The difficulties of today’s economy

David Willetts and his new book The Pinch v Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist

“Forget the prophets of doom – I’m proud to be a baby boomer” says Boris Johnson

Oh the shame of being a baby boomer. What a bunch of shysters we seem to be.

We are the most selfish, greedy, job-hogging, pension-grabbing bunch of egomaniacs history has ever seen. Here we are, in our overpriced homes and exploiting our political power to shaft the younger generation. We use our demographic throw-weight to skew the welfare system in our favour and above all we are squandering the natural resources of the planet. You know that Goya picture of the giant eating a naked human being?

That’s us, all right – Saturn devouring his children. Or at least, that is the portrait presented by my brilliant old friend and colleague David Willetts in his new book, The Pinch, which has been received with rapture by one and all. You can see his point. We baby boomers – those of us born in the great bulge of fecundity in the Fifties and Sixties – have had it easy. We are the ones whose extravagant pension entitlements must now be met by our kids.

We are the ones who hung out at university entirely at the taxpayers’ expense – and now we tell our children they must pay tuition fees. We are the ones who luxuriate in housing equity our children cannot afford, and we are the ones whose lifestyles splurged CO2, that posterity will have to pay for. We have raided the young ones’ piggy bank, says Willetts. We have mortgaged their future; we have broken the eternal Burkean contract between generations, he scolds. Is he right? As it happens – and I speak as one who has long sat at the feet of Two Brains – I think he is wrong; or at least that he tells only a tiny fraction of the story. No, I don’t think we baby boomers have anything much to feel guilty for. I don’t think we have treated the next generation badly. We haven’t ripped off our kids. Indeed, by comparison with our grandparents I would say we baby boomers have been, if anything, excessively tender-minded and absorbed in the upbringing of our little ones.

There is every chance, moreover, that by our exertions we will leave a world considerably improved on the world we found. Just as Willetts is about to become the received wisdom of the chattering classes, we are lucky to see the publication of an elegant and devastating rejoinder to all gloom-merchants everywhere, in the form of Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist. If you want to predict the course of the next 50 years, says Ridley, it is not unreasonable to look at the last 50.

Ridley’s key argument is that, whatever the economic difficulties of today, it is the baby-boomer technology that is delivering and will deliver incredible improvements in the standard of life of the next generation. Who gave us email and eBay? Who gave us Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart, iPod, Prozac, BlackBerry and spreadable butter you can keep in the fridge? It was the baby boomers. Who is responsible for the tolerance and openness that has helped to break down sexism, racism and homophobia? The baby boomers, that’s who. Who ensured that you can read this article either on Finnish newsprint or with electronic technology sourced from around the world? It was us baby boomers, and our doctrines of liberal market economics.

Of course David Willetts is right to draw attention to the financial and environmental problems of the world. But then Matt Ridley is even more right to show how human beings have solved those problems in the past. Yes, we still face the challenge of pollution – but then someone once predicted that horse-drawn traffic was growing at such a rate that by 1950 London’s streets would be under 10ft of manure. Where is that dung today? As Ridley says, there is no limit to our inventiveness. Solar-powered LED bulbs offer the hope of zero-carbon illumination for the 1.6 billion Africans who don’t have mains electricity. Ever since Hesiod, ever since Isaiah, human beings have loved to listen to prophets of doom and they have loved to believe that theirs is a uniquely fallen and selfish generation. I don’t believe it of the baby boomers, and in any case I am sure the next generation is well up to the challenge.

For the complete article and more news and views go to the Daily Telegraph here

18 thoughts on “The difficulties of today’s economy”

  1. Every generation as it grows older has to use a ‘fix’ to force the young to work hard. In some societies, a young man has to pay a bride-price, perhaps so many head of cattle, that will leave him in debt for twenty years or so. Medieval society had its apprentices and guilds. We have student loans and mortgages.

    What’s changed is that people now have longer retirements, so either the young must work even harder or we have to invest a lot more capital to enable them to work more productively. This is where we have gone wrong. The spending compulsion of Governments and their childish attitude to public finance have increased public debt rather than capital investment. Govenment gobbles capital. Either the oldies will have to live poorly or the young will have to work unbearably hard.

  2. Did you see News Night the other night when Willett and two other “oldies” were ranged against three of the most objectionable young people I have ever seen? One of them (female) suggested evening things up by taking back bus passes and heating allowances. They all seemed to think that ALL old people enjoyed hugely beneficial pensions and were just hanging around to annoy them.

    They acted out the part of the betrayed little martyrs to a tee but what about the betrayal of “baby boomers” who worked hard for decades to provide for their old age just so they would NOT be a burden to the next generation only to have their pensions effectively stolen by this Government of dyslexic Robin Hoods (stealing from the poor and giving to the rich).

    As for the self serving concern for the world’s resources…….how many of these spoiled brats jumped behind the wheel of a car as soon as they were legally able to……and how many holidays involving air travel have they enjoyed in the last five years.

    They were just a bunch of mollycoddled weaklings who had suddenly realised that life is not a seamless segway from University to great job to luxury flat to……..and they didn’t like it!

    Time to grow up kids.

  3. “We are the ones who luxuriate in housing equity our children cannot afford…”

    Prices pushed up particularly in rural areas by 2nd home owners. BTW, what is Boris Johnson’s property ownership like?

    ” and we are the ones whose lifestyles splurged CO2″.

    Boris Johnson drives a people-carrier. He has a lot of children.

    Such a lifestyle would be completely unsustainable were everyone in Britain to have it.

