Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Stop Blaming the Boomers

 

shutterstock_220913251Blaming the Baby Boomers is a popular pastime among Millennials nowadays. Apparently, the problems of our present day are mostly their fault. They allowed government to grow and metastasize, and saddled us with loads of debt. They bought into crazy-lazy theories about overpopulation, and didn’t have enough children. They soaked up all the perks of the Reagan years and left their kids jobless with expensive, worthless degrees.

Now they’re planning to collect billions in pensions and Social Security and Medicare, and younger generations will work themselves to the bone to pay for it, while their retired parents (along with non-parent peers who spent all their own earnings on themselves, and are now helping themselves to ours) enjoy shuffleboard and vacations to the South of France. And then we’ll probably just lie down and die of treatable diseases in our broken-down, two-bit apartments. By that time, you see, the coffers will be emptier than empty, and death will be the only thing we can still afford. Dang Boomers.

I’m being dramatic of course, but I confess that I am not immune to anti-Boomer angst. We’ve all been privy to those conversations when an older relative (perhaps freshly returned from a Caribbean cruise) complains about the medical procedure that Medicare won’t fully cover even though they need it. The griping about how Social Security or pensions are too small. It’s hard to resist unleashing a torrent of indignation on such people. Do they really not see how entitled they are?

Nevertheless, I’ve been wondering lately whether we young folk may be too hard on the Baby Boomers. Mind you, I’m not nominating them for a Greatest Generation prize. But I do think we should probably shift more of the blame to… the Greatest Generation.

They fought the Second World War. That was amazing. Warmest thanks for that incredible feat.

After they came home, though, things went a little haywire. The Boomers may have been lamentably placid about rectifying the worst mistakes of that era, but weren’t the GGers the real movers and shakers behind most of our unsustainable programs? Social Security already existed, but they ramped it up. Medicaid came out of that mid-century period. Moving into the Johnson Administration, we see the Boomers protesting wars and smoking weed, but wouldn’t we really have to say that the Boomers were too young to bear much blame for the real evil that was wrought in that era? The welfare state was primarily their parents’ misconceived brainchild.

I’m not actually interested in stoking intergenerational warfare, but I do think the point is worth considering if only for the sake of clearing away obstacles to sensible reform. Understandably (given their military accomplishments) that generation looms large in our minds, and in some sense all political parties, both left and right, have a yearning for the 1950s that they haven’t fully exorcised. (On the left it manifests itself in their love of unions, secure jobs with rafts of benefits, and the regulation of big business. On the right it’s traditional gender roles and suburbs and wholesome cultural values. All of us, though, have a tendency to view mid-century America as a kind of Eden that in some way or other represents the best of our society and culture.)

The truth about the Greatest Generation, though, was that they fought the war, but then raised their children to be lovers and not fighters. As a group, they chose comfort and security over the preservation of rugged individualism, personal responsibility or an entrepreneurial spirit. We may need to come to grips with that component of our history before we can figure out how to move forward.

There are 68 comments.

  1. BastiatJunior Member

    Great post but I wouldn’t stop there. It was the greatest generations’ parents and grandparents that midwifed the progressive movement and created the entitlement state. And it was their negligence that caused the war that made the greatest generation great.

    • #1
    • November 30, 2015, at 3:17 PM PST
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  2. Profile Photo Member

    There is a reason why we call them the Greatest Generation: there is also a reason why we don’t call them the Perfect Generation. Everybody makes mistakes. It should be remembered that many if not most members of the Greatest Generation grew up very poor, and that made them more sympathetic to welfare programs, understandably. It is very easy for us to look back on those times from our comfortable middle class perches and criticize GGs for choosing “comfort” over rugged individualism. The fact remains: they knew far more about rugged individualism than most of us ever will. We embrace it in theory: they lived it.

    Most of my friends’ parents growing up where baby boomers, and most of them fought in Vietnam. The flower children have always demanded and gotten all of the attention, but they were not and are not the sole voice of their generation.

    • #2
    • November 30, 2015, at 3:20 PM PST
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  3. Hoyacon Member

    I blame boomers for begetting the generation that begat the millennials. Other than that, helping to elect Jimmy Carter, disco, and selling out the troops in Viet Nam, I’m good with them.

