The Economist is reporting on the rise of classical liberalism amongst the youth of Britain.
Experimenters with new technologies, fashions and ideas, young people in Britain and elsewhere have long tweaked established social institutions. But their iconoclasm goes further than this. Young Britons are classical liberals: as well as prizing social freedom, they believe in low taxes, limited welfare and personal responsibility. In America they would be called libertarians.
More than two-thirds of people born before 1939 consider the welfare state “one of Britain’s proudest achievements”. Less than one-third of those born after 1979 say the same. According to the BSA, members of Generation Y are not just half as likely as older people to consider it the state’s responsibility to cover the costs of residential care in old age. They are also more likely to take such a hard-hearted view than were members of the famously jaded Generation X (born between 1966 and 1979) at the same stage of life.
One of the causes of this rise of British libertarianism, according to the Economist, may be because the young are seeing more of their pay taken by the state, but seeing less benefits.
This doesn’t mean we’ll see another Thatcher-ite government rising soon. Young people in Britain, as in America, are not a reliable voting bloc (like the pensioners are). It does mean that as these young people mature, they will bring new ideas and demand different solutions, possibly non-governmental solutions.
When I was married, my father-in-law was from around Liverpool. We were discussing the differences in American and British attitudes. He told me that the British attitude was “we’ll tell the government what the problem is, and they will find the solution.” My response was that most Americans were more of “here’s the few problems we think the government should solve, and for all others, the government should stay the hell out of our way.” I still think this is true for most Americans. We may disagree on the scope of problems the state should handle, but most people would like to be free to handle their own challenges without interference.
This is also gives me hope that we are seeing the frontrunners of a new libertarianism in America. Particularly as the baby-boomers start transitioning from workers to pensioners, the young will start seeing their taxes rise without the promise of having the same benefits of their parents and grandparents.