Confessions of a Boomer

To be born a Baby Boomer has meant that — from elementary school to retirement parties — everything has been crowded in a messy, but hopeful way. We’ve had healthy self-esteem because all our lives we’ve been important to everyone from politicians to advertisers. Now that those retirement parties are reaching 10,000 per day, however, some folks are not so happy to have us around.

It pains me to have young people complaining about selfish Boomers. The complaint is fair in some ways and un…

  1. TKC1101

    Americans adapt. When the great society replaced the extended family we adapted, in many ways to our cultural and spiritual detriment. The extended family will return and Americans will adapt.

  2. Yeah...ok.

    It should not pain you to hear young people complain about anything.

  3. MBF
    Merina Smith: My economist son, still young and idealistic, is disgusted with both parties this election because they can’t tell the truth about entitlements to Boomers, who vote in high numbers. 

    I’m pretty much in the same boat, but my disgust is directed towards American voters, of all generations.

    Watching these debates, it becomes clear that neither party can be seen, even remotely, advocating for an increased burden (higher taxes or lower benefits) on anything resembling the “middle class.”

    You can’t get elected promising cuts to anything, not even clear bloat and waste in useless agencies like Education and Transportation. There is always a hard luck story, somewhere, that trumps all rational cost benefit analysis.

    In the end, I am extremely pessimistic that anything will be fixed prior to the moment when the debt or inflationary crisis hits us in the face.

  4. Merina Smith

    TCK–I think you’re right–Americans adapt, but Mark maybe right that they don’t adapt until they have to.  Still, the tradition is that you don’t tell people the bad stuff while campaigning. Afterwards, if they’re skilled enough and are mixing good and bad, they can make the case for some sacrifice.  For example, if Romney and Ryan take 6 months or so and get hiring going again, then they’d have some cred to take on some of these other problems in a serious way.  Yeah…ok,  whether or not it should pain me, it does.  I can’t tell if you say this because you are old, young, or in-between or just generally a skeptic. 

  5. Rachel Lu

    Let me first say that you are one of the good Boomers. :) You never bought into the overpopulation nonsense or the divorce culture. You contributed five competent, healthy adults and are still willing to talk about compromises that will enable old and young alike to survive and thrive. If all Boomers were like you, things would be fine! But they’re not. I find that many Boomers get positively bitter when people even talk about scaling back entitlements. Many have little or no sympathy with the young. (“We never had all those fancy gadgets that you kids think you need, so stop whining and get a job.”) And note that while politicians “slant” the truth (though I think that’s a little generous at times), they don’t make much effort to do that for us. It’s Boomers, always the Boomers, who get flattered and cajoled and catered to, and it’s hardly surprising that this creates some bitterness in the smaller and less-courted generations. I think it would be naive to suppose that it’s only rhetoric that’s geared towards appeasing sub a massive voting block. (Cont)

  6. Schrodinger
    “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”
    Winston Churchill


    I would like to believe this still applies, but I fear the decades of progressive educational rot has changed the culture of America significantly. As a boomer, I know that what and how I was taught bears little resemblance to what is taught today. Sacrifice is a virtue expected of others. Self-sacrifice has been largely derided by a secular society.

  7. Rachel Lu

    I’m also fairly unwilling to buy that the failure to produce a substantial next generation merely shows that Boomers were victims of circumstance. Seems to me that it’s fairly easy to persuade people to take on less parenting responsibility and enjoy a higher standard of living instead –which is mostly what the Boomers did. Their parents didn’t have it as good, and their kids won’t either. As for buying into the divorce culture — that’s not a sign of selfishness? It seems to me that Boomers have as much to answer for on that front as any other. BUT, having said all these unpleasant things, I would like to say that the Boomers aren’t all bad by any means! They elected Reagan and largely oversaw an economic boom. They’re used to taking charge, and they’re currently in a position to provide some great insight and leadership in a time of change, but they have to be persuaded that the effort is big necessary and obligatory on their part. A lot aren’t too interested, which is one reason I’m occasionally hard on them as a generation, but perhaps we could agree to unite our efforts in persuading generations to compromise? :)

  8. Rachel Lu

    Sorry for those few typos… I’m typing on a phone, which incidentally doesn’t seem to be able to handle the “edit” function.