    Inept performance on Question Time still sticking in my brain by the way.

  4. Oh Boris was such a gorgeous baby! He was such a dear little chub!

    There are lots of things in this article I don’t understand, so will have to read it a few times and look things up.

  5. Generally speaking, it’s the free world, free enterprise and capitalism that give us Amazon, Blackberry, eBay, Starbucks, the internet, Google… freedom of speech.

    Who broke down sexism, racism and homophobia? It’s Harriet Harman, of course. If you dare mention the mass influx of immigrants, illegal asylum seekers, you’re a racist. If you sing Baa Baa Black Sheep, you’re a racist. If you use the word chairman, you’re a sexist; you must say chairperson. If you call someone a queen, you’re homophobic; now we only have like Latifah, Elizabeth and Elton…minus their titles.

    Edna, are you there love? Edna? Are you there? Talking about Elton, Edna. He just said in an interview that Jesus was gay. Oh my world the mind boggles innit? This country has gone to the dogs. Over to you Edna.

  6. I agree with you completely Edith love. Communism give us eff all that’s what I say!

    Talking about Labour – ” . Labour is the most thuggishly sophisticated political fighting machine this country has ever seen. It may be useless in Government, but it has turned its hatred for the Conservatives into a remorseless engine of destruction.

    Gordon Brown doesn’t wake each morning asking himself what more he can do for Britain. Before opening his eyes, he wonders what more he can do to skewer the Tories.

    Along with Queen P and others, Labour’s driving motivation is revenge for 18 Labour years in Opposition. The Brown gang is obsessed not with uniting this country, but dividing it. If that means smearing and sneering at your opponents at every opportunity, so be it. Labour plays the man, not the ball.

    Selection in schools? That’s elitist, say brass-necked Labour Ministers who send their own kids to selective schools.

    Restrictions on immigration? That’s racist.

    Sceptical about superstate Europe? You’re a Europhobe. The labels keep coming: sexist, homophobe, Islamaphobe or best of all: fascist.

    Character assassination is the weapon of first resort, loaded with deceit and hypocrisy. Labour lies without hesitation or compunction. They lied about mass immigration and then kept it secret.

    School supremo Ed Balls, facing a threat from the Far Right, was at the heart of this conspiracy. Yet today with heartbreaking gall he is asking angry constituents if they want a ban on welfare payments for new immigrants. Had a Tory made such a suggestion they would have been damned as “racist”.

    Labour abuse has been devastatingly effective. Brown squandered our money and landed us with crippling debt. Yet the Tories said nothing. The Greek economic crisis proves the Tories right on keeping the Pound. Yet they have been silent and will not reopen the issue with a referendum.

    Labour’s convert decision to let 3 million immigrants flood Britain has been exposed. Yet the Tories declined to make it an issue.

    Cameron yesterday tried to regain the initiative. He promised urgent action to fill the UK’s dark hole of debt. He promised to cut immigration. Those who can work must work. But I did not hear a word about Europe. Nor about that other black hole – the £1.5 TRILLION that we must find for unfunded public sector pensions.”
    Trevor Kavanagh, Political Editor, The Sun, March 1, 2010.

    Oh his words really made the hairs in my nether region stand on ends.

    Alreet, Edith love? You alreet?

    You mean Harman says people are not allowed to have the title Queen any more? Never! Oh my sweet Lord. My Cyril would turn in his grave that’s his title. NO I mean he would turn in his grave with anger. He did not fight in the war for Harman to ban that title. Oh my sweet Lord. My Cyril would turn in his grave about this I’m sure love.

    Elton said the sweet Lord is gay? Oh my sweet Lord oh my sweet Lord. Did he really really said that Edith love? Oh my sweet Lord. Still I’m sure Elton will get a pat on his back from some politically-correct-brainwashed-brain-dead- maniacs for saying that won’t she?

    Alreet Edith? Alreet love. Keep me well informed love. Take care love.

  7. No, no, no.
    Not me. And I suspect, a bunch of others too, who “failed/derailed” (i.e. chose other fields) on the way into the producing department of unlimited euphoria of technical and communications. We participated though and are drawing our own conclusions, eventually pointing at Schumpeter or alternative strands.
    And, no, as such an observant I don’t feel entitled to condescence on the compartment of baby boomers you relate to. In fact I think we should get it together and take advantage of the diverse points of view. More diverse than your suggestion might imply and that’s what I felt necessary to complement here.

  8. Global warming is the scam and CO2 trade the new bubble. Still baby boomers are the evil bunch just for the followings:

    1) They retire early
    2) They eat too much
    3) They see doctors too otten
    4) They take too much medications
    5) They have too many surgeries
    6) They spend too much money,
    7) They live forever.
    8) When they do do finally, (thanks god,) they use up all the commentary plots available.

  9. Ops, typing tool screwed it. correction: I meant: “cementery plots available.”

  10. What the cold cold winter … looking like the Brits soon can skate on the Thames again like they do in the old days (few centuries before this?.)

  11. See that picture of the baby, folks? Well that’s my expression to yous for hiding my comment.

    Edna are you there Edna? But I don’t understand this, Edna. D’you mean according to the PCBB Brigade it’s not OK to call a Queen a Queen but it’s OK to call someone like Jesus a Queen? Oh it’s a queer world we’re living in if you ask me.

  12. Really? You don’t have Google in the UK?

    As I have remarked elsewhere (on this very site) I’m a year older than Boris and Douglas Coupland, author of Generation X, told me to my face I was Generation X, NOT a Baby Boomer.

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