No Minister

Ok Boomer!

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When Green MP Chloe Swarbrick unloaded this line in our Parliament last year a lot of people were suddenly woke to a debate that, while still largely unknown, has been slowly growing louder about the future that awaits the generations of the Millennials (also called Gen Y), Gen Z, and whoever follows them – especially in contrast to the Baby Boomers.

Nobody gives a shit about Gen X’rs, including fights over whether the start and end tails of our generation are Boomers or Millennials respectively. As usual it’s less about birth years and more about core cultural experiences.

For a start, the end of the alphabet has been reached, so what’s next in naming? Probably something related to software and Apps: Gen 21.2 is my suggestion, honouring this century and the second generation to be born in it, although I see Wikipedia has already jumped on Gen Alpha.

Whatever. As far as the MSM are concerned Climate Change seems to be the main bugaboo that these generations will face, but I don’t think that will be the case at all.

No, the biggest fights are going to revolve around somewhat more mundane and practical things, particularly the welfare state and economy established by the generation of WWII and The Slump (nauseatingly labeled “The Greatest Generation” by US Boomers) to cushion their offspring from the vicissitudes of war and recession, which was then modified by the Boomers themselves.

The most obvious modification, at least here in New Zealand, was the period of Rogernomics, starting in 1984.

I always found it amusing that the Left, who had wet themselves with joy in the late 60’s/early 70’s over the “Youf” rising up to smash the old conservative nostrums of NZ with regard to music, sex, drugs, the military and so forth, became so angry and horrified at how the same generation (including some of the same people) decided to smash up Old Zealand’s economic structures some fifteen years later.

It’s so typical of revolutions that they don’t just stop at smashing up the things you hate, but also the things you love. You’d think after the French and Russian Revolutions that lesson would have been learned on the Left.

And so it is with Chris Trotter, who sees dark portents ahead in Changing The Climate – One RNZ Broadcast At A Time:

A telling example of RNZ’s determination to set the political climate was broadcast on the public broadcaster’s Checkpoint programme of Wednesday, 26 February 2020, in which RNZ reporter, Nita Blake-Persen, secured prime placement for her story “NZ Super costs up as NZ retirees on $100k passes 30,000”.

It is difficult to assign any other motive for producing this sort of story than a desire to fan the flames of intergenerational warfare. Singling out high income-earners over 65 (whose annual contribution to the IRD, based on a minimum salary of $100,000 is a bracing $23,920!) was certainly inflammatory.

Ms Blake-Persen’s analysis also hints strongly that the abandonment of the universalist principles underpinning NZ Superannuation may have to be accepted as unavoidable collateral damage in the aforesaid war between the generations.

And of course uber-neo-liberal, David Farrar, chimed in as well with, This is why NZ Super should be means tested. Needless to say there was a fair bit of pushback in that Kiwiblog thread, especially those who noted the same thing Trotter did, which was that the tax paid by a person on $100k/annum income, plus the tax paid on their Super, meant they were actually still net givers to the system.

The Actuary giveth – and the Actuary taketh away. Thus does the magic of “universalist principles” operate in practice.

But here’s the really bad news. You know all those young people, Millennials and Gen Z’s, who are slowly trending towards Socialism? The sort who elected Corbyn to leadership of the British Labour Party; the sort who are powering Bernie Sanders (supposedly) to victory in the Democrat Party nomination?

Well it’s not so much that they’re angry with capitalism for screwing them over; they’re angry with Baby Boomers who they think got the long straw when it comes to wages vs. house prices, and single-income families vs. the almost absolute need for double-incomes, and even having a family of more than one designer child at all, plus other things.

I have children ranging from teens to early twenties and to read the online forums they play in is to find that they and their peers hate Baby Boomers. I mean they really fucking loath them to a degree I don’t think even Boomers reached in their protests against their WWII parents. “OK Boomer” is merely the politest tip of the iceberg. And this is not located just to NZ but covers their friends across the English-speaking world. So Trotter is right to be concerned, but it’s too late.

