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Economics for Dummies

by James Lileks

Perfectly timed for the first week of legal pot sales in Colorado, Rolling Stone published a manifesto called “Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For.” You could take it as a mordant satire on the cloud-cuckoo ideas of mushy campus Marxists, or a manifesto designed to get “Millennials” off the couch and into the streets. Either way, it’s fun. Let’s take a look.

“It’s a new year, but one thing hasn’t changed. The economy still blows.” Brave: A panel of leading economists had earlier concluded that the economy “sorta sucks,” but could lapse into “blowing” later this year. He says it already blows. Buy gold!

Well, no. Take away everyone else’s gold is more like it. Here are the Glorious Five Points:

“1. Guaranteed Work for Everybody. Unemployment blows.” Gusty little fellow, eh? He’s a dreamer: “Imagine a world where people could contribute the skills that inspire them — teaching, tutoring, urban farming, cleaning up the environment, painting murals — rather than telemarketing or whatever other stupid tasks bosses need done to supplement their millions. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?”

Well, imagine a world where sleek hover-cars picked you up from your circular driveway and whisked you off to a silvery tower where you spent the day braiding flowers into the manes of unicorns. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

I worked as a telemarketer for one day, selling Time-Life books. I was unaware that the harried boss who ran the operation had millions in need of supplementing. He must have driven himself to a joyless office park in the middle of winter for the joy of it. He must have conjured up the idea of getting college students to sell hardcover compendiums about the Old West to shut-ins because he wanted to keep us busy doing stupid tasks, and prevent us from expressing ourselves with vibrant murals of Cuban role models.

After one day I knew I had better find a job that didn’t make me want to scrub the sense of failure off my skin with pumice soap. Bad jobs are good motivators. But that was another era, of course; nowadays, kids can only imagine a world where they get a job teaching.

“2. Social Security for All. As much as unemployment blows, so do jobs.” You’re beginning to think that the author got stoned, turned on a hair drier, stared at it for five minutes, and pronounced it the greatest symbol of modern life since, I don’t know, Hot Pockets. “What if people didn’t have to work to survive?” he asks, channeling the first caveman who declined to go on the hunt and was driven from the clan to starve in the wild. “Enter the jaw-droppingly simple idea of a universal basic income.”

And what if people didn’t have to eat to survive? Enter the jaw-closingly simple idea of getting all your food from an intravenous shunt!

One question: Isn’t living on the dole the same as being unemployed, which blows?

“3. Take Back the Land.” You’re wondering if anything blows, and if so, whether it’s a nor’easter or coming from the south, bringing humid tropical airs. Yes. “Ever notice how much landlords blow? They don’t really do anything to earn their money.” As opposed to Rolling Stone writers, who earn it by advocating the confiscation of yours. See, here’s the problem with property owners: “They just claim ownership of buildings and charge people who actually work for a living the majority of our incomes for the privilege of staying in boxes that these owners often didn’t build and rarely if ever improve.”

They “claim” ownership, as if they got there first and said “Mine! All mine!” You didn’t build that! You just bought it. A perfectly good justification for taking everyone’s private home, when you think about it. If you like his house, you can keep his house.

But of course he couldn’t advocate anything that draconian, right?

“4. Make Everything Owned by Everybody. Hoarders blow.” He means the people who have money he can’t take, so the government should buy up the stocks and bonds of the top 10 percent and pay dividends to all the citizens. While we’re at it, let’s buy up all the seed corn and put it in the microwave because I have fierce munchies.

“5. A Public Bank in Every State. You know what else really blows? Wall Street.” This will get the kids emptying into the streets, don’t you think? What do we want? A public bank that cannot possibly blow due to the word “public” in its name! When do we want it? As soon as the confiscated capital can be assembled into an institution whose charter forbids lending discrimination based on historical patterns of oppression including, but not limited to, gender, race, class, immigration status, and sexual preference, including those who chose not to identify at all! Also, free toasters with every new account!

He concludes: “If that idea — or any of the others described in this piece — sounds good to you, there’s a bitter political struggle to be waged. Let’s get to work.” Cool manifesto, bro. So what, we occupy something now?

No, you get behind candidates who spark a nationwide revival with some simple, clear ideas: taking away people’s investments, packing more people into municipal housing, paying legions not to work, and hiring others to pursue their dreams of being a snake-charmer who hand-weaves his baskets from locally sourced reeds. Property will be taken away from the wrong people. This will require a long, bitter, national struggle, so let’s roll up our sleeves. Otherwise, you know who will win? The Tea Party.

You know, the radicals.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

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