Looking back, I think my parents had more fun than I did.
That’s not how it was supposed to be. My parents belonged to the Greatest Generation; they grew up in hard times. My mom was born in Colorado in an actual sod hut, which is the kind of structure you see in old black-and-white photographs featuring poor, gaunt, prairie-dwelling people standing in front of what is either a small house or a large cow pie, staring grimly at the camera with the look of people who are thinking that their only hope of survival might be to eat the photographer. A sod hut is basically a house made out of compressed dirt. If you were to thoroughly vacuum one, it would cease to exist.
My mom, like my dad, and millions of other members of the Greatest Generation, had to contend with real adversity: the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, hunger, poverty, disease, World War II, extremely low-fi 78 r.p.m. records and telephones that — incredible as it sounds today — could not even shoot video.
They managed to overcome those hardships and take America to unprecedented levels of productivity and power, which is why they truly are a great generation. But they aren’t generally considered to be a fun generation. That was supposed to be their children — my generation, the baby boomers.
We grew up in a far easier time, a time when sod was strictly for lawns. We came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, the era of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. We were cool, we were hip, we were groovy, man. We mocked the suit-wearing Establishment squares grubbing for money in their 9-to-5 jobs. We lived in communes. We went to Woodstock. We wore bell-bottom trousers, and we did not wear them ironically.
Dave Barry, “The Greatest (Party) Generation”, Wall Street Journal, 2015-02-26.
August 24, 2016
April 6, 2016
October 4, 2015
Believe it or not, the end of the seemingly eternal federal election is finally in sight. We’re getting to the wind-up stage of the campaign and we can now expect certain evergreen political topics to be discussed as we wearily struggle down to the wire. Colby Cosh covers one of the biggest “issues” of every federal election:
The parties are running low on ammunition in the election that never ends, and I can sense, like a tracker laying an ear to the ground, the approach of conversations about demographics and the getting-out of the vote. With this campaign sub-season — suitably located in the autumn — will come talk of “gray power”; dread of the Conservative advantage among bigoted, ornery, vote-crazy oldies; and, above all, the suffocating hatred of the young toward the liver-spotted hands that grip our levers of power and ward off change.
I rarely speak of Baby Boomers without a generous helping of contemptuous spittle. But the great equalizers, pain and death and dementia and distraction, are now starting to take them. The people I call Turnout Nerds obsess over youth voting: it seems unnatural to them, even revolting, that fewer than half of people under 35 bother to struggle to the polls, choosing to deny us their breezy new ideas and their orientation toward the future. (Not that I can see much actual evidence of either quality.)
They do not talk much about what happens to voter turnout once Canadians have passed their peak propensity to vote, which arrives, according to the official estimates for the 2011 election, at the age of 67. The graph, it turns out, looks like a skewed triangle. Voters in the age cohorts from 20-25 had less than 40 per cent turnout in 2011. There is a slow linear climb from there; turnout passes 50 per cent in the mid-30s, 60 per cent in the mid-40s, 70 per cent on the cusp of age 60. It rises to above 75 per cent at about the traditional retirement age.
But the dropoff in turnout from there is steeper than the rise — and how else could it be, given arthritis and lumbago and the other cruel facts of late life? And by age 67, according to an insurance man’s icy “life tables,” more than one per cent of the population is dying every year. If you adjust for mortality, and imagine a hypothetical pool of Canadian voters starting out at age 18, the estimated age at which the highest number of the original group will be voting isn’t 67; it’s more like a flat peak between the ages of 59 and 64. After that, coronaries start taking away more voters than enthusiasm is adding.
April 3, 2015
The gap between Americans raised before World War II and after was huge in a way that’s difficult to recall for those of us who came of age after the ’60s. Greatest Generation parents who might have grown up without on-demand indoor plumbing and survived the Depression and fighting in Europe, the Pacific, North Africa, and Korea came from a different planet than the one on which they raised their kids. To their credit, they bequeathed to the baby boomers a world that was still full of major problems but one that was much richer and full of opportunities. And to their credit, the boomers (of which I’m a very late example, having been born in 1963) readily went about using new opportunities and freedoms (expressive, sexual, educational, economic) to build the world they wanted to live in.
