Boomer and bust

So, we’re in the midst of the worst financial crisis of our life times.  It’s shaking the foundations of the world we know.  And we’re also in the first 100 days of an administration that works from a perspective we can understand.  And we’re entering the astrological age of Aquarius.

The boomers have dominated our world, our culture, our economy, and our ideology for the past 40 years.  Suddenly their giant frat party has imploded and the minority calling for sanity, justice, equality, progressive politics are starting to be heard.

Ok, it’s not the revolution.  And yes, I am totally idealizing this moment.  But after growing up under mainstream boomer ideology, it feels like a dramatic shift.

I’m a pragmatist, so while I longed for liberal ideals to be the norm, I’m afraid that once out of my 20s, I have not been proactive in agitating for them. I gave in to the belief that the interests of the system were too powerful to change.  But now the system has collapsed under its own weight.  And even guru Greenspan has admitted that short-term greed in fact triumphed over the market’s long-term need to sustain itself.

I take no pleasure in watching the disintegration of this economy and the sweeping impact it is having on friends, family, neighbors, communities etc.  We are all touched by this. But part of me is dying to run back to a whole group of boomers and ask them how they feel about watching the world they shaped disintegrate before their eyes.  To see their wealth melt away.  To see younger generations look askance at the destruction they have wrought economically, environmentally and socially.  I would never have predicted this crisis, and yet somehow I feel entitled to say “I told you so.”

As a teenager in the 1980s, I remember arguing vehemently with my parents and their friends about everything from blood sports to the welfare state to poverty to race etc.  And being dismissed.  I watched Thatcher dismantle the public sector and privatize what seemed impossible.  Could you really privatize gas and electric? Everyone needs these resources.  Why have a private company deliver them for profit when you can have a public utility deliver them at a lower cost?  I watched the ordinary British become a nation of shareholders.  I remember thinking I would never buy shares.  It just seemed wrong to make money for doing nothing.  (As a side note, I have never directly purchased shares although I do of course contribute to a pension fund. And I’m not so opposed to the idea now.)

Ok, so my views expanded.  I understand how this all works.  And yet at this moment in history, it is interesting to see that some of those questions and that resistance to market forces feels justified.  Continental Europe is fascinating.  When you have a slow growing, slightly stagnant economy with high unemployment, it turns out you don’t have so far to fall.  When I lived in France in the early ‘90s, my partner and I wanted to buy a house.  We were stunned to find that we needed to save with the bank for several years and have a massive deposit before we could buy some incredibly cheap home.  No subprime crisis there.

And suddenly Washington is talking about healthcare and the environment and global dialogue.  I know every political career ends in tears and Obama’s will be no different.  But, even though January 20 seems like a lifetime ago, it feels like a huge victory to have a Gen-Xer in the White House.

And the boomers. I want to say to them – you really f-ed up.  You had the greatest resources and opportunities and you squandered them.  And now we have to clean up.

17 responses to “Boomer and bust”

  1. Rachel says:

    This schadenfreude would be a lot more enjoyable if our all parents’ retirement savings hadn’t just evaporated as if it had never been. Can’t you already see them eyeing the guest room?

  2. Stella says:

    Scary. Thank goodness I only have a one-bedroom apt.

    And less schadenfreude than indignation.

  3. Adriana says:

    Wow, well put. I didn’t read schadenfreude in this post, more outrage and disappointment.

    I wonder if our generation is different *enough*–or if, once the economy stabilizes a little, we’ll go back to making the same easy, short-sighted choices? Do we have the fortitude? Do we know what that is?

  4. Scotty says:

    “I remember thinking I would never buy shares. It just seemed wrong to make money for doing nothing.”

    As I watch the “crisis” go down, I wonder over and over again who will stand up and have the courage to question capitalism (defined as using capital to generate more capital, and so on) itself. Our current system is not what Adam Smith, Alexander Hamilton, Henry Ford, or other earlier proponents had envisioned.

    The generation and transference of electronic capital, which dwarfs the buying and selling of actual goods and services in the world economy, threatens to drag civil society down with it. I say a revolution (defined as allowing the system to collapse) though incredibly painful is in order. I know it’s scary to think about, but what’s the other option? Eternal servitude to a postmodern system that creates nothing, but threatens our physical wellbeing. It’s totally F-U-C-K-E-D.

  5. Robert says:

    A GenXer in the White House? What? I thought 1964 was the final year of Boomerdom. All these years I’ve been laboring under the delusion that I’m a Boomer when I’m actually a GenXer? This is big news.

  6. I’m with Robert. I don’t know when GenX starts but 61 seems too early. I’m born in 1970 and always thought of myself as fairly close to the beginning of that generation — people started using the term in my senior year of HS.

