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The War Against The Young: Warning From Italy and Japan

The war on the young is led “by cadres of elderly men, content to manage decline” and exacerbated by younger generations, who don’t seem to know what’s going on or understand the gravity of the financial situation that will hit them in the future. Luke Johnson, writing in the FT, describes the Italian and Japanese version of this trend.

Neither country has renewed itself because vested interests have failed to take the tough decisions. Their traditional cultures have not caught up with modern lifestyles. The male bureaucrats, policymakers and bankers who run all the important institutions must be forced to take radical steps to unleash the energy and imagination of their young, because in both countries they are very pessimistic. Many cannot obtain the job security and standards of living their parents took for granted. Traditional employees enjoy cast-iron protections, so companies are reluctant to create such positions.  So, only temporary or part-time work is available for most newcomers to the workplace.  Consequently, young Japanese and Italians pursue increasingly cautious lifestyles.  Nearly 80 per cent of unmarried Japanese between the ages of 18 and 35 live with their parents.  The ratio is nearly as high in Italy.

Such unadventurous living means people do not grow up, and do not take risks – such as having children or starting a business. Meanwhile, their parents bask in comfortable retirement, busy consuming their considerable savings.

Both nations are burdened by weak leadership, over-regulation, feeble productivity growth and a lack of economic dynamism – despite plenty of natural ingenuity and ambition. It appears that the vitality of Italy and Japan is being sucked out of their cultures by deteriorating demographics, high taxes, the burden of caring for elderly relatives and a youthful cohort with a diminished sense of self-confidence or optimism.

The war on the young is most intense in countries (and, in the US, industries and states) which have the blue social model deeply embedded in their social institutions. It is an interesting struggle: these days, the young face serious trouble finding employment and will be saddled with debts run up by their elders as they grow up.

The older generations benefited from a kind of escalator system in life.  You step on the escalator after finishing your education and it almost automatically carries you upward in life, with higher pay and higher status until, at retirement, you step off and enjoy a good, level standard of living for the rest of your days.

One of the younger generations’ biggest problems is that many of those escalators don’t work anymore.  In Italy and Japan, companies are reluctant to hire young people on what American universities call “tenure track”; unsure about their future needs and resources they don’t want high cost employees that can’t be fired.  The older workers are too powerful to dislodge — just as in American universities the tenured professors are too powerful to give up tenure.  So younger workers increasingly are hired if at all on temporary contracts, with lower benefits and fewer prospects for promotion.

To succeed today, many young people need to recognize that no job will be waiting for them when they finish studying.  They are going to have to create their own opportunities.  It is a good time for creative entrepreneurs.

The young will not find it easy to strike off on their own, especially as fewer opportunities makes them more risk-averse.  But the examples of Italy and Japan suggest that many young people today face a choice: collective depression about their sorry state of affairs or somehow spurring elder generations to seize and nurture the potential embodied by passionate and hard-working youths everywhere.

Italy and Japan have particularly bad cases of the blues; with relatively small numbers of young people and large ones of older people, the old are not only cunning and entrenched in positions of power: they can still beat the kids in elections.  Politicians reinforce generational privilege rather than acting on the knowledge that, in the end, an economy that doesn’t work for the young is an economy doomed to decline.

What many countries need, and I include the United States, is a real youth movement composed both of younger people and of future oriented oldsters that looks at every political and social question from the standpoint of how does it affect the interests of youth.  This isn’t about convening death panels and cat food commissions for grandma, but it’s about making sure that our institutions and our policies are opening opportunities to the young rather than closing them off.

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  • Jim.

    Any chance of collecting these thoughts into a book? There are certainly enough of them to get a pretty high page count.

  • Kolya

    Isn’t it ironic that the generations most likely to suffer from the blue social model are the most likely to vote for the party that esposes these ideas?

  • Jim.

    “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4

    “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” Colossians, 3:21

    It is astonishing just how much good advice comes to us from the letters of St. Paul.

  • ms

    An additional problem is that in the sorry state they find themselves, young people from these countries are even less prone to get married and reproduce themselves, thus further contributing to the downward spiral. Both Italy and Japan have very low birth rates.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    A grinding hopelessness seems to be the hallmark of the socialist blue model. Eventually the pressure will bring about change as it did in the Soviet Union. Only in America have we seen the spawning of a counterforce in the TEA Party, that might rollback socialist blue model big government excess.