In the late ’60s and a good chunk of the ’70s, youth-oriented pop music was central to that project. Whatever you might think of the Beatles’ music, their very existence — and their constant self-recreations — made everything seem possible. They were far from alone as pop music maguses, too.
Simply by talking with major pop figures, Rolling Stone could be a vital and compelling magazine because it served as something like a boomer conversation pit. Over time, however, music stopped playing the same sort of vital role in generational conversations — don’t get me wrong, it’s still a part of it all. But as the mainstream in every area of life splintered and recombined into a million different subspecies, no single form of cultural expression matters so much to so many people anymore.
That’s a good thing for the culture and the country (and the planet, really), but Rolling Stone has been looking for a replacement core identity for decades now. The magazine that once published New Journalism masterpieces about David Cassidy and stardom, Patty Hearst’s rescuers, and “Charlie Simpson’s Apocalypse” had trouble figuring out how to deal with a world in which pop and movie stars were less interesting than ever (and more disciplined in terms of talking with the press) and in which men and women of good faith might actually disagree over complicated aesthetic and ideological matters. There has been a lot of good writing and reporting over the years, but there’s no question, I think, that the magazine is chasing trends and insights rather than creating them.
In a world in which pop culture — especially youth-oriented pop culture — allows a thousand flowers to bloom in a way that was unimaginable even 40 years ago, Rolling Stone can no longer get by simply by talking with Patti Smith or John Lennon or Bob Dylan for 25,000 words at a time. It might have reinvented itself as a clubhouse where people who love music or movies or whatever could get together to argue over politics, economics, and policy. That could indeed be interesting, especially in a world where large chunks of young Americans are going right, left, and especially libertarian. Just as there is no longer one dominant mode of music, there is no longer one dominant mode of politics.
But the people at the helm of Rolling Stone cannot seemingly even acknowledge that anyone who might disagree with them on, say, the effects of minimum wage laws on the poor, is worth a second thought. All they can do, out of a sense of liberal guilt, is publish radical calls to arm that they must know are ridiculous. Sadly, a magazine that was once required reading for anyone who wanted to know what the younger generation cared about is now a pedantic, insecure, and ultimately ineffective tool of Democratic Party groupthink.
Nick Gillespie, “Rolling Stone‘s Sad ‘5 Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For'”, Hit and Run, 2014-01-04
March 14, 2015
In the Wall Street Journal, Dave Barry considers the incongruous fact that his parent’s generation clearly had more fun than his did:
They didn’t go to prenatal classes, so they didn’t find out all the things that can go wrong when a person has a baby, so they didn’t spend months worrying about those things. They just had their babies, and usually it worked out, the way it has for millions of years. They didn’t have car seats, so they didn’t worry that the car seat they just paid $249 for might lack some feature that the car seat their friends just paid $312 for does have. They didn’t read 37 parenting handbooks written by experts, each listing hundreds, if not thousands, of things they should worry about.
It would never have occurred to members of my parents’ generation to try to teach a 2-year-old to read; they figured that was what school was for. And they didn’t obsess for years over which school their kids should attend, because pretty much everybody’s kids went to the local schools, which pretty much everybody considered to be good enough. They didn’t worry that their children would get bored, so they didn’t schedule endless after-school activities and drive their kids to the activities and stand around with other parents watching their kids engage in the activities. Instead they sent their kids out to play. They didn’t worry about how or where they played as long as they got home for dinner, which was very likely to involve gluten.
