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The Atlantic to Millennials: Get Off Our Lawn!


Edward Tenner at The Atlantic is worried that the boomers are getting a bad rap. The flapper generation, which came of age in the 1920s, was an equally controversial cohort, but they were able to dwindle off into old age in peace, while the boomers have become a punching bag for those complaining about American decline. Why the difference in treatment by history?

Tenner offers a few possible explanations. The boomers got lucky with the economic boom of the 1980s, while the Jazz Age gave way to a Great Depression in which everyone suffered. Then there’s the bitter divisiveness of the Vietnam War era, as opposed to the unifying patriotism of World War II.

Whatever the cause, Tenner believes this national negativity toward his peers is unmerited:

Pity the baby boomers, blamed in their youth for every ill and excess of American society and now, in their dotage, for threatening to sink the economy and perhaps Western civilization itself. […]

Now that they are reaching retirement age, they are a ripe target for demonization in the interest of “entitlement reform” as their grandparents never were. There are legitimate arguments about the financing and extent of Social Security and the level of contributions by wealthier people; I don’t mean to dismiss such concerns. But Boomerphobia—with no counterpart in Fitzgerald’s time—appears to have filled the media niche left by the political incorrectness of older stereotypes. If this collective scapegoat didn’t exist, it would have to be invented.

Tenner’s narritive is familiar. The younger generations are just so ungrateful.

But what should they be grateful for? In city after city, their services are being cut and taxes raised to pay for overpromised, underfunded public pensions. On the national level, the boomers leveraged their vast numbers to vote for unprecedented entitlement reforms with utter disregard to their impact on succeeding generations. These entitlement programs now account for 38 percent of total federal spending, and many are running out of money: Medicare’s trust will be exhausted in 13 years, and Social Security’s in 20. These programs will probably be cut back dramatically by the time the millennials are old enough to retire, but not before they have paid in to keep the lavish benefits of older generations in tact.

And to hear boomers complain about the ingratitude of the young is rich; no generation hated its predecessor or held it in contempt as much as the boomers did. The old folks were hopeless squares at best, racist Nazis at worst. “Don’t trust anybody over 30” was a popular slogan back when the boomers evidently thought they would never grow old. As the Narcissus Generation moves inexorably closer to the Great Woodstock in the Sky, it thinks that any form of generational stereotyping or complaint is a form of hate speech. If some of the boomers had their way, the only time you would see a kid on a lawn is when the kid is pushing a lawnmower — and not getting paid for it.

[Older man and explosion images courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Luke Lea

    And to hear boomers complain about the ingratitude of the young is rich. . .

    You must have better ears than I do.

    • Jim__L

      There’s less complaining about ingratitude than there is malign neglect of the problems coming down the line. The TEA Party, whatever its actual faults (and these are far fewer than the MSM’s smear campaign would have us believe) is about the only political movement expressing any interest at all about reducing (the growth of) the $17T+ of obligation that the Boomers are passing on to my generation.

  • crazymook

    As a young person, I feel the attitude would be different if seniors acknowledged the burdens and offered to reform pensions and SS (allow us to opt out or save otherwise). Whenever reform is suggested, it is suggested that the younger generations bear the pain alone… no pain from those who helped create the mess…just more lawnmower. Sigh…

    • Corlyss

      “Whenever reform is suggested, it is suggested that the younger generations bear the pain alone”

      I think that assessment is not quite accurate. Whenever reform is suggested a variety of interests stymie reform so that the result is inaction. If something isn’t done soon, we’ll end up where we’re headed: fiscal disaster and collapse of the system, which means the young will bear the burden. The problem is the only solutions Dems will tolerate until they can claim credit for saving the system is increased taxes to pay for all the foolish promises pols have made in the last 80+ years. The only solutions feasible are a combination of reduced future benefits for those not yet making claims on the system plus increased revenues produced by greater economic growth than Dems ideologies will permit. I may have been listening to the wrong people, but I haven’t yet heard anyone say that the ideal solution is for greedy geezers to go on as if nothing will change so that the burden falls on young people. That’s the outcome everyone wants to avoid.

    • Kavanna

      It’s a nice lawnmower, though … 🙂

      As a young Boomer, born at the very end of the Boomer cohort, I have little patience for what is technically my generation. Watching their antics as I was growing up, younger than most of them, was a wonder: it was strange to come of age in a society where many adults were losing their marbles.

      • Corlyss

        I was born at the beginning of the Boomer era, and I’ve never felt “in step” with the rest of my generation. Ever since I was 17 I’ve wondered what the heck was wrong with those people! Most privileged generation in the history of the world and what did they want to do with their privileged head start over the rest of the world? Revile their parents who made their comfortable circumstance, rip the world to pieces, and re-establish the Garden of Eden. They seemed wholly ignorant of human nature, even their own. But as Jeanne Kirkpatrick observed, they didn’t know how to put the bicycle back together again after they dismantled it.

    • Edna Mode

      True, however most seniors are not boomers and most boomers are not seniors.

      • Fred

        Math says something a bit different. Those born in the first year of the boom, 1946, are now 67, two years past full retirement age. The youngest boomers, born in 1964, are now 49. Only a few years from full retirement age.