  • david foster

    “Grinding hopelessness” is a good term. It is the natural emotion that accomplishes the loss of any control over one’s own life, leaving only the desperate HOPE that those in authority will CHANGE things in a way that will help you.

    The Obama sticker “Got Hope?” encapsulates this thinking very well. If your only hope in life comes from a Chicago politician, that’ s pretty sad.

  • teapartydoc

    “Grinding hopelessness” a real kick in the gut, there. What we really need is a revolution of and for the young, but they need leadership from people who can let them know that it is OK to campaign against Grandma’s pension, because Grandma’s pension is going to destroy their whole civilization. On the other hand, they could decide that their civilization isn’t worth saving. And who can blame them? But let’s try anyway. The freedom we have left is all we have to lose. Our youth have everything to gain.

  • dr kill

    I’ve been having this exact conversation with our kids and their friends. It is nasty and scary but necessary.
    Those oldsters( 70-80s ) to whom you refer have benefitted from a two centuries of growth, allowing them to ignore a fundamental fiscal reality-
    Even morons made money during the past 150 years in the USA.
    Those in my father’s generation are now spending the gains of all earlier generations, and since they are the first Americans to live long enough to spend it all, the inherited wealth accumulated since the Civil War is for the first time unavailable for the younger generations to invest and exploit.
    It is the old and unproductive to use as they wish, but it is not helping the USA to grow and the young to prosper.

  • Chester White

    Some of us figured this out 25+ years ago, when Reagan and Tip O’Neill “saved” Social Security.

    Yeah, “saved.” Go back and look at the SS projections then and through the 90s. Total ripoff.

    Young folks are going to get a serious painful boning. Yet they will still vote for the Cool Black Guy. You watch.

  • Teacher in Tejas

    @ Kolya: You said it exactly. I teach economics in a rather up-scale suburban high school. I watched my class of 08 and 09 seniors walking on clouds in those years with Cheshire Cat grins as “THEY” elected the Messiah; they proved “we” are not racists;they were going to changed the world. One college freshman came back to visit me during Christmas break in December 08, full of optimism and vigor. He proudly told me how he couldn’t wait to see George W Bush tried for treason, for his illegal wars. The world was now going to love us and there would be affordable health care for everyone (guess he didn’t pay attention too much in my Macro class, but oh well). The scary thing was, in some alternate reality I could see him in his brown shirt with his swastika arm band, or waving his Little Red Book, screaming at intellectuals. Funny he hasn’t felt the need to email me much anymore, and he still hasn’t responded to my email last spring, during the Libyan thing, where I asked him if Obama was going to be in the dock right next to Bush, for his illegal war! He’s a senior now and I understand he’s moving back with his folks right after graduation. Oh well!

  • Bonfire of the Idiocies

    Y, in the US, us older folks MUST let go of the idea that Social Security, Medicare and other bennies are “owed” us. Those that can afford to must be willing to let go of some of these perks. It’s not our fault that the short-term self-interested thinking of too many careerist politicians in the prior decades have brought us to this point, but most of them are dead and gone and screaming at their ghosts will not help anything. Like it or not, the mess we have is ours to deal with.

  • Martin Hale

    @Kolya – it’s true – a whole lot of young people support the blue social model. The blue social model appeals to the idealism of youth, the time in life at which the world seems so much more cut and dried. Plus, they’re exposed to years of teaching in the schools which extol the virtues of the blue social model at every turn. It’s completely unsurprising that they end up supporting it.

    Unfortunately, this current crop of young people is going have a much different and cognitively dissonant experience as they transition into full adulthood. What they’ve been raised on, what they’ve had their heads stuffed with isn’t working out so well. If feel badly for them.

    @Jacksonian Libertarian – Yes, America has the strongest counter force to “business as usual” in the TEA Party, but never forget that across Europe there are parties of significantly more conservative (conservative within the context of European society, that is) people who’re emerging in responce to the invasion of immigrants, mostly Muslim. There are green shoots of conservatism emerging in all those “workers paradises” run for decades under the blue social model as more people realise that the cost of the blue social model ultimately leads to the suppression of their economy and the crushing of their traditions and culture under the hammer of “multi-culti”. They’re nowhere near as organised or large as the TEA Party is here, but there are some encouraging signs. They have a much tougher task ahead of them, however, since the populations in which they’re emerging are much more inured to the blue social model.

