Happy new year!
Today the oldest baby boomers turn sixty-one and enter their seventh decade. Austin Ruse last year summarized their influence:
What we will say about the passing of the boom, contra their own self-adulation, is that they were a decidely mixed bag who had an outsized and largely negative influence on all of our institutions. Much of our cultural work [against the culture of death] is to repair the deep damage they have done.
It doesn't take a lot of imagination to blame this self-indulgent generation for so many of our modern ills.1 Even their continued existence is societally deleterious. How? Social security, etc. are pyramid schemes that only work when there are more workers to pay into the system than retirees to cash out. The boomers failed to uphold their part of the implicit inter-generational contract (Social Security blunted the natural motivation). They dallied in an extended adolescence and failed to raise a comparably-sized generation of successors. The November 21 American Conservative featured two excellent cover articles on the way the oldsters haven't pulled their own weight: they now drain more and more resources from the economy and make it harder for the younger generation to attain the financial footing necessary to settle down and raise families (further aggravating the inverted population pyramid of fewer youngsters than oldsters). The boomers have effectively enslaved younger generations via the welfare state.
And let's not forget that the boomers are the generation most responsible for the egotistical syndrome of "generational consciousness," in which each generation self-consciously names itself in distinction from its elders. This misbegotten legacy is one reason Gen-Xers have psychological complexes over their lack of a similar generational identity. And let's not forget the reverberations in the subsequent Generation-Y... followed by "Generation Why-not".
But to be fair, previous generations had something of a generational consciousness, e.g. the lost generation. And let's not forget the role that state-run indoctrination (as opposed to parent-run education) had in separating each generation from its predicessors.
Well and good: the boomers a baneful cultural influence. What's discussed less often is what made the boomers what they are. Quantitatively: contrary to popular mythology, the baby boom did not stem from an increase in birth rate, but from a decrease in infant mortality.2 Qualitatively: the boomers are such self-centered people because their parents—the so-called "greatest generation"— spoiled them rotten.
How did this happen? It goes back to a misconception of wealth. We Americans have a tendency to see wealth in exclusively material terms: as money or physical resources. We forget about the immaterial resources that it takes to acquire material resources, such as legal, educational, and social organization. What impoverishes the poor is not so much their lack of money, but the disorder that defeats their ability to marshall any resources effectively. I used to visit weekly a family in a South Bronx housing project, and the most striking thing was not their lack of resources, but the ease with which they either broke or misplaced anything I gave them. It is for this reason that money transfers aren't enough to raise a people out of poverty. (People need education, and before education they need a sense of the overriding value of education.)
Along these lines, the boomers' parents wanted to give them "everything" and misconceived "everything" as purely material. But it wasn't exclusively their parents. Before the war children's products were universally advertised to parents; after the war, advertisers no longer abstained from targeting young people directly.3 The boomers, lacking a strong education in virtue, were powerless to resist the lures of materialism. With such moral poverty, with the consequent egoism, it would be surprising were there not a war of the old and the rich on the poor and the young.
Today the oldest baby boomers enter their seventh decade. If the total life expectancy is 75, their numbers will begin to drop precipitously in another fifteen years or so. Another year down.
Happy new year!
1. This moribund blog may be of interest: Boomer Death Watch.
One need only look at our last two Presidents to get some idea of quality of the boomers. Clinton couldn't keep you-know-what in his pants. Bush can't keep the federal budget in the black or our miltary servicemen in the country (long enough to keep their families from splitting under the stress). No self-control.
3. From a Touchstone article of a couple years ago. Will post reference here once found.
Pavel Kohout, "The Old Country," The American Conservative (November 21, 2005).