As my generation did not live through the Depression, World War II, and the agony of the immigrants who are our grandparents or great-grandparents; as we were raised in the greatest plenty the world has ever known and in the most just of societies, we have grown lazy and entitled (not unlike Marx, who lived as a parasite upon Engels, and never worked a day in this life). The baby boomer generation, my own, is content, if of the Left, to live out our remaining years upon the work and upon the entitlement created by our parents, and to entail the costs upon our children - to tax industry out of the country, to tax wealth away from its historical role and use as the funder of innovation. (page 43)
I had planned to write at some length about this but while Googling for something TigerHawk had said about Baby Boomers, I ran across a thread there (not the one I was looking for) where the comments lay out pretty well much of what I wanted to say. So I’ll keep this brief.
First, the Baby Boomers get blamed for a lot but who raised us? The Greatest Generation. I’m not “blaming my parents” for my shortcomings but I believe the Baby Boomers are the way they are - both the good and the bad - because of the way we were raised. The comments at TigerHawk go into some of this but I’ve always thought of it this way:
Every generation that comes along decides around the age of 16 that its parents are doing everything wrong; in fact, every generation that comes along is pretty sure all previous generations have done everything wrong. The Baby Boomers were nothing special in that regard. What was different was that we were the first generation where a fair number of our elders said, “You’re right. Tell us what we should be doing instead.”
To me, this request - insane though it was - simply looks like a continuation of the extent to which Baby Boomers were catered to by their parents. It’s understandable: our parents went through the Great Depression and World War II. I’m sure they appreciated their good fortune in surviving and prospering and wanted to lavish their children with the joy and plenty they had created. I also suspect that they looked back on what they had done at 18 and 20 - won the biggest war the world had ever seen - and let that convince them 18-year-olds knew enough about the world to run it.
Second, one of the outrages for which the Baby Boomers are most reviled is the huge amount of money we’re going to suck out of the system via Social Security and Medicare. We are, the claim goes, insufferably selfish for making it impossible for the government to cut these entitlement programs. Well, we are going to suck a lot of money out the system via Social Security and Medicare but it’s because there are so darn many of us not because we are somehow singularly selfish in insisting that government leave our entitlements alone. After all, the first reference to Social Security as the “third rail” of American politics occurred in 1982 - when the oldest Baby Boomer was 36 years old. The senior citizens who would vote out of office any politician who touched their government checks weren’t Baby Boomers back then.
That said, I personally have no problem with restructuring Social Security and Medicare so it is less generous to me and less of a burden to the generations that come after me. Gradually raising the age of eligibility, as Tiger Hawk suggests in his linked post, is one approach. Or we could cut, say, 10% from all Social Security checks - I could live with that. I can live with restructuring Medicare, also, although not via a straight decrease in the payments made to providers. I’m fine with having to ante up more for my own medical care but not fine with being unable to find a provider who will see me. Perhaps we could freeze government Medicare payments at their current rates but have everyone on Medicare pay 10%.*
The bottom line is that Baby Boomers are not more selfish about their “right” to Social Security and Medicare than previous generations. It’s just that this country desperately needs them to be less selfish. I hope we can meet that need. It would be a way of proving that the Baby Boomers at 65 can be just as self-sacrificing in service to a larger goal as their Greatest Generation parents were at 20.
* Honesty compels me to admit that I’d like to see a 10% cut in much of the rest of government spending to go along with this. If nothing else, I’d like to see the salaries, benefits, and staff of all current and former elected members of the Federal government cut 10%. This is partly just orneriness but it would also be smart politics. A wider 10% cut would make cuts in Social Security and Medicare easier to sell to the elderly, not because old people or Baby Boomers are selfish but because they are scared. The problem with being old is that one has few options: if the government cuts Social Security and Medicare, the elderly don’t find it easy to replace that income by getting a job. The idea of shared sacrifice might help allay fears that the government would be happy to balance the whole budget on the elderly and that if this causes widespread suffering among the old, well, too bad but, hey - it’s not like they’re productive members of society any longer.
Twenty-Somethings - An NRO post arguing that the “aimlessness” of twenty-somethings is behavior learned from their parents - the Baby Boomers. Where did the Boomers learn it?
America’s 401(k)s Are Disasters, but Are Pensions Any Better? - Megan McArdle on the delusions behind the abysmal retirement savings rate:
There's an almost delusional quality to our expectations of retirement. Somehow, we think we're supposed to set aside 5% of our after-tax income, and have enough to live comfortably for twenty to thirty years without working.
Of course, thanks to the baby boom, that delusion was true, for a while. The giant population bulge supported all the generations behind them by buying their houses and stocks, and paying the taxes, dividends, and interest payments that supported their elders in a comfortable retirement. The problem is that we now think that this is something like a natural law, rather than a very temporary aberration.