He is right though - the rate of downward mobility among my young, bourgeoisie 20-somethings friends in NYC is shocking. 90%+ of my friends don't save anything, but take elaborate vacations several times a year, or go to multiple, expensive festivals. I have no idea what most of them would do if they lost their jobs. One of my friends quit their job and instantly is poor. They spent 3 weeks in Europe a month ago. He really hits the nail on the head in exploring their motivations, in my opinion.
i dunno, i'd argue these people aren't downwardly mobile because they were never upper middle class to begin with (bourgeoisie). if you have no saved money and your family can't just straight up give you money to live if you lose your job, you're lower to lower middle at best. better luck next time, etc.
and if the parents have the money but aren't willing -- then they are but a cleverly constructed socioeconomic facsimile of the upper classes, but aren't truly that thing. the upper classes will stop at nothing from ensuring their progeny maintains or outperforms their own status. to them, that's _the whole point_ of having money. by definition they will give their wealth to their offspring in times of need, barring exceptional circumstances like enabling alcoholism or something equally untoward.
upper middle and upper class kids can fuck off to do a phd for 8 years, or traipse around europe, or attempt to launch a business and fail, with basically no consequence whatsoever.
btw the 'classes' really are a [not quintile] system, like in economics. the interesting thing is the money is secondary, it's social status that really matters. and by this, i mean it is exceedingly unlikely for classes 4 and 5 to fall down, because their money is entrenched in the financial system. i.e. they own stuff and would literally have to work at liquidating and spending it all, in a sort of drawn out socioeconomic suicide.
1. lower class (poor people)
2. lower middle class
3. middle class
4. uppper middle class
5. upper class
The whole idea of "middle class" is a fiction that supports the behaviours discussed in the article. In the real world, it doesn't actually exist in any meaningful way. You're either working class or you're not. If you can walk away from your job today and never look back, congrats! You're not working class. But for everyone else, you're stuck and putting a fancy label on things doesn't change much.
Here are my own definitions (it's important to note that sometimes people don't fit neatly into a single category):
Lower Class (also called the Working Class, or the Working Poor): They live paycheck-to-paycheck, usually at job(s) that have low pay, shifting schedules, no benefits, low job security and no possibility for long-term career-building. They own very few assets, if any, and rent/borrow most things. They are usually one medical emergency away from financial ruin (at least in the USA). They are too worried about tomorrow and the next week to worry about further into the future.
Middle Class: These people have fairly stable jobs that have decent pay and benefits. They often build careers around those jobs and it becomes part of their identity, which can be seen in the way they think of themselves and introduce themselves to others (e.g. "I'm an accountant"). They own or make payments towards owning core assets such as house. They sometimes own small businesses. If they lose their jobs, they can use their skills and connections to find another, but it can take some time. They tend to plan and save for the future, at least passively (e.g. 401k accounts).
Upper Class: The upper class is defined primarily by wealth. Even when upper class folks don't have "fuck you money", their wealth enables them levels of comfort that can only be dreamed of by the Lower Class, and is looked up to by the Middle Class. Work tends to be optional for most, and tends to be about prestige and social class rather than a necessity. When they lose their jobs, it's mostly because of corporate politics or some sort of scandal, and they can trivially find another job using their connections (usually an email or phone call is sufficient).
Taking it for granted that everything but "upper class" means "has to work", it's still worth drawing distinctions amongst the non-upper-classes. Those differences do exist in very meaningful ways, all the way down to life expectancy.
You can't just trivialize away the difference between "college? how the fuck would I afford that?" and "it's 100% expected that I'll go, and my parents can pay the entire thing with zero debt".
For what it's worth, it's hard to know what to do. For a lot of people your 20's are about the only time you can spend three weeks in Europe if you're American (most don't get paid holidays). By the time you're in your thirties there's a decent chance you've found yourself stuck to a spouse, a kid, alimony, or a mortgage, and even if you do go the experience won't be the same.
The other issue here is that even if the numbers show otherwise it's easy to be cynical about saving. If you actually need your money to be safe your options are limited. Even index funds go down, and saving for retirement, while a good idea, is a bet that not one government between now and your death will decide to just take it (Poland). Or dump cash in to the market using QE and devalue your assets (everywhere) or just declare some of your money invalid (India).
Keep in mind that even the NYSE is basically a crapshoot. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/01/02/business/20110...
