Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Boomers - as they are, and will be

Spawned by the Greatest Generation as a spoiled, narcissistic, and arrogant generation who, by their size, squatted over the culture and suckled from the hard work of those who came before them - there is an outstanding book on that generation which warns us, again - why they are not through talking about I, I, me, me, I, I, and me.

The Economist again - a review of The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children's Future - And Why They Should Give it Back. If you thought they would think of others as they get older - think again. In the coming decade they will suck every last bit of blood out of younger generations so someone, anyone, but themselves will have to make hard decisions. Their parents did the hard work to make their life easy when they were young - so their children and grandchildren will have to do the same when the blessed Boomers are older.

Of course it works that way - they are the Baby Boomers, don't you know? Hard work is for others. What is important is that they feel good about themselves and get as much as they can for as little work as possible. See the 2011 budget as a reference if needed.
Half the population are under 40 years old but they hold only about 15% of all financial assets. People under 44 own, again, just 15% of owner-occupied housing. Comparing the financial and housing wealth of different age groups in 1995 and 2005 the Bank of England found that those aged 25 to 34 had seen their wealth fall, whereas those aged 55 to 64 had seen theirs triple. It helped that inflation was galloping when the older group was borrowing to buy homes, but slowed thereafter.

If pensions are counted, the situation is even more skewed. Lushly funded final- salary schemes are now broadly closed to new members, in the private sector at least. Baby-boomers can chuck the day job at 60 or 65 and head off into the perma-tanned sunset (they will probably prove freakishly long-lived), borrowing against the inflated value of their houses as they do so. Their children must slog on towards an infinitely receding retirement age, squirrelling away money for their meagre defined-contribution pensions as a growing proportion of state spending is devoted to the needs of a massive generation of the elderly.

Young people have little chance of building up similar wealth. They are struggling to get on the housing ladder, though close to a fifth of people between 50 and 59 years old own a second home. Jobs for the young were getting scarcer even before the crash. Yet more and more older people are working and earning more, relative to young workers, than before.

On top of this, older baby-boomers have dodged two speeding bullets, leaving their descendants squarely in the line of fire. The first is the bill for bailing out the financial sector; the second, the effect of climate change on the cost of energy, water, flood-prevention and the like. Other countries have ageing populations, but the problem in Britain is especially acute. British baby-boomers tended to believe their houses were all the piggy bank they needed. They neglected to make other comparable savings or they borrowed against property to finance their old age.
Not content with the generational warfare they had with those who gave them everything - they have nicely set up things for generational warfare with those they desire to take from.
There is an unvoiced contract that binds the generations. Parents look after their children, with a view to helping them do at least as well as they themselves have done, and grown-up children look after their parents, in the hope that their children will do the same for them one day. But there is now “a breakdown in the balance between the generations”, thanks to the colossal size of one of them. And it has brought social consequences as well as economic ones, including the disappearance of trust between unrelated adults and children and a long, messy transition to independence for young people today.

The second reason to read this well-written book is the wealth of social detail that Mr Willetts, with his wonderful magpie mind, spreads before the reader. He looks, for example, to England’s historically smallish, nuclear families for an explanation of the country’s early adoption of markets and the rule of law. Weaving together birth rates and immigration policy, he has an ingenious explanation for why workers from Lodz flock to London, where housing costs are higher than almost anywhere else in the world, whereas workers from Liverpool on the whole do not. As society becomes more segregated by age, he points out, some council estates now have ratios of adults to hormone-heavy adolescent males more typical of violent Yemen or Somalia than of developed Western countries. He turns up statistics showing that most women, employed or not, spend more time caring for their young children now than they used to, and suggests that most people have become better parents (doing more for their own children) but worse citizens (doing less for others). The end notes alone are a feast.
In the end we are left with a question. Are the baby-boomers a lucky generation or a selfish one? Mr Willetts, born in 1956, is too prudent to answer categorically, but his arguments suggest that if nothing else they are certainly a careless one. Prolonged economic growth tends to make people assume that future generations too will grow richer, and hence to make less provision for them. Yet the Victorians built railways and city halls for their descendants in what was one of Britain’s most optimistic eras. And the boomers’ descendants may have more cash but they are also likely to face far higher costs. Mr Willetts cites, approvingly, the way some American Indian tribal councils used to take decisions in the light of how they would affect the next seven generations.