  7. lane says:

    umm. . . yeah i got to go with Robert here. Obama is tail end boomer.

    I hate being stuck behind the boomers. All that nostalgia, everything in life is defined as being ‘just behind the party’

    Disco, too young.

    Free Love, AIDS.

    go-go 80’s, Bush I recession.

    They had John Lennon, I had Kurt Cobain.

    “Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind”

    indeed.

  8. Stella says:

    Ok, the years are fuzzy, but I think culturally he’s a GenXer.

  9. Rogan says:

    Discussing these themes has been the ongoing conversation that brings every family reunion to the brink of disaster, and then we manage to hug it out before all hell breaks loose. We’ll start with politics in general, and then I can never help myself and I lay all of the world’s problems at the feet of the baby boomers. I say, “It started with a good effort in the sixties, with consciousness building and political radicalism, but all of that idealism got lost in a crowd that was mostly there for the free drugs, sex, and counter-culture as fashion. It was those fashionistas who went on to murder their prophets and then give us the polyester leisure suit , disco, cocaine cowboys, the savings and loan disaster, Reaganism, endless war, the reemergence of American mercenary culture (Blackwater anyone?), etc.” My dad would get pissed and respond, “The Baby Boomers have navigated this world, and especially America, through the longest period of prosperity building across all classes that the world has ever seen.” I never had the perfect rejoinder for that one… until now.

  10. E&R's Papa says:

    I’m in Robert’s cohort, and have to say to the true GenXers that it’s much worse to come along right after the Boomers.

    My whole life and professional career I’ve been just a bit too late, watching as opportunities disappear, doors slam, and resources dry up right after the Boomers finished their devastating march. Like most of the whatsitters, E&R’s Daddy is ten years younger and thus accustomed to GenX bleakness, without the added irritation of having arrived in time to see the party just as it ended.

  11. Rachel says:

    OK, so schadenfreude isn’t quite the right word–but there must be a useful German noun to describe the feeling evoked by this part of your post:

    –But part of me is dying to run back to a whole group of boomers and ask them how they feel about watching the world they shaped disintegrate before their eyes.  To see their wealth melt away.  To see younger generations look askance at the destruction they have wrought economically, environmentally and socially.  I would never have predicted this crisis, and yet somehow I feel entitled to say “I told you so.”–

  12. Jane says:

    “And the boomers. I want to say to them – you really f-ed up.”

    You tell ’em.

  13. LP says:

    “And suddenly Washington is talking about healthcare and the environment and global dialogue.” Just like in 1992, when Bill Clinton got elected, ending 12 years of Republican destruction.

    “And the boomers. I want to say to them – you really f-ed up.” I’d insert “Republicans” here. Not all boomers were greedheads, and many are now suffering far more than we gen-xers are.

  14. PB says:

    OK so I am going to be alone here – the one that sits in the back of the party and gets pointed at.

    Let me first announce that I am the mystery generation – not quite boomer, not quite genX so maybe that is my problem.

    It seems to me that most of the boomers I know were just folks trying to get by, day after day at a job they were fiercely loyal to, in a house were they mowed the lawn, raising kids they thought would have more opportunities than they did and didn’t. The people messing things up are those in power – the same way that people with too much money and power have been messing things up since the dawning of time. Civilizations rise and fall, go to war and kick down their walls according to what about 1/8% of the population decides. Is it really fair to malign a generation? Especially when to Rachel’s point they are often suffering at a time when they imagined they would be playing golf and growing petunias.

    I get what your saying, we do need a “come to Jesus” moment where we face our own collective hubris and start anew. But most of the people I know who were buying crazy gigantic stupid houses on three dollars and a paperclip were in their 30’s. Maybe the puppeteers were born in the boomer years – but without the recession – there would have been a new crop of young greedy powermongers to carry on.

    I’m just saying . . . in the words of Simon, “I have seen the beast and it is us.”

  15. Stella says:

    Yes, the majority are regular folks trying to get along and maybe my generalizations are really about the affluent classes who were so confident that their worldview which tended to be right of center was the only reasonable one.

  16. farrell fawcett says:

    #9: “polyester leisure suit, disco, cocaine cowboys.” Seriously, someone has a problem with these things?

  17. PB says:

    Stella – Actually I think the generalization makes your point very well – I did not mean to nitpick – only state the obvious for the benefit of discussion.

    And Farrell – perhaps it wasn’t just the leisure suit but those rayon printed shirts with oversized collars, those were UG-ly even then. I much preferred the pastel suit with the cooooool t-shirt underneath.