I’m not saying my parents’ generation didn’t give a crap. I’m saying they gave a crap mainly about big things, like providing food and shelter, and avoiding nuclear war. They’d made it through some rough times, and now, heading into middle age, building careers and raising families, they figured they had it pretty good. Not perfect, but pretty good. So at the end of the workweek, they allowed themselves to cut loose — to celebrate their lives, their friendships, their success. They sent the kids off to bed, and they partied. They drank, laughed, danced, sang, maybe stole a piece of an IBM sign. They had fun, grown-up fun, and they didn’t feel guilty about it.
Whereas we modern parents, living in the era of Death by Handshake, rarely pause to celebrate the way our parents did because we’re too busy parenting. We never stop parenting. We are all over our kids’ lives — making sure they get whatever they want, removing obstacles from their path, solving their problems and — above all — worrying about what else will go wrong, so we can fix it for them. We’re in permanent trick-or-treat mode, always hovering 8 feet away from our children, always ready to pounce on the apple.
Yes, we’ve gotten really, really good at parenting. This is fortunate, because for some inexplicable reason a lot of our kids seem to have trouble getting a foothold in adult life, which is why so many of them are still living with us at age 37.
They’re lucky they have us around.
H/T to Lenore Skenazy for the link.
March 11, 2015
January 11, 2015
Jay Currie looks at one of the traditional way of looking at the benefits of immigration — as providing society with workers who will “do the jobs Canadians/Americans won’t do” and wonders if that’s actually true in today’s increasingly technological world:
The elite refrain seems to be that if we want to maintain our welfare system, pensions, healthcare and the like we have simply no choice but to import drafts of tax serfs to make up our declining numbers. Is that true?
Here are a few ideas to extend the independence of the Boomers and reduce the need for immigrants at any cost.
- Postpone retirement to 70 or even 75: the boomers parents are extending life expectancy rapidly. 90 is the new 70. Greater activity, a keener sense of healthy life style choices and, as Doug Coupland put it, “Vitamin D and baby aspirin and (mum’s) going to live forever.” Boomers are nuts to be thinking of retirement at 60 unless they really are too sick to work. So don’t. Pushing back the retirement and pension ages saves a lot of pension money and reduces the need to bring in more people.
- Have more children. Not something the boomers can do but our kids can and should. But to do this we need a lot of very family friendly policy. Income splitting is a cute idea but hardly a huge incentive to family formation. Big tax deductions for kids number three, four and five could help a bit. But those are governmental changes.
- Where possible transfer wealth early. There are a lot of older boomers whose parents have died and left good big whacks of dough. And those same boomers are coming to the end of their mortgages. Here is a hint: offer your kids some money. And not, ideally, as a loan. An outright gift is more useful. Don’t tie it to real estate either. There is going to be a massive correction in Canadian real estate but even if there wasn’t tying a gift to what is usually a debt and endless expense is a poor idea.
- Build houses and condos which can adapt to the changing needs and means of families. Everything from in-law suites to legally easy house splitting needs to be done to drive down the price of housing in Canada. Yes there is a correction coming but that does not change the fact there are many cities where housing is unaffordable. Build rental housing for families. Build up market rental housing. Encourage density. Make it possible to rent with a 1/5 of your average income rather than 1/2.
- Use technology in place of people. A lot of the jobs “Canadians just will not do” should not be done at all by anyone. From self cleaning toilets – already done in Japan – to robotic floor cleaners and fast food “servers” there are lots of jobs which can and will be done by robots. Pushing that sort of technology will reduce the need for more immigrants.
If you actually look at those numbers seriously and, instead of 10% use 5%, you’ll see that 900,000 low skill jobs are going to get eaten by robots and IT over the next decade. 90,000 a year. Now, look at the naturalized Canadian number for 2014 again 260,000. If half our new citizens are entering the labour force that is 130,000 new workers per year in an economy which will be shedding 90,000 jobs per year. Does that make any sense at all?
