The drive against bourgeois aspirations underpins an emerging neo-feudal system in which people remain renters for life, enjoying their video games or houseplants. This may end the dream of ownership that has defined the middle class for a half millennium, but it could assure a steady profit for the owner class, a rent that would seem appropriate to a medieval landlord.
French economist Thomas Picketty has suggested that today’s ageing societies exacerbate this pattern. Older people dominate the stock and property assets, forcing up prices to the point that younger generations or newcomers to these countries face growing obstacles to upward mobility. High rents as well as rising house prices make the extension of property ownership increasingly difficult for all but inheritors.
This receding horizon is generating an ever more feudalistic mentality among the young—those with wealthy parents are far luckier to own a house and enter what one writer calls “the funnel of privilege.” In America—like Australia, a country whose mythology disdains the power of inherited wealth—millennials are increasingly counting on inheritance for their retirement at a rate three times that of the boomers. Among the youngest cohort, those aged 18 to 22, over 60 percent see inheritance as their primary source of wealth as they age.