So you think "hey, real estate!", but if you don't already own a home in a lot of places it's hardly worth trying until the next global collapse (any day now...). I may be jaded having watched a lot of people dump their money in to houses just to be completely destroyed anyway reveals they'd have been better off renting and blowing the rest on hedonism (or better yet, bitcoin).
Also, you're going to die anyway. Money is good for having fun. Is the fun you have now less valuable than the fun you have later? My dad was responsible and dull his whole life, taking the occasional 10 day trip like a good American is supposed to (nothing longer!). He's going to retire soon, but he can't hike like he used to and his wife has Parkinson's. It served as a reminder to me to have a bit of fun in youth before bodily decay accelerates. It's painful to hear his regrets.
If they're instantly poor that suggests your friend maybe took this to an extreme (even I made sure I had a few months of expenses before farting around Europe in my 20's) but still, maybe even poor people should have some fun and the push to save is part of a massive collective delusion to pretend we're not mortal.
But I think the idea is that maybe this is true even if you expect to have _bad_ economic prospects. If I worry that the future is grim no matter what I may just say "screw it, I'm having my fun. We all wind up in the dirt anyway".
Traditionally we're told we should have expensive thing x ["homeownership", "retirement account", "family with kids in private school", "beautiful objects"] but if x is impossible I'll go with y ["traveling around Europe", "nice musical instrument", "bit more hedonism than I might have otherwise", "nice craft beer and dinner"], because I might as well spend my money on a good that's attainable. If you can save up a down payment for a home in only 20 years then why the hell bother? Hell, you might wind up buying a house just to have flood insurance jump 10,000% because the seas are rising.
Put in other words - for the person who has no prospect of ever owning a home, why should they save for a down payment instead of using it in some other way?
Of course, there is a continuum and plenty of folks are threadbare in retirement and regret not saving. I just think there are probably also plenty of folks who:
• saved and lost it because of political or economic instability (note the examples I cited), wishing they'd just had fun with the money.
• saved and had money to spend while their bodies rotted away so it didn't do them any good.
• didn't save and lived an austere life in their later years but figured it was worthwhile.
•• We don't all make it to 75+. Once I hit my thirties I was startled as more of my friends and acquaintances started dying. I'm more willing to spend money on travel, friends, etc. as a result.
but we hear their stories less often. I don't know whether this is because they occur less often.
I'm not endorsing completely throwing away the idea of saving but I can see how when someone finally gets the chance to do what they want they figure they'll go for it because the goals we're ostensibly supposed to strive for are never gonna happen.
Also, we see everything through the lens of our own experience and my own is substantially biased by having spent a lot of time in the bay and LA not getting anywhere (admittedly my skillset was smaller then), then striking up a conversation over the pronunciation of JSON with a random guy in a pub in Dublin during the aforementioned farting around Europe and getting an interview out of it and now having a decent job and over a month off a year that I'm not guilted for using in a city where I might reasonably expect to own a home within the next couple years, not the next couple decades. YMMV.
Off topic, but say someone is a late-20s/early-30s guy who for financial reasons wasn't able to do the "backpacking Europe/Australia/NZ/whatever" thing, how does the experience significantly change throughout the 30s/40s? I know a few people who still do this.
"maybe even poor people should have some fun and the push to save is part of a massive collective delusion to pretend we're not mortal."
This ties into something I've thought for a while and while reading the article. Basically "premium mediocre" is just another variant of materialism. That somehow material goods (of a sufficiently high caliber) are an intrinsic good, and that obtaining/consuming them brings about some intrinsic benefit to one's life, just a variant shaped to the particular existential angst of millennials. But there's an out: maybe the most lasting and significant experiences of one's life are one's that take place/are primarily a function of one's mind. From the outside it may seem much less substantial or obvious, but why can't millennials consider spiritual progress, mental self-discipline, grand experience, or cultural exploration (say bumming around Europe for a while) to be a primary aspiration, even if it leaves them relatively broke at the end of the day? To an extend they do, and I'm not sure that's such a terrible thing.
Well, not the same wonder / starry eyed optimism for everything you see, not as easily content on sleeping in any kind of accommodation (not many 30s/40s will sleep in bunker bed hostels for example), less casual sex, less bodily demanding "adventures", etc.
Then again, I still remember fondly a couple in their 70's I met in a hostel in Prague who were finally doing their round the world trip. They were the exception though.
Regardless, though, I think that life is generally different at 40+ than at 25 and that will be manifested in travels. Even if you're the same, the folks around you won't be (people will definitely treat someone who looks 45 in a hostel differently to someone who looks 25). It's not worse (and in some ways it's much better; I like not being broke), but the experience is definitely different.