September 30, 2014
I have been living with someone from the Millennial generation for the last four years (he’s now 27) and sometimes I’m charmed and sometimes I’m exasperated by how him and his friends — as well as the Millennials I’ve met and interacted with both in person and in social media — deal with the world, and I’ve tweeted about my amusement and frustration under the banner “Generation Wuss” for a few years now. My huge generalities touch on their over-sensitivity, their insistence that they are right despite the overwhelming proof that suggests they are not, their lack of placing things within context, the overreacting, the passive-aggressive positivity, and, of course, all of this exacerbated by the meds they’ve been fed since childhood by over-protective “helicopter” parents mapping their every move. These are late-end Baby Boomers and Generation X parents who were now rebelling against their own rebelliousness because of the love they felt that they never got from their selfish narcissistic Boomer parents and who end up smothering their kids, inducing a kind of inadequate preparation in how to deal with the hardships of life and the real way the world works: people won’t like you, that person may not love you back, kids are really cruel, work sucks, it’s hard to be good at something, life is made up of failure and disappointment, you’re not talented, people suffer, people grow old, people die. And Generation Wuss responds by collapsing into sentimentality and creating victim narratives rather than acknowledging the realities of the world and grappling with them and processing them and then moving on, better prepared to navigate an often hostile or indifferent world that doesn’t care if you exist.
Brett Easton Ellis, “Generation Wuss”, Vanity Fair, 2014-09-26.
September 22, 2014
Years ago, when I was at university, I asked one of the older professors of history what he thought about the changes in the student body over his career. This gentleman, a word entirely applicable to him, said that when he started teaching in the early 1960s he would flunk between a quarter and a third of his first year classes. Faster forward to the early 2000s and he rarely flunked a student. I jokingly asked him if that was because young people are smarter now than they were forty years earlier. He found my little joke rather too funny.
He confided in me that in the late 1960s the president of the university did the rounds. He explained that he was receiving pressure from the provincial government. Too many students were going off to university and then failing to graduate. The logical inference would have been that the high schools had either failed to prepare these students, or that the students were not academically capable or inclined. Political logic, however, is not like ordinary logic. It works by different rules. A government minister couldn’t admit that many public high schools just weren’t good enough, or that little Johnny was a bit daft. That would have contravened the egalitarian ethos of the age. So if the high schools couldn’t be fixed, they’d fix the universities instead.
Now by fix they didn’t mean improve. Nope. They meant dumb down. Now this was at one of the most prestigious universities in the land. You can well imagine that dumbing down at such a place was bad enough, dumbing down at less academically selective schools would be the equivalent of destroying virtually all academic rigour. This dumbing down also had the added advantage of filling in all those empty spaces left when the Baby Boomers graduated.
Richard Anderson, “The Shadow of Truth”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-03-28
August 27, 2014
Published on 26 Aug 2014
“Just this whole process of going through the baby boom’s history, I began to realize what a nicer society — kinder, more decent society — that we live in today than the society when I was a kid,” says P.J. O’Rourke, best-selling author of Holidays in Hell, Parliament of Whores, and many other titles.
O’Rourke sat down with Reason‘s Nick Gillespie at Freedom Fest 2014 in Las Vegas to discuss his new book, The Baby Boom: How it Got That Way and It Wasn’t My Fault and I’ll Never Do it Again. As the father of three kids born between 1997 and 2004, he also lays down some thoughts about millennials, noting that they live in a much nicer, more tolerant world than the one in which he grew up. “I don’t think my 10-year old boy has ever been in a fist fight,” says O’Rourke, who was born in 1947. “I mean there might be a little scuffling but I don’t think he’s has ever had that kind of violent confrontation that was simply part of the package when I was a kid.”
He also feels that the internet “fragments information” in a way that destroys the sweep of history, at least at first. “You end up with mosaic information,” he says. “Now, I think over time the kids put these mosaics together but I don’t think the internet itself lends itself to the sweep of history.”
The interview also includes a tour of O’Rourke’s long and varied career in journalism, from his humble beginnings writing for an underground alt-weekly to his time as editor of National Lampoon and his incredible work as a foreign correspondent for Rolling Stone to his current position as columnist at the Daily Beast.
