From the youth-driven Occupy movement in New York that spread around the world to the youthful anti-tanker movement to the dramatically successful student demonstrations in Quebec, young people in North America have been enjoying a resurgence of political power.
Some commentators are quick to dismiss young activists as idealistic and out-of-touch with the tough economic times in which we find ourselves. They say that young people don’t understand the connection between the massive social and environmental challenges and the cost of the solutions.
For example, the Occupy and Quebec student movements both prioritize reducing social inequality and stopping privatization of core public services. Both movements challenge the belief held by Wall Street and Bay Street that we can no longer afford a robust social safety net funded by the tax base—that “the cupboards are empty”, as we heard this week in the B.C. budget update. But in rejecting this neoliberal view of public services, do these movements implicitly support strengthening public services by broadening the tax base?
The outrage about the inadequate contribution of the so-called “one percent” is indeed justified, but generating enough revenue to eliminate regressive MSP premiums or tuition fees, or paying for a new child-care program, requires more than a new ultra-rich tax bracket or a surtax on millionaires. It will require modest tax increases for most households. Are the young people who are clamouring for a better world prepared to pay for it?
In short: yes.
Polling data recently collected by Environics for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows that British Columbians aged 18 to 29 are two times more likely to be willing to pay higher taxes for improvements to public services (housing, welfare, childcare, et cetera) as those 60 and over.
So much for the idea that today’s young adults are the “Me Generation”—obsessed with our own needs and short-term gratification. It seems that, despite being absorbed by smartphones and texting, this generation is still deeply social and understands how government’s role in program delivery and reducing inequality is a collective responsibility, funded by contributions from us all.
The results of the Environics poll are encouraging given what the next generation has been saddled with. From environmental degradation to growing inequality, the status quo is simply not an option. This polling result suggests that a better world is possible because the next generation knows what it wants and is willing to share the costs of equality.
Katie Marocchi is chair of the Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia.