If you hate Baby Boomers, this is the article for you
by Knute Berger
President Obama, golfing on Martha's Vineyard in 2009. Credit: Pete Souza/White House
The far far far right accuses Barack Obama of being a Muslim, and Birthers question his citizenship, but it’s all fantasy. They’d make more progress if they went after the president’s real dirty secret: He’s a Baby Boomer.
No one can blame him for trying to fudge the fact. Self-loathing is a Boomer characteristic, and Boomer bashing a sport for all the other generations. Boomers, in fact, are both scapegoat and piñata, the cause of all misery which is relieved only by swarming them with blows using a very big stick.
If you want a snapshot of the scourge of Boomerism, just check the latest headlines.
Boomers, for example, are often criticized for their self-indulgent spending and wasteful consumerism, although the corporate forces driving such behavior predated Boomers (see “Mad Men”) and were, in fact, resisted by the ’60s counter-culture (albeit a small, loud minority of Boomers). Still, Boomers can’t win no matter which path they choose.
A recent column in The Guardian (and linked on Crosscut’s Clicker) seemed to suggest that Boomers are living the good life while other generations suffer. A headline framed it this way: “As the postwar baby boomer generation begins to enter comfortable retirement, their children face a future of massive debt and uncertainty.”
Well, maybe that’s the way it is in the UK, but here the “retirement” is not so comfy. In the USA, older Boomers are going bust at record rates. The Wall Street Journal reports that “baby boomers are disproportionately represented in bankruptcy proceedings.” Comfortable retirement? Hah. From 2002 to 2007, the fastest growing percentage of bankruptcy filers (65 percent increase) were Boomers. In other words, call them the Baby Busters. Sixtysomethings are sinking fast.
On the other hand, if the Baby Boomers behave with fiscal prudence, that’s also cause for alarm. In response to the Great Recession, profligate Boomers have grown more conservative in their spending. They’re paying off debt and heading to the mall less often. A good thing, right? No, the selfish parsimony of Boomers is only making the recession worse. The reason times are tough is that Boomers aren’t spending enough. Yes, it’s a classic no-win scenario about which Boomers should feel only one thing: guilt.
No one likes Baby Boomers — and why would you with such a stupid name? The name sounds like a generation of spoiled Dr. Spock progeny having a temper tantrum. But part of the problem is the image that extends from that, even if it has no relationship to reality. Again, from The Guardian column, it seems UK Boomers are living a charmed life: “Having enjoyed a life of free love, free school meals, free universities, defined benefit pensions, mainly full employment and a 40-year-long housing boom, they are bequeathing their children sky-high house prices, debts and shrivelled pensions. A 60-year-old in 2010 is a very privileged and lucky human being — an object of resentment as much as admiration.”
Perhaps UK socialism benefited Boomers more than here, but the description hardly fits Baby Boomers I know. Sure, some hit the Amazon or Microsoft lottery (so did a lot of Gen Xers), but I can tell you U.S. Boomers didn’t get free lunches, pensions, free universities, or even full employment. And I can’t speak for others, but during the sexual revolution, I was largely a non-combatant. Again, in this country, Boomers today are less privileged than they are hard-pressed. If not going bankrupt, they still have their kids living at home, are caring for aging parents, and if not laid off likely holding on to a problematic job in order to get health care coverage for a growing list of chronic diseases.
Up in Canada, the latter is of great concern. If Boomers in the U.S. and UK are either getting more than their share or crashing and burning at record rates, in Canada, they’re worried about what they call the “Silver tsunami” of aging Boomers who are going to overwhelm, and maybe break, the public health-care system. Something Canadian baby Boomers need to worry about: They still have ice floes in the Arctic, and elderly, uppity Boomers might just find themselves being ushered onto one soon.
It appears that the only country that actually wants Baby Boomers is Mexico, which hopes to lure them with cheap medical care and warm weather. Expect a flow of illegal U.S. immigrants southward, crossing the Arizona desert with walkers. I mean, we outsourced sweatshops so it’s logical that eldercare would soon follow.
If you’re a Boomer, there’s a lot to feel bad about. You have too much, you lost too much, you spend too much, you don’t spend enough, you’re a burden on society, you’re going to destroy Canada — and your only future is having underpaid Mexicans change your Depends.
With the Boomer gang out of the way, who’s in charge? The so-called Greatest Generation (the people who not only fought for freedom in World War II, but also launched the materialistic sprawling consumerist suburban ’50s) is passing on. Gen X is being passed over by Gen Y, who appear to be the new Boomers. Some argue that America is about to see a changing of the guard. Here’s what Stephen Cannon, v.p. for marketing of Mercedes Benz USA, has to say about the next generation (currently 16 to 33 years old):
[A]nyone who denigrates or ignores Generation Y does so at his own peril, as our country is on the verge of a generational tipping point that will change society unlike anything we’ve seen in 50 years.
Gen Y is the largest consumer group in U.S. history and will soon be as important — and eventually more important — than the Baby Boomers. It’s larger in size and, by the end of this decade, will be fueling the economy. It will have more spending power than any other generation, giving its members the ability to make or break brands simply by paying attention to them.
The good news is, we Boomers can pass the piñata mantle on to a new generation. Have fun, kids.
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