A prominent libertarian, O’Rourke also discusses the difficulties in selling a political philosophy devoted to taking power away from politicians.
“If libertarianism were easy to explain and if it weren’t so easy to exaggerate the effects of libertarianism — people walking around with ‘Legalize Heroin!’ buttons and so on — I think it would’ve been done already,” says O’Rourke. “But the problem is, of course, is that libertarianism isn’t political. It’s anti-political, really. It wants to take things out of the political arena.”
August 12, 2014
In sp!ked, Jennie Bristow reviews P.J. O’Rourke’s latest book, The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way (And It Wasn’t My Fault) (And I’ll Never Do It Again).
For the British ‘Baby Boom’ was very different to its American sibling, in both respects of the word. Demographically, Britain – like many other Western countries immediately after the Second World War – experienced a spike in the birthrate, but this dropped back quickly until the mid-1950s, when there was a less dramatic, but more sustained, bulge over the next 10 years.
Size isn’t everything, however, and the other aspect of the Baby Boom label is the period of prosperity and growth that followed the war in the US. O’Rourke’s introduction to the UK edition of The Baby Boom points out another fact that tends to be ignored in the slating of the British Baby Boomers – that ‘postwar experience in America was very different from postwar experience in a place where war, in fact, occurred. That is, we had the “post-” and you had the war.’
Throughout the book, O’Rourke’s fond accounts of growing up during the Fifties, which are generally amusing and often stylistically annoying, hammer home the space, freedom, affluence and indulgence enjoyed by the American Baby Boomers as children. In Britain, accounts of the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of the Fifties tend to extend to children playing by the river and neighbours leaving their front doors unlocked, glossing over the more drab reality that kids did not have anything to play with inside, and that most homes were not worth burgling.
Given the divergence in experience between the British and American Baby Boomers, one might wonder how the American debate, about the problems of the Boomers’ size, wealth and health (which, many grumble, means they will live ‘too long’, robbing younger generations of their fair share of pensions and healthcare resources), became plonked on to Little Britain with scant regard for the differences.
The answer lies partly in what the US Boomers did share with their counterparts in the UK, and in parts of Europe, too. This was the experience of growing up in the tumultuous Sixties, when youth appeared to be in the vanguard of a cultural revolution that swept aside established norms and values, rejecting the authority of tradition and, above all, of adults.
Swiftly demolishing another great myth about the Sixties, O’Rourke points out that, in reality, ‘the Baby Boom was the tailgate party, not the team on the field’: ‘There was a lot of “talkin’ ‘bout my generation” (Pete Townshend, born 1945), but it wasn’t my generation that was causing “What’s Going On” (Marvin Gaye, born 1939) during the “Youthquake” (a coinage from Punch, edited by people born when mastodons roamed the earth).’
February 3, 2014
January 7, 2014
Chronologically speaking, I’m a late Baby Boomer, but I’ve never felt I was a Boomer culturally. In the New York Times, Richard Pérez-Peña helps to explain why this is:
This year the youngest of the baby boomers — the youngest, mind you — turn 50. I hit that milestone a few months back. But we aren’t what people usually have in mind when they talk about boomers. They mean the early boomers, the postwar cohort, most of them now in their 60s — not us later boomers, labeled “Generation Jones” by the writer Jonathan Pontell.
The boom generation really has two distinct halves, which in my mind I call Boomer Classic and Boomer Reboot. (Take this quiz to see where you stand.) The differences between them have to do, not surprisingly, with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll — and economics and war. For a wide-ranging set of attitudes and cultural references, it matters whether you were a child in the 1940s and ‘50s, or in the 1960s and ‘70s. And it probably matters even more whether you reached adulthood before or after the early ‘70s, a time of head-spinning changes with long-term consequences for families, careers and even survival.
Late boomers like me had none of that — no war, no draft, no defining political cause, and most of our fathers were too young for World War II. I remember, as a teenager, seeing old footage of the riots outside the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, and thinking, “People my age don’t feel that strongly about anything.”
