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Op-ed Placement

Millennials Get Free Markets, But Don't Buy How Politicians Preach Them

BY Yates Wilburn
01/11/2019
Originally Published in Real Clear Markets by Yates Wilburn on 1/11/19.

Right now, countless politicians, scholars, activists, and writers on the right and left are waging a battle for the hearts and minds of American millennials. They often use highbrow language more commonly heard in an economics class than a Twitter feed in a desperate bid to convince my generation that they’re right, and the “other team” is wrong. So far, it could be argued the only Millennials that politicos on either side of the socioeconomic divide have been able to reach are the ones that are already convinced of their respective positions. They’ve only reached those people that already share their worldview, and are simply looking for clever-sounding zingers with which to bludgeon their political opponents.

But, without even trying, Canadian YouTuber Lewis “Lew” Hilsenteger is educating Millennials on the virtues of the free market whether they know it or not. Subliminal proselytizing? More realistically he wins with honesty.

On his channel, Unbox Therapy, Hilsenteger reviews a stunning array of consumer products. Whether it’s the latest $1,000 smartphone or a $10 gadget that opens a beer bottle and turns the cap into a projectile, he’s seen it, used it, and abused it to reveal all its strengths and flaws to potential buyers.

Indeed, the response to his channel has been staggering. Since first launching on YouTube in 2010, Unbox Therapy has grown to over 13 million subscribers and now draws as many as three million viewers with each new video. Hilsenteger’s Twitter following is equally substantial, boasting over 2 million followers.

His impressive audience size has given Hilsenteger a powerful platform that allows him to put a spotlight on countless products and companies, some of which may never have been noticed by his viewers if not for him. Well-run businesses eagerly fight to put their gadgets in Hilsenteger’s crosshairs. They know his viewers trust his insight and that a good word from him will do more to prove the quality of their products than any planned marketing campaign.

Many companies even go so far as to send mountains of their products to Hilsenteger’s studio, often apparently unsolicited, with no paid sponsorship or guarantee of a positive review.

At the same time and perhaps more importantly, poorly-managed companies desperately scramble to keep their products off of Unbox Therapy. They’re aware of how badly his honesty and transparency could undermine their efforts to fool consumers into believing their gadgets are higher quality than they actually are. At risk of proselytizing myself, why have regulation when you have Hilsenteger....?

As the channel’s tagline states, Unbox Therapy is “where products get naked”, a prospect that terrifies poorly-run businesses. But, for companies with nothing to hide and everything to prove, it’s an incredible opportunity to show off their products to a massive and informed audience of consumers that are ready to buy.

Hilsenteger is constantly questioning the value of the products he reviews through the eyes of his viewers, ruthlessly comparing them to the competition and laying out the decisions behind the product. Without sounding preachy or even intending to educate, he shows viewers how the competitive furnace of the free market pushes companies to constantly innovate -- get bigger, faster, leaner, sharper, better, and cheaper -- in a desperate struggle for their hard-earned money. More importantly, he shows viewers how that benefits them as consumers.

People like Hilsenteger are showing millennials that free markets put consumers like them in control. Certainly, YouTube channels like Unbox Therapy amplify the concerns of consumers to the point where companies are forced to respond, but, those concerns are generated by actual failings on the parts of businesses and exist with or without YouTube. All Hilsenteger can do is give those concerns a larger voice and make more people aware of them faster.

Through Unbox Therapy, millennial consumers are learning just how much power they have in the free market to hold bad actors accountable and reward innovative entrepreneurs with their hard-earned money. All while they witness politicians and bureaucrats in Washington fail miserably to do the same.

Millennials are learning about the power of the free market by just living their lives, they don’t need to be talked at and beaten to death with unrelatable economic jargon to understand it. Instead, they just need to be shown how the things they see and live with every day are all tied with the power of the free market, and pro-market politicians would be smart to emulate people like Hilsenteger if they hope to reach millennials with their message.