Saturday, May 8, 2010

Blame the Boomers?

A friend of mine is having an extended discussion on his facebook page about the baby-boomers, frustrated that Gen X is being seen as following the Boomer's narrative.  This discussion seems to be part of a wave of anti-boomer resentment that may be accelerating.  That generation has always been seen as relentlessly narcissistic (am I sure I am not a boomer), having been told that they were super-special.  They are now faulted for screwing up their stewardship of the political, economic and social systems.  The vitriol has been quite abundant on the political science rumor blog and, I am sure, elsewhere, as job markets have tanked. 

Is this as natural as the usual "these kids today" that goes in the other direction?  Are the boomers more deserving of our ire?  Or does the fault lay with their parents?  After all, the expansion of the welfare state, especially medicare and social security became third rails because the boomers' parents voted to screw the kids and save themselves (as we saw yet again in the health care reform debate).  Now, we should expect the boomers to do the same as they retire to do the same.  Budget crises will be addressed by cutting education--not by cutting programs for the old folks who show up at the ballot box.  This makes no sense in the long term since education and the youth are the keys to economy and not senior citizens. 

Anyhow, should we blame the boomers?  Are they more selfish and self-centered than other generations, earlier or later?  Or did they just create unrealistic expectations due to the idealism of the 1960's and the whole age of Aquarius crap?

It ultimately comes down to whether one thinks things are better now and in the near future than they were in the past.  Making that assessment in the middle/tail-end of a recession is probably as unfair as doing so at the top of the market.  As a good Liberal, I believe in progress.  Many things are much better both locally and globally, while the only truly troublesome irreversible trend is, well, climate change.  Women are better off in the US and Canada and most of the world than they were a generation ago.  The debate now is about gay marriage and gays in the military, rather than whether gays should remain in the closet (Mad Men illustrated this quite nicely).  Despite much made about formspring, online bullying, internet-facilitated affairs, the information age of the 21st century is clearly a net gain.  There is less crime now than twenty years ago, despite the recession.  While there is still much racism (Arizona), an African-American was elected President.  And a smart professor, too. 

I do worry that infrastructures--material and political--are so much in disarray that it will be hard to make good decisions and implement them.  It is probably going to be the case that as the baby boomers retire and put stress on the social welfare systems that they will not choose to do so gracefully or with much concern about the effect they have on the following generations.  But that probably does not distinguish themselves from any other generation.

The dream has always been to leave the world better off--that our kids should have a better life than we have had.  Ironically, part of the problem is that the previous generations did make so much progress that it is harder to make improvements. 

One's evaluation of the current day, compared to the past and the future, depends not just on optimism vs pessimism, but also on what one values: social change, the environment, income inequality, etc.

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