    • #3
    • November 30, 2015, at 3:34 PM PST
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  4. Merina Smith Inactive

    I’m glad you’ve come around to my way of thinking!

    • #4
    • November 30, 2015, at 3:39 PM PST
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  5. Annefy Member

    I am at the tail end of the boomers (born in 1958) but I have many friends older and younger.

    The ONLY retired people I know arriving fresh from a Caribbean cruise were once government employees of one sort or another (teachers, fire fighters, policemen, city employees etc). Also rich friends, but I bear them no ill will.

    I have a dear, dear friend who is my age; every time we get together she laments that were she to retire now from her city job she will only get 60% of her current pay AND she’ll have to pay her own health insurance (the cost she would pay is less than what my family pays now)

    I finally told her she had to stop. That maybe it’s small of me, but since neither my husband nor I will ever get 60% of anything I was getting downright resentful.

    As my husband said once, he wouldn’t mind all our ex-government-job-friends taking their cruises if they would only say “thank you” every once in awhile.

    • #5
    • November 30, 2015, at 3:41 PM PST
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  6. MarciN Member

    Before we go any further, I want to lay out the latest generation breakdown according to Wikipedia, and please note the overlaps:

    Greatest Generation: people who grew up during the Great Depression and then fought in World War II

    Baby boomers: born 1946 through 1964

    Generation X: born in the early 1960s through the early 1980s

    Generation Y or millennials: born early 1980s through early 2000s

    As can be seen here, blaming one group or another for cultural and social change over these years is difficult.

    For one thing, there is a group missing, and that would be at least half of the parents of the baby boomers–people who did not go to war for one reason or another or who were too young. The too-young group is the largest group, and they did a lot to shape the fifties and sixties, to introduce Dr. Spock into child rearing. They were the environmentalists of the 1960s and the civil rights and anti-war activists. They are in their late seventies to mid-eighties now.

    It seems like every time people start to talk about who is responsible for what, they overlook the boomers’ parents. For example, the education and media that shaped the boomers were controlled by the boomers’ parents up until about twenty years ago. And the boomers didn’t have too much executive or political clout until about twenty years ago.

    Carry on with excoriating the boomers. I just wanted to make sure we were talking about the same people. :) :)

    • #6
    • November 30, 2015, at 3:45 PM PST
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  7. Profile Photo Member

    Can’t we all just get along? :) I dislike any kind of warfare, but generational warfare might be the worst. Yes, older generations made mistakes, but we have far more to thank them for than we will ever have to blame for. We have also made mistakes, and will probably continue to make mistakes: this should be kept in mind when we criticize our elders. :)

    • #7
    • November 30, 2015, at 3:51 PM PST
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  8. Hoyacon Member

    MarciN:Baby boomers: born 1946 through 1964.

    Have the goalposts been moved on this over time? It appears that these are the popular dates among demographers, but I’ve always thought that the backend was several years earlier. An 18 year range for a post WWII boom seems rather generous.

    • #8
    • November 30, 2015, at 3:56 PM PST
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  9. Look Away Inactive

    OOH, the poor millennials, the first generation to be put upon, at least in their own minds. There is a reason that they talk about the lowest percentage of the population employed for 35 years, that is because it was even lower in the aftermath of the Carter years, when I graduated college. The result of two oil shocks, and stagflation from LBJs guns and butter spending in the 1960s, racial unrest, the humiliation of the Viet Nam war; the economy and the Country’s psyche was in the tank. Because Carter “suddenly” discovered the Russian threat, my ROTC commitment went from 90 days active duty to 4 years and unlike many of my ROTC counterparts on scholarship I got none, but served the same commitment they did. Life is not fair.

    Upon leaving the military, I could not find a job for 18 months. When I applied to be a bank teller, I was told that banks did not hire men for that role. I went back to graduate school with a watered down GI Bill, For every two bucks I put in, Uncle Sam gave me $1. Compare that with current benefits.

    My first mortgage of $40,000 had a interest rate of 15.65%. Our payment was 55% of our monthly after-tax take home pay.