  9. Merina Smith

    I do have some Boomer friends who are in pretty bad financial shape, mostly because of improvidence, but it’s always complicated. They’d be pretty concerned about any cut in benefits because they have no retirement savings and have lost their houses.  I think they are the ones whose benefits will not be cut, however.  My friends who are well off–and there are many of them–are willing to pitch in to save the country.

  10. Richard Finlay

    I am a leading-edge Boomer.  I grew up never believing that Social Security would be around when I got as old as I am now.  I am mildly surprised that it has not collapsed yet, but will be surprised again if it outlives me.  Well, I may be beyond surprise it that happens.

    What irks me, though, is the supposition that the Boomers are the clear beneficiaries of all these entitlements.  Even if we give the Depression/WWII generations a pass, there is another (half-) generation in between them and us.  There was a birth-dearth just ahead of the boom.  Those who were kids during WWII grew up in the postwar  time when there was great prosperity and little competition for jobs/promotions. They were relieved of responsibility of supporting their parents by SS (and, later, Medicare), were able to retire early and live affluently if they had pensions or savings.  They are the ones who pitched the lefty, hippy, entitlement culture to us young boomers, and succeeded with too many of my cohort.  My “classmates” just followed the piper to some degree.

  11. Richard Finlay

    I grant that my wife and I are not typical.  We have lived well below our means in order to fund our own retirement.  The prospect of significant inflation destroying our savings in order to relieve the indebtedness of our own generation and the following generations who are over their heads in debt may yet lead to significant bitterness.  At least the kids are launched without significant unsecured debt, so there’s that.

  12. Deborah Shey

    I second what Richard Finlay said. I am in the same boat. I also think that the Boomers, because of the size of our group, are affecting all aspects of the entitlement programs, the financial products, the medical programs,  the long term insurance programs, senior housing programs; basically all the costs of supporting a huge aging population.  We are the cause of many looming problems just by our sheer size and expectations. We are also the cause of many looming solutions to those problems by creative producers of goods and services. I personally am in a space that is neither optimistic nor pessimistic–rather, cautiously watchful and hopeful, because I’ve always loved my age group for what it has gone through. We were the group that had one foot in the past and one foot in the future more than any group before us. We had so many changes thrown at us in such a short time that we became very good at adapting to all the changes. I think that makes us very wise and kind. And, worth it.

  13. Pat in Obamaland

    We need growth. More than reducing the deficit, more than any issues about traditional marriage, and more than, yes, even our foreign engagements, the moral issue of our time is economic growth.

    Our society is so structure (with entitlements) that we are locked into a model (perhaps unfairly referred to as a ponzi scheme) that requires economic and population growth to sustain. We have taken our eyes off that ball. Content with feel-good environmentalism, political corporatism, and arcane one-size-fits-all labor laws, we are vastly underperforming our potential. And growth is exponential.

    If we want to provide for the elderly, the sick, and the poor without sticking the unborn with the bill, we need to be able to pay for it. As they say, you can’t draw blood from a stone. If we don’t grow, we’re doomed.

  14. Joseph Stanko
    Merina Smith: 

     our plans to work longer to recoup these losses earn us resentment from young people desperate for jobs. 

    So I’d like to ask Ricochet readers—what are the solutions to these problems? How can we avoid generational warfare? 

    For starters we need to hammer home again and again the point that economics is not a zero-sum game.  There is not a fixed-size pool of jobs that the generations must fight over.

    In a healthy economy, more people creates more demand for houses, food, health care, cars, and so on.  That creates opportunities for new businesses to start and existing enterprises to expand and hire more workers.

    The problems start when government regulations make the cost of hiring new works exceed their incremental value to the company: minimum wage + payroll taxes + mandatory benefits (like when employers must buy birth control for their employees) = high unemployment.