On our side of the pond, Robert J. Samuelson is seeing the same thing.
The "generation gap" endures as a staple of American political and social analysis. The notion that the special circumstances and experiences of each succeeding cohort imbue it with different perceptions, beliefs and values seems intuitively reasonable and appealing. It's also flattering. In a mass-market culture, belonging to a distinct subgroup, even if it numbers many millions, contributes to a sense of identity. In a 1969 Gallup poll, 74 percent of Americans believed in the generation gap. A poll last year found that 79 percent now do.

Between then and now, of course, generations have shifted. Then, it was baby boomers (those now 46-64) arrayed against the World War II and Depression generations. Now it's "Millennials" (those 29 or younger) and Gen Xers (30 to 45) vying with boomers and Americans 65 and over. The precise generational boundaries are somewhat arbitrary, and other individual differences (income, religion, education, geography) usually count for more. Still, generational contrasts help plot change and continuity in America.
Writing in the
Atlantic, Don Peck argues that many Millennials, overindulged as children and harboring a sense of entitlement, are ill-prepared for a "harsh economic environment." They lack the persistence and imagination to cope well. That indictment may be unfair. My own experience is that Millennial co-workers are diligent, disciplined and determined in the face of frustration.

Regardless, more bad news may lie ahead. As baby boomers retire, higher federal spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid may boost Millennials' taxes and squeeze other government programs. It will be harder to start and raise families.

Millennials could become the chump generation. They could suffer for their elders' economic sins, particularly the failure to confront the predictable costs of baby boomers' retirement. This poses a question. In 2008, Millennials voted 2 to 1 for Barack Obama; in surveys, they say they're more disposed than older Americans to big and activist government. Their ardor for Obama is already cooling. Will higher taxes dim their enthusiasm for government?
I'm more with Robert - the kids are alright - it's the older generation that is the problem.

As for their voting patterns - that will change too. Hey, I used to toy with revolutionary leftists. Time grows wisdom.


SCOTTtheBADGER said...

I am in an identity crisis about this.  As I was born on 21 August 1961, I have always supposed nyself to be a Boomer, yet I have seen Barack Obama refered to in the press as the first Gen-X President.  Mr. Obama is 2 weeks older than I am.  How can he be older than I, yet be a member of a younger generation?  I'M SO CONFUSED!

UltimaRatioRegis said...

If it feels good, do it.  The corollary to that is, that if it doesn't feel good (work, save, refrain from indulging various whims and desires at the expense of health and dignity) then you don't have to do it. 

Of course, being a responsible adult means you do it whether you want to or not, because it is what you SHOULD do, and others (including family, boss) count on you to do.  We boomers are just now coming to grips with how shabbily we treated our parents' generation and how critical we were of the world they left us.  Never mind that they had to fight a world war against oppressive dictators to leave it.  

They grew up in the Depression, often without enough to eat or a steady place to live.  We decried their materialism, even as we drove their cars out on dates in clothes they bought us.

They went months and years without work or in menial jobs in order to feed families.  We called them small-minded for being satisified with 9-5 employment, and called them suckers because they believe they owed their bosses hard work.

They fought World War II and Korea, and endured the horrors of fighting a war unprepared and untrained.  We called them war mongers for advocating a strong defense. 

The boomers are indeed the problem.  And we have passed on our arrogance, our startling ignorance, and our sense of entitlement to Gen X and the Millenials, even as we look on and shake our heads. 

If it feels good, do it.   If it doesn't, you don't have to do it.  Don't trust anyone over 35.  Such a fine legacy to claim. 