    Why did our lives turn around? Ronald Wilson Reagan gave us hope, optimism and a sense of purpose. Millennials, find your own Reagan and your life will improve like our did.

    • #9
    • November 30, 2015, at 3:57 PM PST
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  10. MarciN Member

    Hoyacon:

    MarciN:Baby boomers: born 1946 through 1964.

    Have the goalposts been moved on this over time? It appears that these are the popular dates among demographers, but I’ve always thought that the backend was several years earlier. An 18 year range for a post WWII boom seems rather generous.

    Yes, they have. Yup.

    Sociologists look at “cohorts” now, and a cohort is a twenty-year period.

    The definitions have been loose and have changed dramatically over the years. I find the terminology annoying and inaccurate.

    • #10
    • November 30, 2015, at 3:58 PM PST
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  11. MarciN Member

    The boomers were a population bulge, and they were interesting to marketers and the media because of the sheer number of them.

    There was also a lot of resentment–boomers grew up in the affluent fifties rather than the impoverished forties, and their older brothers and sisters and cousins resented the easier life the boomers had. So that fueled the anti-boomer fascination over time.

    The boomer population bulge is slated to be overtaken by the millennials in the next decade because of immigration. Soon we will cease to be an object of interest.

    • #11
    • November 30, 2015, at 4:01 PM PST
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  12. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Millinials? What about X-ers? We were bashing the Boomers when they had not been born!

    Kids today!

    • #12
    • November 30, 2015, at 4:14 PM PST
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  13. Zafar Member

    Judithann Campbell:It should be remembered that many if not most members of the Greatest Generation grew up very poor, and that made them more sympathetic to welfare programs, understandably. It is very easy for us to look back on those times from our comfortable middle class perches and criticize GGs for choosing “comfort” over rugged individualism. The fact remains: they knew far more about rugged individualism than most of us ever will. We embrace it in theory: they lived it.

    Do you think you romanticise it in a way that they did not?

    • #13
    • November 30, 2015, at 4:15 PM PST
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  14. Retail Lawyer Member

    Rachel, thanks for the attempt to boost my self-esteem. I’m a boomer and have been ashamed of our stewardship of both culture and government for a long time. I have asked many of my fellows how they feel about California’s schools going from best in USA to worst during our adulthood and have yet to encounter one who even remotely has a sense of responsibility for this or anything else. I’m only one person, but I am ashamed of myself.

    • #14
    • November 30, 2015, at 4:24 PM PST
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  15. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    When they say “Greatest Generation” I am pretty sure they aren’t talking about their parenting skills.

    Anyway, if you want a fun read about Baby Boomers, try this one.

    • #15
    • November 30, 2015, at 4:26 PM PST
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  16. Annefy Member

    Retail Lawyer:Rachel, thanks for the attempt to boost my self-esteem. I’m a boomer and have been ashamed of our stewardship of both culture and government for a long time. I have asked many of my fellows how they feel about California’s schools going from best in USA to worst during our adulthood and have yet to encounter one who even remotely has a sense of responsibility for this or anything else. I’m only one person, but I am ashamed of myself.

    Hand up.

    When I speak with my sisters, brothers and friends about this I refer to it as the period “while we were sleeping”.

    • #16
    • November 30, 2015, at 4:28 PM PST
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  17. Annefy Member

    Look Away:OOH, the poor millennials, the first generation to be put upon, at least in their own minds. There is a reason that they talk about the lowest percentage of the population employed for 35 years, that is because it was even lower in the aftermath of the Carter years, when I graduated college. The result of two oil shocks, and stagflation from LBJs guns and butter spending in the 1960s, racial unrest, the humiliation of the Viet Nam war; the economy and the Country’s psyche was in the tank. Because Carter “suddenly” discovered the Russian threat, my ROTC commitment went from 90 days active duty to 4 years and unlike many of my ROTC counterparts on scholarship I got none, but served the same commitment they did. Life is not fair.

    Upon leaving the military, I could not find a job for 18 months. When I applied to be a bank teller, I was told that banks did not hire men for that role. I went back to graduate school with a watered down GI Bill, For every two bucks I put in, Uncle Sam gave me $1. Compare that with current benefits.