Interest rates are also historically low.
Thus the effective discount rate on money is super low. It's a good time to take a European vacation, particularly when you are young and child free. It's gonna cost a lot more later, and you might be less secure, not more.
Are you somebody who defines any amount of redistribution as intrinsically communist? If so, I suspect what your term maps to in my lexicon is “a social democrat”.
If you mean “intellectually believes that by any means necessary we must transfer 100% of capital into the hands of the proletariat” then, OK, wow, I agree that’s communism.
The latter option seems unlikely to me, given that I lived for many many years on an actual commune with hundreds of extremely left leaning visitors per year, and I have literally never met anyone who believes in transferring all capital into the hands of the proletariat.
1. Perfectly intelligent and reasonable people wearing Lenin badges
2. People talking without irony about "dismantling the Capitalist system"
3. People who actively engage with Marxist ideas and view Marx as a thinker with ideas that are readily applicable in the current political climate.
There's certainly Hyperbole in what I said. I would view even much lesser things as a bit "Commie" but I'm coming from a very different background. They would view me as a neo-liberal or a Centrist depending - I don't really know if I am...but sure you get what you get and you don't get upset...
I can't comment on your brother's situation except to say that if things didn't work out well for him, it's natural for him to align with a group that he feels are in the same case. You say it's "seductive" which implies that basically he's taking an easy route out of hard work. That may be true for him, but it is unlikely to be more true of a cross section of any generational group.
I agree - it's sad that sweeping generalisations (boomers bad, white people bad, men bad etc) have become such a mainstream part of culture.
"[Premium mediocre] is an economic and cultural rearguard action by young people launched into life from the old middle class, but not quite equipped to stay there, and trying to engineer a face-saving soft landing…somewhere."
i'm 24 and while i can see the humor and hyperbole in this article, its also a pretty astute description of the disenchantment many of my bicoastal "elite" friends from middle/upper-middle class families feel.
timely too. one of my friends texted me this morning: "[my large corporate employer] laid off 90% of its sales force yesterday...survived another day in corporate America"
the worst side effect for me is feeling like i am stupid and naive for trying to do things the "right" way - the meritocratic, socially conscious, altruistic way - when it seems like these are values that do not achieve the right outcomes anymore. should just shut up and get mine.
overall i feel my generation, or at least my social strata, will mature to be colder, harder and more distant than our predecessors. all it will take to cement this transformation is another recession
The important detail about "premium mediocrity" seems to be that it is manifestly not, in fact, "premium". It's the end result, the evolution, of armies of marketing people doing their job. A gimmick.
I think the people he writes about are more savvy to this than he gives them credit for. It's just that these kinds of consumption choices are just usually the most convenient, and there are lots of other things to be dealing with.
I reject premium mediocrity in favor of regular mediocrity. I'll put the premium in the bank and spend it in retirement.
In essence, "you hate it because you ain't it".
That's what you are eliding, and it should be out in the open. You got lucky. So did I. You may have worked hard for it. I certainly didn't. Hard work increases luck; it does not substitute for it.
It's a crapshoot, and the folks referred to in that article know it. Why not just shrug and go along, if the roulette wheel controlled it in the first place?
Nobody has conspired against me, but interesting you say that because I've met many like yourself who conspire against themselves, unwilling to realize their true potential because of an imaginary bogie-man. I view that habit as apathy, and so long as everyone else is idled and unwilling to try, I will continue to be relatively successful just doing my best, over and over until I stop.
notice how buddhism and stoicism is all of a sudden so fascinating to everyone in the 'scene' ?
should just shut up and get mine.
When you are on an airplane, you put on your oxygen mask first, then you assist others.
For about a decade, I despised Bill Gates. Fast forward to today, and he now gives away far, far more money to social causes than I will ever earn in my entire life.
You are in the forrest with no GPS
Take a very deep dive into your family tree. Ask how and why with each relative or dead tree.
I found hard work. I also found this: greatness by association is hollow and shallow.
Dont be bothered analysing other people or other families.
Find kindred spirits. It'll help you stay true to your way. All of us need this kind of community support from like minded peers.
Could you please not post rants like this to HN? Generational generalizations are unsubstantive enough as it is; we don't need the rat poison of rage in there also.
Can you elaborate on how so? I don't agree or disagree because I don't understand how you feel the boomer generation fucked over everyone else?