At least some of the Gen Xers and the Millenials have gone through the fire, and they have been found worthy.  They are magnificent.  That gives me hope that somewhere in there is the strength to overcome the damage we did with the example we set.  Not as individuals, or as parents, but as a generation.

Matt Hawks said...

Echoing CDR S last line - in the words of an Econ prof (~55 at the time) about one of his kids (a new voter) campaigning for Al Gore to defeat George W. Bush in 2000:
"I don't worry about it though.  When you're young, you can have a heart.  But when you age, there is no excuse for foolishness.  They will learn.  I will help them."
Here's to the rapid aging of the Millenials.

LT B said...

Obama's policies might make them learn more quickly.  The economy will plummet.  As a result, QOL will decline.  My mom always said she was a flaming socialist until she started earning money then it changed to, "hell no!  I worked for that money, I'm not giving it to them!"  :)

Andrew said...

I wonder more and more if a set-up like that in Starship Troopers (the book not the movie) would be good for government welfare programs and the like; i.e. you must have served the collective good in order to collect social security and other benefits.

Skippy-san said...

As a proud boomer, I say to hell with your hypothesis-it is a load of tripe. The idea that Boomers have not given anything to their children is just crazy-they gave a world that has technology, has arts, and someone how put a value on something besides the almighty dollar. Boomers took us to the moon.

How about blaming Grover Norquist? He's the guy who came up with the idea that you can cut taxes and increase spending. That is what is robbing the boomers-not fun loving guys like me.

Boomers are not the problem-people who think they can blame boomers for their problem, are the problem. Sex and rock and roll baby! :-$

Old Salt said...

I read this site nearly every day, and today I have a rant. We'd be quick to holler "raaacism" if you broadly slandered a race in the way you are taking on "Boomers".

I served over 25 years in our great Navy - as did many of us. You need to get better at defining just what subset of all boomers that is causing you this angst. I take no great pride in being a "boomer", but I do take great pride in being an American. I could care less what generation you're from - what I care about is what you're doing.

The Greatest Generation, for all it's many attributes, was not uniformly great. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of history and human nature could tell you that. And that goes for the Boomers as well.

When we can see things as they really are, then we have a chance of correcting the problems. Until then, it is mere delusion.

People, not labels - keep that in mind.   

cdrsalamander said...

Fair.....but even you don't like Boomers ... O:-)

Byron said...

Andrew, you are incorrect in your depiction of Starship Troopers; the premise of the book, the central theme, was that if someone wanted to become a full Citizen, to enjoy the priviledge of voting (note, not a right, a privilidge) you had to be willing to serve the government for one year. It did not matter how, and it did not matter if you would survive. Just that you had to be willing to make the sacrifice for the Government. The premise was that a government of free men was too precious to put into the hands of those who had no stake in the outcome.

If you remember the origins of this government, you'll remember that it came about after years of debilitating war after which the military took control (on both sides), formed a world wide government, and put this concept of service to the state into the constitution.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

"<span>Boomers took us to the moon"</span>

They did?  Virtually all of the 40 Apollo program astronauts was born between 1928 and 1936.  While still very young men in the 1960s space program, they were hardly boomers.  The oldest of the boomers in 1969 was only 24.  Which means, that virtually no boomers were involved with the engineering development of any of the Mercury and Apollo programs, and if employed by NASA by the time of the moon landing, they were very junior folks.  

Grover Nordquist?  You gotta be kidding.  Try Lyndon Baines Johnson.  His hanging the myraid non-contributors onto Social Security to create his "Great Society" is the largest Ponzi scheme ever perpetrated.  Skippy, if you are looking to find why your money isn't there anymore, look no further.  Uncle Sam gave it to someone else.  Someone who didn't pay in.  Patently illegal to do on your own.  "Social spending" when the federal Government does it.

DeltaBravo said...

Well, I have to say... the Greatest Generation DID raise the Boomers.

I once was in line at the supermarket with my then-very young children.  An elderly member of that greatest generation commented on how cute my children were.  Then he said, "Make sure they get a good education.  So they can go to work and pay my Social Security."  He thought that was funny.  I smiled politely.