    • snip

    Why did our lives turn around? Ronald Wilson Reagan gave us hope, optimism and a sense of purpose. Millennials, find your own Reagan and your life will improve like our did.

    I LOVE this. You will be quoted …

    • #17
    • November 30, 2015, at 4:32 PM PST
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  18. Profile Photo Member

    Zafar:

    Judithann Campbell:It should be remembered that many if not most members of the Greatest Generation grew up very poor, and that made them more sympathetic to welfare programs, understandably. It is very easy for us to look back on those times from our comfortable middle class perches and criticize GGs for choosing “comfort” over rugged individualism. The fact remains: they knew far more about rugged individualism than most of us ever will. We embrace it in theory: they lived it.

    Do you think you romanticise it in a way that they did not?

    Romanticise what? :) Rugged Individualism? I am very conservative socially, but am not opposed to welfare programs the way most conservatives seem to be. I don’t think that I am romanticising rugged individualism, but some conservatives do. And some of those who do have absolutely no personal experience with rugged individualism. I do think that such conservatives romanticise rugged individualism in a way that many who have actually lived it don’t.

    • #18
    • November 30, 2015, at 4:36 PM PST
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  19. Vectorman Thatcher

    Look Away:…..

    My first mortgage of $40,000 had a interest rate of 15.65%. Our payment was 55% of our monthly after-tax take home pay.

    Why did our lives turn around? Ronald Wilson Reagan gave us hope, optimism and a sense of purpose. Millennials, find your own Reagan and your life will improve like our did.

    I’m slightly older, but I can confirm it wasn’t all peaches and cream. I had to endure simultaneous construction during my grade school, junior high, and high school, without the benefit of those facilities. Due to the Vietnam war, the university implemented a lottery system for entry, resulting in a 50% larger freshman class than expected, putting pressure on teachers to flunk out the extra. Graduation was after the 1973 Arab Oil embargo so recruiters on campus were not hiring, even for Magna Cum Laude students in STEM. After graduate school, my first company hired the biggest incoming group, putting pressure to survive and slowing down promotions. Like you, my first house had a 14% interest rate due to Jimmy Carter.

    After proving myself in two successful (but stressful) startup companies in the 1980’s, I hit 40 years old, the proverbial limit for “creative” (i.e., young, low cost, malleable) engineering, so it was tough going even in the 1990’s, with layoffs occurring about every 5 years. Without my wife working, we would have survived, but not like the easier life of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

    • #19
    • November 30, 2015, at 4:58 PM PST
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  20. Jim Beck Member

    Evening Rachel Lu,

    I would suggest that the Boomer Generation was as destructive as has been characterized. My wife and I were born in 1947, she near Oxford, England, I in Indianapolis. We and the rest of the boomers were not an exceptionally poor crop of individuals but we as a group did reject the values and morals of our parents. We thought we were morally superior to our parents, and that we understood the true values of life. Our poor parents, as we thought, were not just squares but shallow people chasing status and comfort. Our impact was unfortunately greater than the teens of earlier generations. The affluence of the times, our parents indulgence, and the new post war culture gave teens a magnified influence in popular life. Perhaps we were the first teen generation who because of TV and radio came to be a rather homogenized group. Our models for our beliefs and behaviors were each other, not our parents. Because we had disposable money, we increasingly shaped music and TV, which in turn made “teenie bopper the new born king”. We began the infantalization of culture as companies directed their ads to the young and in politics, politicians directed their policies toward the young. In the public arena the boomers were not informed that their morality was a cheap self righteousness and not a mature understanding based on life’s lessons. The boomers were unfortunate to have too much free time, too much money, too little responsibility.

    • #20
    • November 30, 2015, at 5:01 PM PST
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  21. Bob Thompson Member

    What makes anyone think where we are is a result of generational influences? One hundred years of Progressives getting their way, sometimes getting more than at other times, and getting plenty of help from those of us not really cognizant of the essence of what was happening. Lots and lots of complaining would be one of the most encouraging indicators that we may be approaching a tipping point. Could it be?