  • Hugh Mackie

    Calling it the “blue model” when you talk about Europe is just to internationalize Tim Russert’s original mistake, now beyond correction in the U.S. In the UK, in Europe, in the rest of the world, from Chile to Malta to Switzerland to Australia, blue generally is the color of parties of the right — “true blue Tories,” Christian Democrats, and continental Liberals — while red is the color of socialism, the red flag of 1848, May Day, Social Democrats, Labour, and Communism.

  • Moonbat_One

    It looks like young people are going to have to strike out and become entrepreneurs out of necessity.

  • babs

    Maybe the young should ask who exported their jobs to booming Asia…

  • Jeffrey S.

    An additional cause of the declining optimism and birth rate in Europe is the loss of religious faith, except among the Islamic immigrants, who have high birth rates. They will own Europe’s future, unless the younger generation can find it within themselves to alter the present trends. A Christian religious revival will be required to do so.

  • Thingumbobesquire

    Why did the author think he must add the bit about cat food commission and death panels? Because he is assuming a zero sum game where there is just so much goodies to be parceled out. The whole article reeks of that type of cultural pessimism. The fact is we have a world that dearly needs to invest in the real physical economy in order to sustain future generations. Why isn’t this happening? Because we kowtow to the lunacy of bailing out the too big to fail financiers’ gambling debts. We have lost our collective marbles and sorely need to snap out of it. No one needs to be sacrificed on the altar of Mammon. Not the elderly nor the young. That altar needs to be burned down to the ground. Right now there is a bill in Congress to reinstate Glass-Steagall that would bring back the separation of these financial racketeers from the traditional functions of banking. This is only a preliminary step to extending credit for the type of long term investments that can end the very wrong idea of lifeboat economics.

  • TomatoPundit

    It strikes me that these “cadres of elderly men” with their “traditional cultures” were youths in the 1960’s.

    For all their “progressiveness”, they are truly LIVING in the past. I mean, for God’s sake! Democrats nominated, and California elected, Jerry Brown as Governor AGAIN!!

    In Obama’s case, he wants a return to the messianic days of two thousand years ago, when men could calm – or lower – the sea with their sheer presence of being.

    We know the 1960’s didn’t work. Progressives want a return to first decade BC. Can’t we find a middle ground? Say, 1776?

  • Emerson

    The left will not allow young people, as they demand of minorities, do anything besides complain and agitate for “rights”, which means low work expectations for a “living wage”, whatever that means. Self-reliance is anathema to leftist thought, who trade other people’s money for votes.

  • Master of Disaster

    Sixty-five years ago Japan and Italy were in ruins and their populations faced grinding poverty and hunger. Today’s problems seem minor in comparison, yet must be discussed. In the old days, when an elderly person became very ill, they went to bed in their home, and waited to die, attended by their family and neighbors. Now they are rushed off to a hospital, where often cost is often seen as no impediment to extending life a few more years. Maybe we need a national discussion of the benefits of such costly interventions.

  • Warren Jason Street

    But President Obama gave such a great speech. [expression of cognitive dissidence deleted]

    There is a substance gap in American politics. Once someone figures out how to close that gap and explain to the middle class that the only way out of our situation is to reform, reorganize and restructure our institutions (the press, the Congress, et al), it will take responsible leadership from both ideological sides to arrive at a series of compromises.

    Wishful thinking? Yes.

  • willis

    “Those that can afford to must be willing to let go of some of these perks.”

    Bonfire of the Idiocies: If you believe social security to be a perk to be let go of if not needed, you need to jump into your own bonfire. It is a pension I have paid into with my own money for my entire life. If I must let go of it, then give it back and you can keep the interest you will have cheated me out of for having the free use of it over my lifetime. If whether I need it is the criteria as to whether I can keep it, fine, let’s “means test” all the other property everyone else owns. Those who are determined not to need their property must then forfeit it. As Marx said: to each according to his need and from each according to his ability.

  • Shane

    If I must let go of it, then give it back and you can keep the interest you will have cheated me out of for having the free use of it over my lifetime.

    “Giving it back” requires exhorbitant taxation on current workers and massive borrowing by the federal government. Current workers are not the ones who did you the injustice of Ponzi’ing you. The perpetrators of the fraud, and those who collected your money, are either dead or in nursing homes.

