The Millennial Dilemma
A feature in the September issue focused on the continued economic challenges for those who came of age during the Great Recession.
Kudos to my alumni magazine for getting it right.
Dean Wallace, ’08
Photo: Dean Wallace, ’08
My Stanford degree is a PhD in economics. I found the article to be an accurate analysis in many respects. But I was struck by two issues. First, there was hardly any attention to the fact that a very high percentage of new jobs are gig, contract or temporary—without benefits like health insurance or a pension or even a 401(k)-type retirement fund. Second, I found no discussion of a universal basic income (UBI). This despite the fact that Stanford has a Center for Ethics in Society that has held seminars with some of the leading analysts of UBI. Why?
Peter Knight, MA ’66, PhD ’70
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
As I watch my niece and nephew who are both millennials, I notice that they’re both minimalistic. They live in small enclosures and seem to be happy with them.
Much could be accomplished by rethinking human habitation. Instead of constructing single-family dwellings, why not starter homes with 400, 600, 800 square feet? Why not study what type of housing and community make for a happier and more supported human being? It could be that communities centered around shops and schools and, yes, even high rises could be the wave of the future. This would encourage more walking. And why not rapid transit to go from one community to another? Human habitation will have to come to this, if we’re going to avert climate change and the overuse of fossil fuel.
In my 20s, I calculated the rate of miles I traveled in my car and divided it by the hours I worked in order to make the money to buy and maintain it. The result was the same as if I had walked. So our fast hurry is a big nothing.
Carmen Fojo, MS ’74
Los Osos, California
The situation may not be as bad as painted in the article. No doubt the difficult individual circumstances of Milton Sólorzano and Amanda Gelender are accurately portrayed, but supporting a case with anecdotal evidence is generally easy to do. The article quotes David Grusky, the director of Stanford’s Center on Poverty and Inequality, in support of the central thesis. But one has to wonder about the mission of such an organization.
Edward Lazear, former chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and a professor at the Graduate School of Business, shows evidence in a Wall Street Journal essay in support of his statement that “the employment and wage statistics suggest that the slack associated with the 2007–2009 recession is all but eliminated.” Jack Kelly writes in Forbes about a study by Coldwell Banker that concludes that by 2030, millennials will hold five times as much wealth as they hold today and are expected to inherit over $68 trillion.
A big risk is that we overstate the problem and end up with governmental action to “fix it” with social and economic engineering, as is implied in Grusky’s comment “We just need to direct [markets] in a different way.” Sorry, no.
Refreshingly, Lee Ohanian’s comments were included in the article, and they make a lot of sense: Let the marketplace work. Yes, please.
Phil Schultz, MS ’74, PhD ’76
Lee Ohanian of the Hoover Institution is paraphrased as saying that millennials’ prospects could be improved through less regulation in health care, housing and education. Let people choose the type of health care they want. Let parents pick which schools their children attend. Let builders build regardless of current zoning. Rely on the magic of the marketplace! Free choice and free enterprise, unchained!
It’s astounding that anyone could promote such notions amidst the current series of market-driven disasters, including the financial crash of 2008 (the aftereffects of which are still being felt), the massive export of jobs, the ongoing and worsening crisis in housing and homelessness, and the opioid addiction epidemic. And the noble-sounding slogan of free choice ignores the fact that tens of millions of Americans don’t have free choice because they are struggling to stay afloat and lack the resources to send their children to the best schools, buy a home in any neighborhood at all (high density does not mean low prices) or afford any health care in an unregulated market.
It’s been said that economics is voodoo with computers. To this must be added that all too often it is ideology masquerading as science.
David Rearwin, PhD ’73
San Diego, California
What advice do you have for the Class of 2023?
Ignore the major you came in with and take literally any class that sounds interesting.
Jordan Huelskamp, ’17
Don’t be anyone but yourself . . . but don’t be afraid to let that person grow!
Erica Slavin, ’18, MS ’19
The best education you’ll get will be outside of the classroom—make room for it.
Lakshmi Karra, ’08, MS ’09
Photo: Erin Attkisson
The September cover story profiled four families who sought help for their children through the Undiagnosed Diseases Network.
All credit to Stanford’s participation in the UDN, but, like many articles in Stanford, the report on efforts to diagnose unknown diseases raises more questions than it answers. Are diseases resulting from genetic mutations more prevalent in today’s environment than they have been in the past? Or, with the aid of more sophisticated diagnostic tools, are they simply being recognized for what they are?
James Madison, ’53, LLB ’59
Menlo Park, California
Michael Basil, MA ’88, PhD ’92
Karen Sipprell, ’82
No, but my boat is named “Cardinal Rule.”
Catherine Miskow, MA ’99
Mine is SLITKALSTHROATANDDRINKITSBLOOD. Florida is more flexible about these things.
Glenn Garvin, ’75
Good Luck with That
The cover story in the July issue discussed ethical challenges in the field of artificial intelligence.
It seems ironic, having arrived at a post-truth culture in which moral absolutes have been jettisoned in favor of moral relativism, that we are facing the thorny issue of ethics as it applies to artificial intelligence. As the Stanford article observes, “It’s necessary for us to develop real-world standards.” However, by definition a post-truth worldview elevates preferences and feelings above facts and truth. So if we can’t even agree on ethical or moral absolutes on a human level, how can we possibly begin to establish standards by which AI systems will operate?
In a post-truth culture, when your preferences and my preferences don’t agree with each other, the deciding factor will be: Who has the most power? And so we are now seeing this play out in Silicon Valley, where powerful high-tech corporations managed and staffed by graduates of prestigious universities are being accused by internal whistle-blowers of forced groupthink, intimidation, bullying, algorithmic bias, political ideology and hypocrisy, and where external customers are complaining of blacklisting, biased suspending of accounts, delisting and censorship.
Good luck to the brave (or foolhardy) computer science professors who are trying to teach ethics and standards to students who are daily bombarded by an ethos of moral relativism, individual autonomy, and the subversion of truth to preferences and feelings.
David Mackie, MS ’78
October 17, 1989
Where were you during Loma Prieta?
Linda Cheu, ’92
I was running the Dish with fellow alums Ceci Hopp St. Geme [’85, MA ’86] and PattiSue Plumer [’85, JD ’89]. There was a loud sound and the ground came up; I thought I was fainting. When I realized it was an earthquake, I SPRINTED to check on my then-3-month-old baby, Jack Mosbacher, ’12.
Nancy Ditz Mosbacher, ’76
Photo: Stacy H. Geiken/Stanford News Service
Don’t Draw Distinctions
It is time to change Stanford’s admission policies. No more preferences for alumni, athletes or donors. Race and class neutral. All applicants admitted or rejected on the same criteria.
Thomas Welch, ’66, MA ’67