losing it all and paying off debt from failed projects. But 15 years later, it was totally worth it because now, he can wipe his ass with hundred dollar bills yo.
My first observation was that Rob May forgot to add the most telling aspect of his story, the part that has the biggest influence on his likelihood of success, his childhood. Did Rob May worry every night if he would go to bed hungry because his family couldn’t make ends meat? Did he have a support system, a good school councilor, or a family member encouraging him to go to college? Did he put himself through college or did he have help? And probably most telling- where his parents successful? These are all variables that have a much bigger impact on his likelihood of success, and even the pursuit of success, than any thing he outlines in his article. I am thankful that a successful white man is so willing to be honest about the fact that the system is rigged, but his ability to just glaze over what that means and skirt the real issues is impressive.
Secondly, am I the only person a bit disturbed by his willingness to do anything for money? Typically, if someone is throwing away their health, relationships and money for something, we usually call that addiction and don’t glorify it. He never mentions his passion for what he does, or how his product/business enriches his life or the lives of others (he does mention that it helps companies, but whatever that means?). Or how his business helps those he employes. He never discusses the people along the way that helped him achieve his goals. Where no other humans, other than banks willing to give him loans, involved or helpful in his journey?
And more importantly, when he says “willing to make the right sacrifices, you can achieve whatever you want” how does he define sacrifices or “whatever you want.” Based on his own logical layout, sacrifices equals your health, personal relationships and financial security and what you “want” is defined by wealth. So is he assuming we all just want money? Or that your health, family, and financial security are appropriate sacrifices we should be willing to accept? If so, I call bull shit. This hyper-capitalistic point of view totally misjudges this generations desires and ambitions. And I don’t mean just from my own antidotal experience and point of view, I mean statistically he is absolutely incorrect in every way.
When millennial’s are surveyed, we see that very few report wanting or desiring wealth. They are less likely to want a house, a car and often delay having families because of their bleak financial prospects. Almost half expect less than their parents, and about the same percentage is actually ok with that. Most of them report wanting healthy food, a sense of fulfillment, the ability to give back to their community, and an outlet for creativity. Life is about a lot more than money for most millennial’s, because we are a generation that has learned the hard way, that hard work doesn’t lead to financial security. And that financial security is just a false sense of security. Look at how many lost everything they worked hard to save during the great recession. We learned that loyalty to your employer, hard work and hours over and beyond the 40 hour work week mean absolutely nothing when trying to get ahead.
What hyper-capitalist like Rob May do not understand is that Bernie Sanders isn’t saying that people like him shouldn’t be able to throw away everything, even their health, in pursuit of fortune. What Bernie and his supports believe, is that the people that now work for Rob May, have the right to a living wage or as he would put it “whatever they want.” If they report to work daily, put in their time and best efforts, they too should have the right to access the same good schools, healthy food and medical treatment that Rob has been afforded. Rob May can have 15 airplanes, 22 houses and every apple product made, but he does not deserve better medical care, education, nor access to services than his employees.
Now the counter point that could be thrown in here, specifically towards millennials, is that we just want more for less work. But that too has been shown to be wrong. We are now working more hours and harder than any generation before, for less money and less potential for wage increases. And while it is true, we expect more materialistic things, like iphones and GMO free food, these are realistic needs for productivity and health in todays world. My mom didn’t have the option to buy things like an iphone, so yes, her generation “wanted less” from a mathematical point of view but realistically, she just didn’t have the option or need. For example, no professional (even those in entry level positions) can truly have a real job and not have reliable internet access at home or a smart phone, or even a computer at that. These are no longer optional items for most working class people, and specifically parents. Name a school that doesn’t require homework be delivered in a word document? Or a school that doesn’t expect the parent to have a working email account with constant access. So the actual tools needed for a productive existence or to raise a kid with a chance in the modern world, have increased in a materialistic way.
And if someone reading still feels that Bernie is calling for a “punishment” of the wealthy, then you are just an asshole. I may not be #teambernie this election cycle, but Bernie is right on principle. The inequities in our system are rampant, completely unaddressed, and based on Rob May’s writings and its success going viral, completely misunderstood. The playing field is not equal. Anyone willing to work hard (be that as a janitor or a CEO) deserves a living wage and today, that is not a reality. People are working harder than ever, for less and less each day.
If we want a nation of achievers, that take pride in their work, or more importantly, if we want a society that truly values family, we need to provide work environments that encourage a work life balance and a living wage. You shouldn’t have to work 60-80 hours a week just to pay your bills- and I don’t mean this only from the poverty stricken labor worker who has two jobs, I also mean this for the mid-level business person who is working for a salary but is logging hundreds of hours a month and still having problems making ends meat. I can’t help but wonder what Mr. May’s employees would say about their work life balance and pay equity? Maybe he is one of the good CEO’s, but if so, he should have focused his article on that aspect of his business and not the narcissistic “I did this shit on my own with no help, so your failures are due to your laziness” point of view. Because lets face it, who wants to live in a world where success is only equated to wealth and the pursuit of success requires you to fail at every other aspect of life.
For some, a successful life is as simple as a full heart, a happy family and good health. But those things require a system built on the belief that hard work leads to your employer having your back and ensuring some level of comfort. Look at my grandparents generation- they put family values first and as a result even a government worker, working 35 hours a week could retire at a decent age with enough money to support themselves through the end of their life. I just don’t think that is too much to ask in the greatest nation on earth.