    And yet you, fully knowing that you were ripped off, demand to perpetuate the ripping off of others down the line.

    Everyone takes a haircut. Everyone.

    Unless you want this to turn into an all-out generational war between the Boomers and the Millenials. I’m GenX, so I am both ripped off financially *and* demographically screwed because my generation doesn’t have the numbers to determine anything. But I would throw my lot in with the Millenials if I had to, since they are the ones I have more in common with.

    There is no way out of this that does not involve everyone giving up something. Those who try to make it all-or-nothing are doing far more harm than good. Means testing is one of the non-radical suggestions at this point, as is raising the retirement age. If we don’t do the non-radical fixes and buy ourselves time to phase out the SS monstrosity, then we will have guaranteed ourselves a catastrophic future in which the only choices available to us will be the most radical and most destructive.

  • Colin K

    You know what is an article of faith among the elderly in the US that puts them totally out of step with younger generations? Opposition to gay marriage.

    So long as the Right continues to fight this losing battle, their odds of winning significant numbers of votes from people under 30 are pretty small. When I have this argument with my twentysomething employees, I say that the GOP are guaranteed to lose that fight, while the Democrats are succeeding in sacking and pillaging their future, but it’s hard to overcome what they see as an acute present injustice. Even a pretty large percentage of regularly church-going Gen-Yers are in favor of gay marriage, which is why I say this is a political dead end.

    On the plus side, in 2012 it looks pretty likely that the ‘utes will go back to their habit of carping a lot and voting very little.

  • M. Simon

    We know the 1960′s didn’t work.

    The 60s worked for me. Four kids.

    1. Artist
    2. Russian Language graduate
    3. EE 4th year
    4. Chem E. 2nd year

    There was a religious revival going on in the 60s that was nipped in the bud by Christian Moralists who didn’t want to see their religion in decline.

    Ah. Well. If we can get the moralists off our backs we might actually get back to a place of great faith. Which would be good for all religions.

    It would be much better if everyone was talking to the Head Office vice having to listen to ministers preach.

    And why did I have 4 children? Well the Head Office told me to. There are many different routes to open your heart to the Maker. People truly interested in religion would not shut off any of them. There is in fact not one way. Only one Maker.

    That “No one comes to the Maker except by me” [stuff] has got to go. Because it is a lie. And a religion based on a lie will not prosper.

    The 60s in fact was an attempt to corner the market on religion by passing laws (sounds like crony capitalism doesn’t it). It will not last. Or prosper long term. And the end of the long term is at hand. Forty years later.

  • jkl

    Soylent green or the Carousel, your choice

  • Joe Schmoe


    Yes, you have paid into social security all your life. But the politicians spent the money you contributed on other things. They stole it, and it’s gone. That’s a problem. But it’s not my problem.

    The solution that you, and the other members of your generation, have come up with is reach for my wallet. Sorry — I’m tapped out. I can’t afford to buy a house. I’m doing temp work at the moment because permanent jobs are hard to come by right now. And when I do get another permanent job, it won’t pay very much, and the opportunities for advancement will be limited.

    So I’m not in a particularly generous mood. Maybe if the generation of breast implants and tanning salons, a/k/a the Boomer generation, hadn’t gotten divorced so often, blown all of your money on tacky McMansions and Hummers, and turned our popular culture into a sewer, I’d have more sympathy for you. But you did do those things, and I have no sympathy.

    I am struggling to raise and educate my own kids now. I’m still paying off my own student loans even as I pay my children’s tuition, and I don’t have any extra money to spare.

    On the contrary, dramatic cuts in Social Security benefits sound just fine to me. So as far as I am concerned, your generation can retire on Ramen noodles, wear extra sweaters during the wintertime, and live in studio apartments. Not the retirement filled with trips to Tuscan wine country that that you expected? That’s too bad.

  • burnt

    I don’t think that the entrenched power structure and the gov’t apparatus will ever support “creativity”. Creativity is disruptive, and nothing will expose those who’ve done well in the game to more risk (look at what internet businesses have done to older established occupations – ex USPS). As far as I can tell, authority & laws typically aim to preserve the status quo, and protect those with pull and resources.

