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How to be a millionaire

Ownership of the world’s resources and private property must not be considered a ‘right,’ argues JULIAN VIGO

IN August The Guardian ran an article, How did rich millennials become the voice of generation rent? which contended that, with millennials, appearances are deceiving reality and those complaining the loudest have the least to complain about.

What Connolly writes is hardly hyperbole — everywhere the media shows us millennials who feel like they have been offered a “raw deal” while in reality, many of those featured are being treated with kid gloves (pun intended) and stand to inherit a great deal of money over time.

How is it that wealthy millennials are so out of touch with what is going on in the world such that many see themselves as oppressed, poor and disadvantaged, when in fact, nothing could be further from the truth?

As someone who has spent many years living in London, it’s fair to say that rent across the city is extremely expensive.

Even after reports that rents have slightly dropped post-lockdown, it is simply not enough of a drop to make up for the fact that new uni graduates starting jobs in publishing are earning between £19,000 and £23,000 annually, the starting salary of an architect is on average £21,004, and new tenancies in London average about £1,665 a month.

This figure often necessitates having to share a flat while foregoing a living room in most postal codes.

London especially has a high concentration of people who have made their livelihoods through renting “extra” properties, yet our society has never grappled with the ethics of renting — much less owning — second, third and fifth homes.

When over 10 per cent of Britons own a second home with a 30 per cent rise in second home ownership since 2000, it’s time to address the inequality of housing.

While millennials (those born after 1980) own just 3 per cent of second properties, there is a sizeable chunk of millennials (one in three born in the 1980s) who stand to inherit family money and are cashing in to pay for a deposit on the property ladder.

This, together and with their seemingly inconsolable discomfort with a world they feel has dealt them an unfair hand, leaves for a generation of millennials great difficulty separating fact from fiction.

As millennials are often at the centre of media focus which blames baby boomers for “their” predicament or which sympathises with the housing market — bizarrely the rest of us seem to be excised from this sympathy — many pundits are caught up with trying to understand a generation that has been promised so little while feeling like it deserves so much more.

Fewer have asked why anyone should feel entitled to own a home in the first place.

Unlike Britain, aggregate home ownership rates in Germany hover around 50 per cent and renting is often more viable.

The sense of what people “deserve” has left millennials without the necessary tools to understand the historical complexity of material inequality.

In 2017, the Duke of Westminster became an overnight billionaire and landlord to tens of thousands across London, meanwhile that same year rough sleeping rose by 15 per cent from the year before.

So how do we bridge the gap between the feeling that we deserve more versus the reality that many already have so much?

As Rosie Walker notes in her piece on the subject, many of these nouveau riche millennials are cagey about how they raise the mortgage payments each month.

Walker unsurprisingly digs into this culture of young landlords to find a world of millennial landlords who believe themselves to be leftist, good-intentioned and socially conscious people, but they also bilk their renters.

Walker notes how this class of landlord will even charge their own friends substantially much higher rent than their mortgage payments — all with delusional justifications for so doing.

Walker shows that while questioning these landlords who bilk their tenant, they see themselves as victims of “market forces” rather than admitting that this was “a decision they themselves had taken.”

Walker speaks to a huge disconnect today pervasive throughout the West, most notable in Britain where class politics make for great PR stunts (think Ash Sarkar’s infamous “I’m a communist, you idiot!” exchange with Piers Morgan) with little substance to demonstrate anything remotely resembling communism.

The generation of millennials treats words as violence, purity measured through linguistic reference, and empowerment a dime a dozen — that is if you can afford the rent of London’s Zones 1 through 3. 

Sure, the other two out of three millennials will not have inheritances that will enable them to exploit their friends for rent.

In fact, without an inheritance on the horizon, it’s a stretch to expect that most millennials on most salaries will be living alone any time soon.

It is more likely that there will be a Friends reboot based on these characters economically constrained to living together well into old age.

Now more than ever in a post-lockdown world, a true rendering of this popular television series would show us a Ross working part-time at the museum while also working two other part-time retail jobs, Chandler would have already been laid off from Pret a Manger, and let’s face it, Rachel would be back at Central Perk making flat whites. 

Then there is the tranche of millennials looking to strike it rich with jobs in fields most boomers or Gen Xers have never before heard.

From data scientist to forex brokers to social media influencer, many millennials pin their hopes of economic success upon jobs that are often not what they seem or, at best, short-lived.

Where inherited wealth will more decisively determine our futures far beyond what or where we studied much less how well we performed, few take into account the fact that as badly paying as many jobs still are today, when one inherits family wealth and can afford to buy a home in most large cities, this represents half most people’s salary already saved.

While many accuse millennials of harbouring a special gift for imagining a world that conflicts with the hard reality concerning property ownership, millennials from developing countries have an entirely different perspective on wealth.

I spoke with a trade development manager in Dakar, Senegal, who prefers not to be named.

He works  for Transmed, a company which deals in supply chain, logistics, distribution, sales and promotions, and has been with the company for over eight years. 

He tells me that the reality in Senegal as in most African countries, when people find a job, they don’t worry about what other jobs they might have preferred, stating: “People are just enormously grateful for having found their entry to what for many will become their job for life.”

He then adds: “I mean, at least it’s not a job working in a call centre!” 

As millennials have conceived of their rights and identities in comparison to previous generations, such a proposition where comparative ownership decides one’s value within the community will ultimately reap negative consequences for all.

We must strive to strip away the laws that have for too long ensured that wealth remains within the hands of the few.

Ownership of the world’s resources and private property must not be considered a “right” any more than our desire to charge others to live in our tertiary homes all to subsidise our mortgages.

The bottom line is that millennials are not doomed around the planet. In Britain, as throughout most of the West, however, millennials do need to get back to the present. 

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