Inside I was a little non-plussed.  Mister, didn't you have children to take care of you?  Are they those useless Boomers out there who take care of themselves and no one else?  But you want MY kids to take care of you?  And what of those Boomers... did they have kids and sacrifice and raise enough children to take care of THEM in their old age?  Or did they live a magical fun life enjoying it and waiting for someone else to pay the piper at the end?  Where I come from, normal houses weren't good enough.  As I entered the housing market, what I was raised in wasn't good enough.  All of a sudden builders were catering to these self-indulgent narcissists who believed they belonged in veritable palaces with palatial house payments to match.  Builders stopped building cute bungalows for young families altogether.  They priced us out of the market for years.  Just one example of how we reaped the harvest of boomer excess.

They did change everything for us Generation X types.  We have followed behind them like younger brothers and sisters abhorring the pot-smoking older sibling who glommed all mom and dad's attention and finances catering to their self-centered whims.  We got the leftovers in time and attention from society.  But we also got stuck with the bill even as they took all the jobs.   We realized no one was going to sit around and goggle at us and tell us we were wonderful.  We rolled up our sleeves and decided to be self sufficient.  We grumble and go to work and do what we're supposed to as we listen to them still praising themselves and every stupid cultural idea they come up with and force down America's throat just because of their sheer numbers. 

As for the younger millennials.... I have children in that cohort... and for some of them so eager to elect Obama... the bloom is already off the rose.  Some of the college kids now are working and getting annoyed as they realize the financial implications of his agenda for them personally.  Doh!   

I've heard more than one say they won't vote for him again.

I know not all Boomers fall into this category, but I think the old label "Pig in the Python" is very apt for many.

xbradtc said...

Grover doesn't subscribe to the idea that you can cut taxes and increase spending.

He subscribes to the idea that you can cut taxes and increase revenues. That's a quantifiable idea, and history has proven him correct.

xbradtc said...

There's one huge element that most folks aren't seeing. Wealth transfer. Sooner or later, the Boomers are gonna die. And their money is going somewhere. A lot of it will go to their kids, the Gen X'ers.

I spent 5 years planning ways for folks to transfer that wealth to their kids with minimal taxation and the least likelihood of "affluenza."

Lemme tell you, we're talking an enormous transfer of wealth in the next two decades. Trillions. And while the government will dip its beak into it, the majority will still pass to the younger generations.

Kristen said...

LT B, I'm happy (and relieved) to say that I don't think Obama will get to implement very much of his dreadful agenda.  He's going to lose both houses in a few months, and his plans to transform America into a European country are going to crash and burn.   I think the worst he can do at this point is to give us some terrible judges.  It's hard to keep a president from doing that.

Andrew said...

Byron, I understand what you're saying, and perhaps I simplified the idea a bit too much. I still think the idea holds merit though; whether it could be implemented within any of our lifetimes is a totally different matter.

Byron said...

Starship Troopers did NOT speak to anything like Social Security. Heinleins vision of government said that to have a voice in the course of poltical change, you must also be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for your it should be.

DeltaBravo said...

I don't think GenX are their heirs.  Many of them waited to have kids.  I'm the beginning of GenX and some Boomers were only starting to have their kids when I was starting to have mine.  I think many of them were beginning to have kids in the mid '80s and up into the early '90s.  And a lot of them were the women who waited till they were 38 and they had a great career and oops... now they had fertility problems.  I think their kids go more in with the Millennials rather than GenX.   Then add that to the dads who had a young second wife and were the gray-haired guys with the kindergarten-aged children... that messes up the cohort transfer of wealth statistics also...

Combat Wombat said...

Scott- welcome aboard. Born in '62, I believe my "summer of love" experience was different from that of those born 10 years earlier; yet I'm tagged a "boomer". Things I can't stand/don't care about- Beatles, Stones, Ono, Elvis. A dern heretic, am I!

UltimaRatioRegis said...