  • Ken_L

    Would it be too much trouble to provide some actual evidence to support the welter of factual claims in the post and the one it quotes extensively? For example, ‘Traditional employees enjoy cast-iron protections, so companies are reluctant to create such positions.’ The tens of millions of ‘permanent’ workers (if that is what ‘traditional’ is supposed to mean) laid off over recent decades in post-industrialised countries would have been very glad to take advantage of these ‘cast-iron protections’ but of course there is no such thing. Firms make extensive use of casual and contract employment because it allows them to transfer risk to workers and the nature of much contemporary work means there is no downside for the employer. The endless complaints about the alleged ‘power’ of permanent workers are just another weapon in the endless propaganda campaign to demonise ordinary workers, just as the absurd ‘war against the young’ rhetoric is a tool to fragment the population and create generational antagonism to help promote conservative social objectives.

    I have never heard of the author of the post and therefore I don’t know his background, but surely anyone can see the obvious self-contradiction in the two adjacent sentences: ‘It is a good time for creative entrepreneurs … The young will not find it easy to strike off on their own, especially as fewer opportunities makes them more risk-averse.’

    Dr kill your observations are not logical I’m afraid. If everyone was really spending their savings, the economy would be booming. In fact corporate America is sitting on a mountain of cash which it refuses to spend at all, mainly because of uncertainty about the future of the economy. For some insights I suggest reading what business leaders had to say about the debt ceiling fiasco (and I mean business leaders as in managers who make strategic decisions for large corporations, not self-appointed business spokespeople working in ideological think-tanks like the Hoover Institute).

    So many conservatives do nothing but talk down their own societies. I have no idea what has caused such intractable negativism, or why so many people go along with it.

  • Badger40

    Social Security & Medicare are TAXES taken out of the wages of most working Americans.
    It has already been decided, by a SCOTUS ruling, that none of us have any ‘right’ to receive back what we paid into that tax Ponzi scheme.
    And even so, for those on the program, they are receive way more back than they ever paid in.
    As a 42yo, I am making preparations for retirement that is not based upon SS.
    I will probably work til I physically am not able.
    Where does this ‘right’ to ‘retire’ come from?
    People who retire used to be wealthy people. Not working class people.
    If you want to retire at a certain age, then invest your $$ wisely.
    But don’t expect the govt to do it for you. Bcs those pathetic amounts in SS deducted from your wages every couple weeks never is enough for a real pension.
    You want retirement insurance? Buy it yourself. But stop looking to the govt to take care of you.
    SS is gone. It’s a TAX. And I’m tired of being taxed.

  • Ken

    I read a line of reasoning that said that the reason Germany and Japan came back so strong after WW2 (vs. rest of Europe) was that the old power-structures (govt, unions, large industries) had been smashed, and so they thus were prevented from hindering progress. And as soon as new power-structures appeared (Japanese unions, etc.) they immediately stifled creativity. Because every new invention or startup is a threat to the people who got to where they are under the old system.

  • realwest

    Huh. “The older generations benefited from a kind of escalator system in life. You step on the escalator after finishing your education and it almost automatically carries you upward in life, with higher pay and higher status until, at retirement, you step off and enjoy a good, level standard of living for the rest of your days.”
    Gee, I missed that escalator. I worked, borrowed (and repaid) and scholarship-ed my way through undergraduate school, served in Vietnam as an enlisted infantryman, worked, scholarship-ed and G.I. Billed (at the marvelous sum of $200 a month for 9 months a year) through Law School and then worked for about 55 hours a week, did about 15-20 hours a week of charitable work, donated a lot of money to charities for some 48 years, and now find myself dependent on Social Security for my glorious retirement.
    My advice to the Younger Generation: Suck it up and get going. There is opportunity if you look for it and are, more importantly, willing to WORK for it.

  • SpiderMike

    “The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism, but under the name of liberalism they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program until one day America will be a socialist nation without ever knowing how it happened.”  ~ Norman Thomas, American socialist

    “Youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope.”
    ~ Aristotle

    “It is difficult to make our material condition better by the best law, but it is easy enough to ruin it by bad laws. ” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

  • richard40

    I am a boomer, but have long ago recognized that our generation has been ripping off the ones following us. Personally, I have my own savings, so I don’t have to rely on SS. The part I can’t comprehend is the younger generation continues to vote for the theives, like Obama, that are ripping them off. Why is the Tea Party mostly old people? It should be filled with youngsters, since the Tea Party is the only group in this country that wants to cut spending so there is actually something left for our young people. Obama and the dems definitely wont leave anything, but debt and taxes.

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