Fucking over the next generation: up the requirements for jobs (education and experience) so it is harder for them to find one. Concentrate jobs in some huge cities and refuse new constructions so the rent can go up way more than salaries. In most countries setup a Ponzi scheme for pensions where you paid peanuts because there were not a lot of pensions to pay while you were active but now that you are there the active:passive ratio is a lot worse. And my favorite: sell the college experience (especially humanities) to people who can't afford those.
I don't want to sound ignorant but do we have any stats to back this up. Also, do we have an answer to how many of the boomer's parents didn't save enough to support themselves? I don't disagree but I also don't agree with this. In my family, my Dad's parents saved and diligently prepared for their later years. My Mom's parents did not.
So now I ask myself, am I expected to care for my parents in their later years? I don't think our generation expects to do so but personally I would do what I can for my family. However, I am not so sure that the boomers fucked us over by not caring for their parents. By not caring for their parents, how does this fuck us over exactly?
> up the requirements for jobs (education and experience) so it is harder for them to find one.
Is this the boomers fault? Each generation the requirements and expectations for jobs increase. Middle school teachers and police officers required to have masters degrees in some states and cities.
Some cities do have the housing problems you speak of, San Francisco comes to mind. However, this isn't a generalization that you can apply to an entire country or world. I am from a large midwest city that isn't plagued with this problem, is quite affordable and has lots of jobs.
I think you are taking a specific situation and applying it to an entire generation of people which I feel is unfair. I do agree however that you raise some discussion points.
It's anecdata but a common topic/worry among several of my unconnected social circles is at what point do you have to cut your parents off and let them live in abject poverty. It's not everyone but there's a common theme of Boomer parents expecting to live the exact same lifestyle even when they can no longer work and have saved nothing. Everyone wants to take care of their parents but there is a worry that they will be sacrificing their own and their children's lives/happiness for people who refuse to accept that they are no longer making the same amount of money
1) Worked at a defense tech startup, learned some code, told the AI what to do.
2) Got MBA, worked at big Wall Street bank with millionaire boss. Met some management teams at massive companies, discovered they were just ordinary people for the most part. Completely disregarded AI/tech because we were Too Big to Fail.
3) For the kiddos, I gave up hectic job and took a decent job at what I thought was a scrappy tech-focused company, which was subsequently acquired by a bigger slower company. Now I work in effectively a front-line role, which has a high potential to eventually be automated away. I do some code but it's mostly easy lay-up stuff. The AI tells us what to look at, and other people control that.
Meanwhile my wife is an IG/FB pro, mercilessly weaving the latest family related stories of success and tabulating the "like" coups.
I suppose we're faking it til we make it (again). It's an odd feeling to have seen maybe all three important sides of the new economy. I'll feel more comfortable when we're back in the top or middle again.
As I've resolved my internal conflicts, I've gone back and manually deleted my "high status" posts from IG/FB even if no one's going to be checking my 3 year old posts. It feels good to move past some of my past vain behavior.
A lot of these "digital influencers" get endorsement deals, are paid to post for a brand or to test their products
That's what (a lot of them) are looking for
So many questions:
1) Why would any human think blockchains and not stocks when you talk about investing?
2) Humans shouldn't be investing in Bitcoin unless they have money that is 100% disposable (which, judging by the tone of your blog, you don't).
3) You should try explaining Bitcoin to your parents. Trying to explain something will help reveal whether you actually know what you're talking about or not. I'm going to guess that you don't understand how a blockchain fundamentally works. I am guessing this because you're using "blockchain" as an example of something grokked by people on the younger side of the digital divide but not by the older side. If you think the grokking of blockchains is so widespread that you can use it as a shorthand for the digital divide, then I seriously doubt you grok blockchains.
4) Are you seriously investing in Bitcoin, or was that just poetic license?
Edit: clarification and typo
When your cabbie/bartender is telling you about ICOs, it's time to start thinking which fool you're selling blockcoin to.
That's a line from 1929, when a financier (Bernard Baruch?) made a similar comment, and decided it was time to bail.
Good question. What I've seen enough millenials to slightly alarm me is that they don't think stocks or blockchains but multi-level marketing schemes.
Are they more susceptible to being drawn into these than any other cohort? I'd guess probably not (I remember seeing Amway jugs in my parents' garage as a kid), but with social media it just feels that way.
Anyway, between college debt among white collar millenials with decent jobs and crappy service-sector jobs among the rest, I suspect the real problem is they just don't have anything to invest.
There's a weird form of mysticism in the modern economy today. "Follow this secret method to make a million dollars."
The author is slightly too old to be a true Millenial.