        • Edna Mode

          It depends on how you define “senior”. If you use age 60, then according to US Census records 39% of boomers will be 60 and over this year. Most boomers are under 60 (because most were born at the end of the boom) so I would not count them as seniors. Also, the over-67 age group includes people from the Silent Generation and the last of the Greatest Generation. They still count and they still vote!

  • JC

    Of course the mark of a generation isn’t what they piss and moan about.. but what they do about stuff.

    The Y generation is 30-40 years old now, have good jobs and the clear thinking that comes from a long and severe recession.. so what are they doing and voting to reduce pensions, clearing out useless administrators, putting a stop to uncontrolled migration, telling the diversity and multicultural crowds to take a hike, putting the boot into the climate change rentiers and weird mobs who make up the environmental movements?

    Are they taking control of the ballot box, the state legislatures and the mayoralties to take back the country?

    After all, if the Boomers could do their nefarious deeds at the same age in the 80s this physically fitter and vastly more educated younger lot should be able to work miracles in half the time.


    • Kavanna

      Yeah, but they’re paralyzed by debt, frightened by the recession, and struggling to recover from the PC brainwashing their parents subjected them to.

  • Luke Lea

    Off Topic, but David Goodhart, the director of the Demos think tank and founder and editor-at-large of Prospect magazine (in England) shows us how we in the West should begin thinking about immigration and its place in the world:

    Via Meadia needs to be covering this important shift in liberal attitudes.

    • Jim__L

      The topic we’re currently on deserves serious treatment. What are your views on the national financial situation that the Boomers are bequeathing to my generation?

      • Luke Lea

        In so far as Boomers are responsible for our current trade and immigration policies, I would lay a great deal of responsibility at their door. For these are the two sets of policies that are undermining American wages and making it impossible to sustain a middle-class democracy. Unfortunately, our immigration policy was put into place in 1965, before the Boomers came into power. True, our trade policies were signed into law by Clinton, but it was Bush Sr. who got the ball rolling and it was America’s academic economists, led by Paul Samuelson, who supplied the ideological justification. (Paul Krugman, a Boomer, shares part of the blame.)

        As for our employer-based healthcare system, which is eating us alive, that was put in place during the Roosevelt administration. Failure to adjust our wage-and-hour laws to compensate for all the new labor-saving technologies of the past fifty years I would blame the Boomers for.

        So, then, three out of four of the factors undermining our middle-class standard of living and the social safety net that goes with it, must be laid at the door of the Greatest Generation. How ironic.

        It will be up to the two generations that come after the Boomers to set these things aright. Go to it.

        • Jim__L

          If “failure to adjust” makes the Boomers culpable for a policy from TR’s time, it certainly makes them culpable for the rest as well.

          Also, it’s not as if the Boomers have already departed from the scene. Boomers still control a huge number of the levers of power in this country, and form an enormous voting bloc. It’s up to Boomers to decide whether that voting bloc is going to be helpful or harmful in the readjustment necessary to avoid catastrophe, remains to be seen.

          It would be a whole lot easier for my generation (and the generations that follow after) to avoid a “failure to adjust” if Boomers are with us rather than against us.

  • T. Greer

    And that is not even the worst of their problems. Anyone here read Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, the seminal work on American civil society over the last four generations? Mrr. Putnam demonstrates that Church attendance, voting, PTA associations, club membership, caucus attendance, even the number of friends people have or the alienation they feel has gotten worse and worse with each passing year. Which generational cohort started the trend?

    Baby boomers.

  • johnfembup

    I’m an almost-boomer (born 1945). You mention Woodstock and I agree that’s an apt metaphor: “And, there we were, all in one place – a generation Lost in Space.”

    The Woodstock Generation actually believed we were the reason for the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Maybe others believed it, too – for three days anyway. Then reality set in.

    Reality set in the Day After Woodstock. That’s when the Woodstock Generation walked away, leaving behind their true, tangible legacy: mountains of litter and trash. A mess that grown ups had to step in and clean up . . . because the Woodstock Generation would not bother to deal with it.

    And today much of my generation (thankfully not all) is still crazily self-absorbed after all these years, still lost in space, and still in denial about our responsibility to clean up after ourselves. Isn’t the cultural and financial disarray in the US today just more litter my generation created that we expect someone to clean up?

    So I’m not surprised that my children’s generation would hold my generation accountable for this.

    I am only surprised that the Millennials are being so much kinder than I would be, had my parents left me in their situation.

    • Luke Lea

      I agree that Woodstock marks the beginning of our cultural disintegration. The widespread popularity of LSD is one of the big unacknowledged factors here. I know because I was there. LSD use gave rise not only to the counterculture but to multi-culturalism, deconstructionism, critical race theory, and the whole apparatus of political correctness. To see how rapidly and completely LSD can undermine culture watch this video:

  • rheddles

    This screed is unworthy of VM and I am disappointed that it made it through the rigorous editorial process. But it is good to know whom it is permissible to hate at VM.

    Getting into an intergenerational squabble is not only devoid of persuasiveness, it reduces the likelihood of a solution. We are in the situation we are in. Everybody will have to take a haircut. The longer we wait, the closer to a scalping. For those left. What is needed is constructive discussion about how to share the pain, not the blame.

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