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Obama offers Industrial Age solutions for Information Age issues

Published: Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012 2:00 p.m. CST

In 2008, voters under 30 preferred Barack Obama over John McCain by a 66 to 32 percent margin. Among older voters, Obama led McCain, 50-49.

How has Obama paid back the Millennial generation, which provided almost all his margin of victory? With what American Interest superblogger Walter Russell Mead calls “Obama’s war on the young.”

Mead is not a tea party crazy or Ayn Rand zealot. He is a history professor at Bard College and an expert on American foreign policy. He voted for Obama in 2008, and he’s not wild about Mitt Romney now.

Nevertheless, he argues persuasively that America is undergoing a “transformation from a late-stage industrial society to an early-stage information society (that) is disruptive and painful but ultimately liberating and benign.”

Post-World War II America was a nation of big units: the leaders of big government, big business and big labor made decisions and provided security for those in their organizations.

If you went to college, you could go into management or a profession and expect a lifetime of good earnings and a comfy pension. If you got a factory job, it was for life, and unions bargained for ever-higher wages and benefits.

That’s not the America we live in anymore. Government has grown bigger. But, public policies haven’t changed.

Every year government transfers increasing amounts from working-age taxpayers to the elderly through Social Security and Medicare. Obamacare amplifies this by requiring young workers to buy expensive insurance far beyond their needs.

In the meantime, the collective impact of Obamacare, Dodd-Frank and the fiscal cliff we are headed toward have cut job growth below the rate of population increase.

At the same time, Obama vows to resist any changes in Medicare, which is on a trajectory to welsh on its obligations well before the first Millennial turns 65.

For the young, Obama promises to expand college loans. But just as housing policies college loan policies have created a higher education bubble. The flood of money has been captured by colleges and universities through above-inflation tuition increases and administrative bloat.

Obama doesn’t crack down on them, but on graduates or dropouts with thousands in college loan debt they can’t escape through bankruptcy.

Overall, Obama stands for maintaining and expanding the welfare state that operated tolerably well in the big unit America of half a century ago but is coming apart in our early-stage information society today.

His favorite high-tech project is to build enormously expensive high-speed rail lines like the one Jerry Brown is pushing in California.

Meanwhile, Google is developing self-driving cars that will be able to move faster and more efficiently than current cars because their 21st century technology, like the 19th century technology of fixed rails, effectively prevents cars from colliding.

Nineteenth century fixed rails take you where the railroad, or its government subsidizer, wants you to go. Self-driving cars will take you where you want to go, with as many stops as you like along the way.

That’s in line with the way Millennials lead their lives. The iPod/Facebook generation fashions its own playlists and friends lists, rather than let central decisionmakers choose for them.

Obama’s policies, from Obamacare to high-speed rail, treat people as identical cogs in a very large machine, part of a mindless mass that would not be able to get along without government guidance.

In the information age, these industrial age policies have prevented the vibrant economic growth which gives young people the opportunity to shape their own world and choose their own future.

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