We’d Rather Do Stuff

Derek Thompson of The Atlantic posted a chart from Piper Jaffray (chortle) almost two weeks ago (oof, that’s what writing papers does to one’s response time) in order to illustrate the claim, “millenials are cheap”.* His basic point is that since we have less money, we don’t buy cars and houses, or start families; as a result what we do earn goes a fairly long way since all we pay for is rent split five ways and bottomless mimosas at brunch. One suspects this is true, but implicit in the way it’s written is the belief that if we had the money to buy cars and houses, or start families, we would.

I don’t think I’m the first person to notice this, but it bears repeating – I don’t think this change in consumption preferences is simply a factor of available income. We don’t want a house, or a car, or a family. In the places we want to live (large global cities or quirky and vibrant regional ones) purchasing real estate isn’t even a consideration. Nobody normal’s been able to buy a place in New York in decades, and while the Portlands of the world are great and all, what the hell am I going to do with an apartment there?** If you do live in one of these places, there’s approximately zero need to own a car anyway, whether or not it’s an affordable purchase.

To put it bluntly, we’d rather pay to do shit than pay to own it.*** If you were to give millenials more money, we’d just take more trips, visit more artisanal cheese shops, go skydiving more frequently, buy more 20s-inspired cocktails, buy less PBR, see more shows, brunch more frequently, and drink bottomless-er mimosas. Our generation’s Patrick Bateman isn’t going to be an I-banker who murders his prey in a spotless Upper West Side apartment; he’s going to be a bizdev guy for a brewery who asphyxiates them with hand-stuffed sausages at a mustache convention in Berlin. That’s perhaps a gleefully macabre way to make the comparison I’m trying to get at, but the larger point is, I strongly believe that if you were to increase millenials’ disposable income, we’d just spend more on hanging out with our friends in interesting places, or taking our friends to do interesting things. If the money got good enough we might upgrade from Ryanair but that’s about it.

*This explains the chortle
**I am partial to the Maine version, in case you were wondering
***Probably there’s a level of circularity in all of this; would we like buying big expensive things more if we had the money to do so? To put it another way, has being unable to consume conspicuously conditioned us to prefer its alternatives?