The Greatest Generation surely paid in to SSIC.  But their principle is long gone, spent on people who claimed entitlement without paying in a dime.  See my comments re: LBJ below.  My father paid in to SSIC for every year of his sixty year working life.  He lived only 13 years after retirement.  But what if he had survived?  When SS goes broke, what about the 80 year old man in those same shoes?  Paid in for 50+ years, and still nothing back.  Had he taken that money he could have set himself up with a retirement program that woudl have kept him for many decades after he stopped working.  But the Government got it.  And now it's gone.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Whew.  Thought I was the only one who HATED the Beatles.  However, I see the local HS history teacher making sure every student in his class knows what happened on December 8th!  John Lennon was shot.  But December 7th?  Nary a clue.   Must not be important.  They wouldn't know Pearl Harbor from Pearl Jam, and neither would the teacher.

DeltaBravo said...

And every attempt by responsible politicians to "fix" social security has been rejected by congress.  While they raided the SS piggybank.

A crying shame.

Mike M. said...

Scott, you're right.

The whole generational breakdown is B.S.  Politically, a 'generation' is TEN years, not twenty.  And I'll make a strong case that the break-point is around mid-decade.

You and I (born in 1963) are part of the Baby Bust decade group.  Our worldview was shaped by the collapse of American foreign policy and the American economy in the mid and late 1970s...and we were Ronald Reagan's margin of victory in the 1980 election.

Obama?  He's a relic...a Baby Buster by birthdate, but intellectually a relic of the Brat Boom decade group.  Specifically, the most rabid part of it.

C-dore 14 said...

"Was it 'over' when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?"

Mike M. said...

No, he's got a legitimate point.  The Brat Boom decade group was raised by the World War II decade group...with mixed results.  Some turned out quite well, but about a third needed to be horsewhipped.

And the Dirty Little Secret is that the World War II group had a very, very spotty record putting forth elected officials.  People remember Reagan...but forget Carter and Nixon, to say nothing of the disaster that was Lyndon Johnson.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Precisely.  Senator Blutarsky would be chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee these days. 

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

Speaking as a Badger, I recognise LBJ as a weasel.   LBJ once went on a strike mission with a PBJ crew, as a Congressional  observer, ( LBJ was a LT USNR ).  The plane came back, shot to shreds, most of the crew wounded.  LBJ's Silver Star was the only medal awarded for that mission.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

I remember someons once saying that if you are not a socialist at 20, you have no heart, if you are a socialist at 40, you have no brain.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

Well said, Sir! Oh, very well said, Indeed!

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

While I quite enjoy the Beatles, when I listen to Big Band music, ( I am a hopeless fan of Old Time Radio ), and hear how much more work went into Swing, and the far higher quality of the delivered product, I am embarrassed thatpeople think of the Beatles as anything other than producers of popular ditties.  John Lennon, in particular, was, and since his works endure, and continue to influence people, remains a twit.

Last summer, I had the misfortune to catch the movie version of " How I Won The War ", a pathetic version of one of the funniest books I have ever read.  Mr. Lennon went through the whole movie radiating, " I am so superior in intelligence to you plebians. I am so cool, you could store meat in me ".   There is some evidence, that as he entered his early 40's. he might have started paying attention. In 1979, he donated quite a bit of money to an organisation raising funds to buy vests for NYPD officers, ( 10 out of 10 for irony, there ).  One likes to ponder what a conservative John Lennon might have done, given the slavish following he had among boomers.  Arlo Guthrie is a Republican, now, so perhaps none.   

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

Since Law Enforcement pays so well, I also work part time as a Night Auditor at a resort.  My boss at the resort is a 28 year old woman.  One night, as she was staying late catching up on some work, she and I were discussing our respective generations, as I am old enough to be her Dad.  I apologised to her, on behalf of my generation, for the lousy job we did raising her generation.

Combat Wombat said...

Hey- ditto on the old time radio- Swing and the actual comedies that were funny in use of language, with Nary a cuss. 8-)

Combat Wombat said...