For example, here’s a blog article from the US by Jack Baruth, that captures this pretty well, Boomer-Os Killed The Summer Job Star, where the writer – a Gen Xr (hence the song title reference) – takes on the complaints about the young folk in a seperate article by one Eric Chester, Baby Boomer. You really should read the whole thing, plus the comments, not least because I didn’t find this: my kids did.

Eric mournfully writes about the vanishing of his childhood job as a paperboy, circa 1967. It’s worth reading for the response to that alone because it’s about a lot more than economics. But Baruth then identifies where Eric would have been later on in life:

He was thirty years old in 1987. Let’s say he bought an index fund. It’s worth ten times what it was then. Let’s say he bought real estate in Ohio. It’s worth as much as ten times what he paid. If he bought real estate in Calfornia — or Denver, where he lives — perhaps it’s worth twenty times what it was then. Every single economic policy change since about 1990 has had two primary effects:

  • lowered real wages through increased labor market participation and/or lowered demand for labor;
  • increased the value of fixed assets or investment instruments

In other words, if you were “holding” in 1987, when the oldest Boomers were forty and the youngest were twenty-five, you’re golden now. If you were just starting your career in 1987, you were racing against time. If you’re starting today, the deck has been stacked against you higher than you’ll ever clear.

Want to live the middle-class life of 1975? Better hope your IPO nets you ten million bucks. The wealthiest of the Baby Boomers deliberately created a world in which they’d pay less for the things they wanted (employees, labor, televisions) while being paid more for the things they owned (real estate, index funds, 1959 Les Pauls, 1985 Porsche 911s). It was a hell of a trick, wasn’t it?

The latest two generations simply do not believe that US society will be there for them in their old age with Medicare and Social Security – and much the same thinking is happening here in NZ.

They know that “universalism” does not beat actuarial tables and declining worker/retiree ratios. They also know they can’t win politically at the moment.

But in ten years time, let alone twenty?

And despite Chris Trotter (with fear) and DPF (with triumph) both thinking this is some final win for neo-liberalism, Jack Baruth throws cold water on that notion while also explaining that the Bernie/AOC phenomena is not going to be destroyed even if Trump wipes the floor with Bernie in this year’s US election:

Eric Chester looks at the hellscape generated by his generation and what he sees is that there aren’t any more paperboys. I look at it and I have serious concerns. I note that support for explicitly socialist government is growing by leaps and bounds. Some of my friends think this is because the Millennials are stupid. “Don’t they know that they won’t be the people who benefit from a communist government?” This is what I think the proto-socialists have figured out:

  • In the event of a Red Revolution in this country, they have a very slim chance of becoming part of the nomenklatura who have power, real estate, and freedom to determine their own lives.
  • If there is no Red Revolution, they have precisely zero chance of ever owning a home, saving for retirement, or starting a traditional family.

This is where the situation in our country becomes dangerous. As long as there is some chance of succeeding in the current state of affairs, people will generally play along. If you take away all of their hope, they have nothing to lose. Talk about bread lines and mending old clothes doesn’t frighten people who have already internalized the fact that they will be earning close to starvation wages for their entire lives. This is particularly true if they have no children who would be at risk. It’s a roll of the dice for them and things can only come up better.

All rather apocalyptic, no? Western societies have skirted this sort of thing before: bribing off with the welfare state any potential revolutionaries who might jump to Fascism and Communism?

The trouble is that the welfare state was looking decidely shaky even before the great “neo-liberal” events of Reagan, Thatcher and Douglas in the 1980’s.

And Baruth focuses on the idea that it’s about hope as much as anything practical or factual:

Very few people in my generation grew up screaming “EAT THE RICH” and stuff like that. We figured we had a chance to be the rich, even if things might not be as easy for us as they’d been for our parents. The twenty-five-year-olds of today no longer think they have any chance — and they live in an echo chamber of $25-per-article bloggers who screech night and day about the potential benefits of violent economic redistribution.

Interestingly one solution he sees is something that will occur naturally: death and inheritance – and based on the discussions I see, the Gen-Y/Z cohort are already there in planning.

I just don’t know if that can happen soon enough for them.

Written by Tom Hunter

March 1, 2020 at 6:00 pm

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