December 8, 2019

The Paradox of Generation Z

“Voters who trust their government — and each other — are more supportive of ambitious welfare states than those who do not. Across nations, high levels of social trust correlate with high levels of social spending. The relationship between these two variables is so consistent, many researchers have concluded that it is causal; or, as the economists Gianmarco Daniele and Benny Geys write in the European Journal of Political Economy, “it appears that preferences towards public welfare policies require both high inter-personal trust and high trust in institutions.”

This sociological insight has attained the status of popular fact. On the left, it inspires calls for national service programs aimed at reviving the sense of social solidarity and collective mission that (ostensibly) undergirded mid-century expansions of welfare provision. On the populist right, it functions as a rationale for restricting immigration, so as to foster the “cultural” homogeneity that sustaining a robust welfare state presumably requires.

All of which makes these recent findings from Pew Research a bit startling. By now, you are probably aware that the millennial and “Gen-Z” generations are far more supportive of “socialism” and redistributive economic policies than any of their elders. And yet, according to Pew’s new survey, Americans under 30 are also way more distrustful of their fellow citizens and government than any other age group. Some 73 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 say that “most of the time, people just look out for themselves,” while 71 percent believe “most people would try to take advantage of you if they got the chance,” and 60 percent contend that “most people cannot be trusted.” Among Americans over 65 — the most conservative cohort in the U.S. — those figures are 48, 39, and 29, respectively.”

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