Ya mean she isn't?

C-dore 14 said...

Scott, Mrs. C-dore was a HUGE Beatles fan (she even went to see them at Candlestick Park).  Me...not so much.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Arlo Guthrie is a Republican?  Holy moley.  I can hear it now..."Payin' for the City of New Orleans... "

Skippy-san said...

Assuming you are not cutting taxes while fighting two wars.  Grover is the Godfather of the idea that you should never, ever, never raise taxes; no matter how many wars your country is fighting at once, how many of your cities are underwater, and how much catastrophic debt statutory entitlement programs are creating. The Norquist answer is to cut spending, which never happens because something called politics gets in the way. All the mindless bitching to the contrary, American voters don't just like unnecessary spending, they love it. If they didn't, it would have been stopped by now. That's why presidential elections are decided by dumb shit that has nothing to do with the presidency, like the Pledge of Allegiance, gay marriage, "Hope" and places called Hope. History has not proven Nordquist correct. It has proven Bush 41 correct though-when you need to you raise taxes and balance the budget.

I reject this idea that the so called millenials are somehow "better" than the boomers. While I did mis-speak about them going to the moon-they fought their war and over two million of them went when they were called. The Gen X's had their conflicts too-a lot of them served. They also were the ones who came up with the idea that stock prices mattered more than taking  care of one's employees.

The real thing is that Boomers are much like "millenials" when they were young and millenials will get older and more conservative. Maybe they will even become teabaggers!

But stop telling me I am to blame for your lot in life. I'm to blame for my lot in life-no one elses. ;)  The idea of sex, drugs and rock and roll was not necessarily bad-it just lacked a few things in execution. Like a way to pay for the sex.

Time for a beer and I will toast being a boomer!

UltimaRatioRegis said...

What does that say about a Vermont State House full of Socialists over 40?  >:o

Grumpy Old Ham said...

I freely admit that I was a Reagan Republican at 20, and I do in fact have no heart.  Don't believe me?  Ask my kids.

BTW, I'm another one on the cusp between "Boomers" and "Gen X".  The definition has always been a little fluid, and as the only child of "Greatest Generation" parents quite frankly I identify much more with them than I do with the "flower children".

Grumpy Old Ham said...

If that review was supposed to entice me to read the book, it surely missed the mark.

<span>Half the population are under 40 years old but they hold only about 15% of all financial assets. People under 44 own, again, just 15% of owner-occupied housing. Comparing the financial and housing wealth of different age groups in 1995 and 2005 the Bank of England found that those aged 25 to 34 had seen their wealth fall,</span>

How about a little more historical perspective, please?  That timespan is less than half a generation...

<span>Baby-boomers can chuck the day job at 60 or 65 and head off into the perma-tanned sunset ..., borrowing against the inflated value of their houses as they do so.</span>

Really?  The housing slump missed the UK?  Hmmm....

<span>On top of this, older baby-boomers have dodged two speeding bullets, leaving their descendants squarely in the line of fire. The first is the bill for bailing out the financial sector; </span>

An optional bill, perhaps we should have let the market sort things out...

<span>the second, the effect of climate change on the cost of energy, water, flood-prevention and the like. </span>

Hippie, please...enough with the contrived cost of 'climate change' or whatever you clowns are calling it this week.

Grumpy Old Ham said...

<span>Not just those three.  The only thing my Dad and George McGovern have in common is that they were both B-24 pilots; other than that, they are about as far apart politically as they could get.</span>

I shudder to think of the alternate timeline that would have been created had McGovern beat Nixon in '72.  Perhaps it might not have been so bad, if we could have avoided Carter and had Reagan in '76.

Andrew said...

I understand that, but my point is, if you set up a similar system along the lines of restricting social security and other such programs to those who've "paid their dues" as it were by serving the state and society as a whole, then we could cut down on the heavy burden placed upon our government and tax base. The rest of those unwilling to serve would either take care of themselves or be taken care of by their employers. I was simply looking for an analogy by referencing Heinlein.