This is why Malcolm Harris’s new book, Kids These Days, is a landmark. Remarkably for an author of a trade book on such an on-trend topic, Harris makes a politically radical argument, undergirded by a coherent and powerful Marxist analysis ... In Harris’s view, we are, down to our innermost being, the children of neoliberalism ... Harris works through this argument by following the millennial through the stages of life — as far as we’ve yet gotten ...Harris is a peerless observer of the harrowing economic costs of 'meritocracy,' and his chapter on college abounds in withering apercus ...convincing that there’s more to this phenomenon than an artifact of measurement ... The summation Kids These Days gives us is harrowing: here is a generation hurrying to give in to the unremitting, unforgiving commodification of the self.
In Kids These Days, the journalist and critic Malcolm Harris restores a good deal of precision to the business of defining the millennial and generational discourse in general ...folds into the central analytic claim: what makes the millennial situation distinctive is that it has produced workers who are too well-trained for their own good ... Through this lens we get a sweeping sketch of the bleak, anxiety-ridden lives of young Americans ... Harris is at his most forceful when arguing that society conspires to make life worse for young people ...Harris gives the impression, correctly, that he doesn’t see young people as essentially good or as the new agents of historical change ... To this end, Kids These Days disavows a prescriptive conclusion. Harris is sceptical about traditional forms of political strategy, even questioning the usefulness of protest.
Harris’s book is a methodical deconstruction of one of the stupidest tropes to degrade recent discourse. The ‘millennial’ is created, not born, as Harris shows, and as is true of all creations, her qualities reveal more about her makers than they do about her. From preschool to college to their entrance into a precarious labor market, Harris tracks how young people in America operate within a system that reinforces the economic, educational, and political injustices that sort us all into upper and underclasses … At times, Kids These Days can feel ruthless. Its injustices build, one on top of another, and wall the reader into claustrophobia. But that’s not Harris’s fault; the feeling will be familiar to anyone of a certain age … In Kids These Days, Harris doesn’t parse out many of those solutions. His book is more diagnosis than prescription.