P.S. I don't think lsc is about "ignorance". Maybe just me but I take it as a general state of consolidating wealth & government capture. Like a game of monopoly- in the middle everyone has opportunity, everyone is growing, it's fair and everyone is mostly happy. But in the end, small advantages snowball, influence is consolidated, power is entrenched, and the good parts of capitalism vanish.
Millionaires are already there, the poor have no opportunities to entertain the part of the brain that makes us anxious about failure.
Land lost it's store of wealth status, governments aimed at land reforms and wealth creation shifted to areas like railways and textile industry. The land-owning class had been reduced to 'poverty' within generation.
Lots of XIX century literature is around the subject of people getting 'reduced to poverty' but desperately trying to keep appearances.
I think it's relevant to middle class angst and a precursor to the Premium Mediocre concept. What could be more premium mediocre than buying fancy food on food stamps?
It's an American thing to idolize the middle class, and it's a human thing to be deeply discontented with what you have idolized, so really you have a lot of choices in the genre.
It reads almost like it could have been written today. Definitely deserves to be more popular.
will also second revolutionary road by yates, and the swimmer by cheever, although they are a bit dated at this point
What the term and initial examples conjured for me, was the category of generally boring bland things that have been dressed up in marketing as being exceptional or interesting, and are then held out by their patrons as similar.
For food, Chipotle is in the dead center of that group - great when you're driving through Oklahoma in a box truck, adequate when you're hungover and hangry somewhere you don't know the decent haunts, but ultimately every meal there stems from a failure to do the legwork of finding something good.
Amazon should also not escape mention for being in this category. For a long time I had trouble understanding why everybody would talk about Amazon's prices being so good, but eventually I realized that the idea of shopping around online hadn't really occurred to them - they are comparing to Targmart!
I think a lot of what fuels these ventures is something like the sixth tier hipsters, lording their "find" over the seventh tier ones (A 0th tier hipster is the actual trend creator, most don't get followed. The standard "first tier" hipsters are actually the first followers. The second tier ones follow the first tier ones once the trend has caught in a little. And so on). The "premium mediocre" is ultimately safe, as anything challenging has been optimized out, but is dressed up to look new like any fashion, and is thus adopted by the portion of the masses seeking superficial change.
When you can free a person from worrying about how they are going to pay for their medical bills, or if they will be able to afford fixing that check engine light on their car, they will have the freedom to make better choices for themselves. They can better negotiate where they want to work, since they aren't tied to their employer's health plan. They won't have to take that awful job just because its close enough to walk or pays enough to afford their car repairs.
It ends up being a trap - you need a job for healthcare - so you need a car to get you there, you need internet and a cell phone to do interviews, you need to be educated to be hired - which all drain your income from the job in the first place, in which you have to swing from job to job as a means of life support to continue.
IMO, this leads to the "premium mediocrity" the article describes, where it provides a brief means of escape from this trap.
That's brilliant. Olive Garden and Starbucks are the pioneers in this. There's a whole market sector of fake upscale. Now we have a name for it.
What if everyone has enough to live a comfortable life? Do we still need to keep score? Can we be happy if we're basically all okay, and we don't stand out as belonging to a superior social class?
Personally, my children will probably be able to make a decent living. They won't be 1% rich, but they will likely have skills and coping abilities. What I want most for them is to help make the world better -- to do things in their professional and personal lives that help other people and move civilization forward.
For my children to be happy with that, they probably need to measure their worth by how they help other people, rather than by the "quality" of what they consume or other social signals they emit.
That's like complaining that your grapefruit juice doesn't have any grape.
>> To proclaim loudly that you think it’s mostly luck is, ironically enough, the best way to make sure you are excluded from the lottery.
I've had the exact same thought before; it's almost as though rich people conspire together (at least subconsciously) to make sure that no critic of capitalism joins their ranks. It makes sense though; if top capitalists like Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet started preaching about the evils of capitalism, it would pose an existential threat to the system... Top capitalists are the popes and priests of the economic order so they need to be devout.
As with so many other neologisms, I think this concept is already amply covered in English's huge vocabulary.
The money is the difference, Premium Mediocre have none.
What irks me is that mediocre implies a lack of distinguishable quality, but this is separate from how much something costs. To use the avocado toast example given in the article, if the avocado toast is healthy and genuinely tasty, is it still mediocre? Are all cheap products like bread by nature 'mediocre'? I don't think so. This is where I see that the term falls down, it conflates price and quality where this relationship is not necessarily direct.