    • #21
    • November 30, 2015, at 5:04 PM PST
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  22. Doug Watt Moderator

    What a bummer, discovering that hanging out at the local anarchist coffee shop with that big poster of Che isn’t going to pay the bills. It’s tough to wake up in the middle of the night realizing that mom and dad are going to pass away and when the house is sold the new owner isn’t going to let you continue living in the basement, and with a big sigh you rollover and gaze at your girlfriend, you know the one who looks like she fell face first into a tackle box.

    • #22
    • November 30, 2015, at 5:09 PM PST
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  23. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu

    Bryan G. Stephens:Millinials? What about X-ers? We were bashing the Boomers when they had not been born!

    Kids today!

    Hey, I’m your co-generationalist, so I sympathize. But frankly, we probably should rename ourselves “the Forgotten Generation”. It’s always “Boomers! Millennials! Boomers! Millennials!” Nobody cares what we think.

    • #23
    • November 30, 2015, at 5:18 PM PST
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  24. Songwriter Member
    Songwriter Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Hoyacon:

    MarciN:Baby boomers: born 1946 through 1964.

    Have the goalposts been moved on this over time? It appears that these are the popular dates among demographers, but I’ve always thought that the backend was several years earlier. An 18 year range for a post WWII boom seems rather generous.

    My father was a WWII vet. The oldest of his five kids was born in 1949. The youngest in 1962. We all consider ourselves Boomers. I think they base those dates on how long the GGs were having kids.

    • #24
    • November 30, 2015, at 5:20 PM PST
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  25. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu

    I have a theory though: while the Boomers and Millennials are quibbling about who matters more, who’s more entitled, who’s more picked on… Gen X can quietly take over the world. We’re already poised for it.

    • #25
    • November 30, 2015, at 5:20 PM PST
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  26. Z in MT Inactive

    The Fourth Turning is an excellent book about generational demography.

    I am a late GenX’er that was born to parents from the heart of the Boomers. I don’t blame the Boomers, but overall the biggest problem that the Boomer generation has is that they emphasize consumption over saving and built up debt during the bad times rather than tightening the belt.

    • #26
    • November 30, 2015, at 5:25 PM PST
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  27. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Rachel Lu:I have a theory though: while the Boomers and Millennials are quibbling about who matters more, who’s more entitled, who’s more picked on… Gen X can quietly take over the world. We’re already poised for it.

    Eh, the more prosaic explanation – that Millennials are Boomers’ kids (or in some cases, grandkids), and so are very used to being told by Boomers what rotten kids they’ve turned out to be, are just retaliating in the logical way:

    If we’re such rotten kids and you raised us, then what does that make you?

    • #27
    • November 30, 2015, at 5:27 PM PST
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  28. Zafar Member

    Judithann Campbell:Romanticise what? :) Rugged Individualism? I am very conservative socially, but am not opposed to welfare programs the way most conservatives seem to be. I don’t think that I am romanticising rugged individualism, but some conservatives do. And some of those who do have absolutely no personal experience with rugged individualism. I do think that such conservatives romanticise rugged individualism in a way that many who have actually lived it don’t.

    That was my question.

    I need to work on making my editorial ‘you’ clear. Perhaps use ‘one’ instead?

    • #28
    • November 30, 2015, at 5:39 PM PST
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  29. iDad Inactive

    I’m a Boomer, born in 1951. I have repeatedly apologized to my son for what my generation has done and continues to do to the United States.

    As a group, we are a selfish, self-righteous,arrogant, undisciplined, ignorant, shallow lot, and the failings of Gen X and the Millennials is in significant part our doing. And we can’t blame our shortcomings on the effects of having to live through a depression then fighting (and winning) the greatest war.

    • #29
    • November 30, 2015, at 5:58 PM PST
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  30. Hoyacon Member

    iDad:As a group, we are a selfish, self-righteous,arrogant, undisciplined, ignorant, shallow lot, and the failings of Gen X and the Millennials is in significant part our doing.

    This strikes me as a rather harsh indictment. I, for one, am not undisciplined.

    • #30
    • November 30, 2015, at 6:06 PM PST
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