Monday, March 19, 2018

The Proverbial Canary

There won't be a Toys R Us because millennials are not having babies. I personally know of several members of that generation who are choosing not to take off as adults. At my place of work we did a millennial trend study that confirmed much of what we casually observe of this generation. They either live with their parents or share a place with an assortment of roommates because those are cheaper options. Neither is conducive to family building or long term relationships. The partners come and go along with the changing patchwork of gigs that form their income stream. There is no desire to own anything of substantial value and to that end not much desire for professional stability or advancement. 

If there are only three bills to pay each month and that too shared with five other people there is really no need to work too hard. If this becomes the pre-dominant lifestyle of choice for young people going forward, the implications extend well beyond toy stores. The desire to own tangible, material things coupled with that to form a family made the whole job driven economy possible. If both those needs are gone, people have very little to lose and a great deal of flexibility. There are obviously great positives in being free to take risk and afford change. But there are serious downsides. One gig can replace the other, roommates can be swapped, romantic interests can stay short and varied as nothing needs to happen next. 

The only limiting factor today is that the available jobs are mostly created by older generations and to that extent they have some control over this very nebulous millennial workforce and the nature of economic output created. In a few years, it will become their turn to define what work should be and how it should be performed. In this list of top twenty companies started by millennials there is not a single core engineering or medical research business for example. The entire focus of these enterprises is gathering and sharing content, goods or services. None address any real human need. The world would not miss even a single one of these companies if they ceased to exist today. But if electricity had not been invented, the car and airplane not been built in its time, we would have been a very different civilization and planet than we are today. The news of millennials in engineering and manufacturing is nowhere close to the headlines and that is reason for concern. 

It seems that we should mourn for a lot more than the demise of Toys R Us. 

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