As I approached my mid-thirties, I noticed that a particular sliver of my contemporaries had stopped pretending to be broke, or poor, and started brazenly trying to join the professional managerial class. I had stuck around in privileged industries—media, the arts—for long enough to see some emergent lines of division furrow deeper, and to glimpse the complicated inner lives of the wealthy and will-be wealthy.
In the clinical, learned language of white collar, six-figure professionals, many of my peers had graduated to sipping natural wine and discussing the woes of influential journalists, writers, gatekeepers, editors, media managers, executives, high-end administrators, government officials, policymakers, political advisers, and public servants.
A few years ago, a colleague had complained that she was the only person in a particular circle who had attended “a public school” (it was, in fact, one of the state’s top-ranked, most prestigious and well-resourced schools). Another friend, who insisted she “grew up in poverty” in “a suburb with migrants” was poached to be an executive at a major transnational media company. These were often the very same media types writing op-eds about the intrinsic and miserable precarity of millennial life.
They had subsidized their way through various internships, contracts and freelance gigs into the ever-shrinking pool of salaried employment via the casual living arrangements of upper middle class youth that signal unearned money: living with their parents well into their twenties; living cheaply or freely in their parents’ spare houses and investment properties; always having people to borrow money from; staying on the family cell phone plan. Wealth and class advantage had provided them with far more catapult power than hard work or the education system ever could.
The Asset Economy presents hard new evidence for a disgusting truth: that wage labor is a scam.
Now, on social media, artists a few years younger than me were posting about the purchase of their “first home”—and neglecting to mention that their parents had supplied them with the down payment for their mortgage. When my peers talked of things like poverty, housing insecurity and family violence, it was with the flat authority and abstraction of a government report or nonprofit pamphlet—it was clear that these were theoretical social issues that happened “over there.” Their hobbies had changed too. Performed poverty was over; they were investing in restaurants, setting up fashion businesses based on “ethical” job creation in Africa, and joining art philanthropy circles.
I noticed another trend: several guilty millennials proudly refusing to accept early inheritances, which seemed to me just as privileged as accepting them. For some, there was a strange melancholy attached to the knowledge of a forthcoming inheritance. They knew, after all, that their windfalls …….