  15. Illiniguy
    It pains me to have young people complaining about selfish Boomers. The complaint is fair in some ways and unfair in others. Most programs that are now insolvent were started by our parents’ generation and have more or less worked for them, because there were so many of us working to pay the bill…In general, however, birth rates plummet as the standard of living rises — which is to say that Boomers are not more or less selfish than other generations, but that our place in history has resulted in fewer births and a subsequent generational squeeze.

    Our standard of living rises, we have fewer children, you expect entitlement programs to be there just because you paid a small fraction into them compared to what you’ll get out of them and you say we’re not more selfish?

    Well, ya know, nowhere in the Constitution or elsewhere are we given the unalienable right to retire at age 65. Our parents didn’t cause this mess, we did, because our entire generation took its cue from the great John Blutarsky:

    “Grab a brew. Don’t cost nothin’”.

  16. Merina Smith

    Well, yes, Illinguy, but most people don’t think these things through. They just accept the world they find and plan accordingly.  It was a mistake to start the entitlement programs, but you can’t exactly blame people for assuming they’d be there when that’s what they were told. 

  17. Amy Schley
    Merina Smith: Well, yes, Illinguy, but most people don’t think these things through. They just accept the world they find and plan accordingly.  It was a mistake to start the entitlement programs, but you can’t exactly blame people for assuming they’d be there when that’s what they were told.  · 10 minutes ago

    Does this apply for the Millennials and our job situation too? You know, “you can’t exactly blame [us] for assuming that [jobs'd] be there [after graduation] when that’s what [we] were told.”

    If not, why not?

  18. John Walker

    I am a boomer (a bit before the middle of the lump in the python), and an implacable optimist.  I believe there is no challenge we face today which cannot be surmounted by restoring the 6–7% economic growth per annum which characterises free societies unconstrained by sclerotic taxation and regulation.  Listen to the recent Uncommon Knowledge interview with George Gilder: don’t obsess on the debt but rather the asset side of the balance sheet.  If you can get that side growing exponentially (as happened between 1980 and 2000), you can service the debt and meet the obligations to retirees.

    We have seen the transformation of physical books, music recordings, and motion pictures into information which can be distributed on demand at the speed of light.  This is about to happen for stuff.  This is a far more profound change in the means of production than either of those 19th century beardos envisioned.

    The energy and material resources off-planet dwarf those in this gravity well, and private enterprise is finally opening access to them.  The human lifespan will probably double before the last boomers die.

    Freedom, immortality, and the stars!

  19. Chris Johnson

    I concur, with Richard Findlay, as well as Pat from Obamaland.

    Obama and I are considered Boomers, even though we were born in the 1960s.  Obama may be one, but I have nothing in common with the folks that attended Woodstock, while I was still wearing footy jammies.

    Here’s what Boomers can do: get the heck out of my way and everybody elses’.  We need to grow the economy.

    Here’s an example: the Eastern Gulf of Mexico (Florida), is rich in natural gas resources, not liquid petroleum.  We could drill that, create tens of thousands of jobs, the rigs would be gone after a couple of months, but Boomers and other retirees are so concerned about oil spills and blighted views from their retirement condos, it will never happen.  There is no oil out there, to speak of, but try explaining that to a Boomer.  Or a child educated by a Boomer.

    We spend close to a trillion a year, importing fuel.  It would help, if we spent that here.

  20. Illiniguy
    Merina Smith: Well, yes, Illinguy, but most people don’t think these things through. They just accept the world they find and plan accordingly.

    Again, you say people don’t think things through, yet you give them credit for planning. Expectation that things that now exist will always exist is not a plan.

    Merina Smith: It was a mistake to start the entitlement programs, but you can’t exactly blame people for assuming they’d be there when that’s what they were told.  · 47 minutes ago

    The mistake came when we failed to look at how the program was becoming more and more demographically unsustainable. There’s an old saying, “wish in one hand and (perform a bodily excretion) in the other, and see which fills up first”. Why should somebody else have to pay for our own refusal to confront reality? To quote from Atlas Shrugged: “When you’ll scream, ‘but I didn’t know it!’, you will not be forgiven”.

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