People raised in the immediate postwar years had more faith in their government, and an idealistic view of America that curdled in the ‘60s and ‘70s. My childhood memories of the evening news, on the other hand, include the war, protests, Watergate and the dour faces of Johnson and Nixon, not the grins of Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy.
In this way, I think we late boomers have more in common with the jaded Generation X that followed: we had less idealism to spoil. No, I don’t remember where I was when Kennedy was killed and innocence died (I was an infant), but I sure remember where I was when Nixon resigned and cynicism reigned. Older boomers may have wanted to change the world; most of my peers just wanted to change the channel.
H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.
January 5, 2014
Okay, it isn’t really (but if you think it is, you’ve probably fallen for the “gullible isn’t in the dictionary” prank as well). In the Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout discovers that every defining event of the Baby Boom era always comes back to being about the Baby Boomers themselves:
Most “Monty Python” fans are, of course, baby boomers, who have long been a nostalgic lot and are growing more so as they totter toward old age. Witness their tiresomely obsessive fascination with the popular television series of their youth. Likewise their undimmed passion for the rock music of the 1960s and ’70s, which they still love so much that they’ll buy expensive tickets to see wrinkled old codgers play it onstage.
As always with the boomers, this nostalgia contains more than a touch of narcissism. The same narcissism was on display in many of the countless gushy boomer-penned reminiscences occasioned by the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. An indisputably major historical event, to be sure, but there was also something decidedly creepy about the self-centered tone of those suddenly-my-world-changed pieces, which was deftly skewered by this Onion headline: “Area Man Can Remember Exactly Where He Was, What He Was Doing When He Assassinated John F. Kennedy.” Like everything else in the boomers’ world, Kennedy’s death turned out in the end to have been all about them.
Not surprisingly, my parents’ generation did everything they could to make life easier for their own children. Was that good for us? I wonder. It certainly didn’t do us any good from a cultural point of view. I’m struck by how few boomers have embraced adult culture in middle age. My impression is that they’d much rather watch sitcoms than read novels, go to the opera or listen to jazz. In large part they’re a cohort of Peter Pans, determined not to grow up any more than they can help. Indeed, not a few of them seem to take a perverse kind of pride in their adolescent enthusiasms. I read the other day that a “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” lunch box from 1973 now sells for $1,200 — and that the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History owns one. I’m not quite sure which of those facts makes me sadder.
If I live long enough, I’ll enjoy finding out how the millennials remember the world of their youth a quarter-century from now. Since they’re having a much harder time earning a living than did their baby-boom parents, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if their attitude ends up being much more like that of the wised-up kids of the Great Depression, especially as regards cultural matters. While I don’t know whether they’ll go in for late Beethoven by the time they reach their 50s, somehow I doubt that watching an ancient episode of “30 Rock” will cause them to recall with fondness the good old bad old days when they were living in crummy studio apartments — or their parents’ basements.
January 1, 2014
Kathy Shaidle posted a Twitter update that should cause a few shudders:
— Kathy Shaidle (@kshaidle) January 1, 2014
The article at the AARP website is clearly written to buff up the self-esteem of Baby Boomers everywhere:
We’re the largest, richest, best-educated generation of Americans, the favored children of a strong, confident and prosperous country. Or, as other generations call us, spoiled brats. Born between 1946 and 1964, the 76 million boomers reaped all the benefits of the postwar period’s extraordinary economic growth.
We were dizzy with our aspirations. We’d be rock stars. We’d be spiritual avatars. We’d be social activists. We’d be billionaires. No, better yet, we’d be all those things at the same time. (Steve Jobs came close.)
Every time opportunity knocked, we let it in, even when it should have been locked out for decency’s sake. And behold the boomers’ remarkable experiments with prosperity — the dot-com bubble, the housing bubble, the enormous financial bubble that’s still got the nation trying to get fiduciary gum out of its hair.
And now the boomers run the world. The youngest members of the generation that decided to be young forever are turning 50. That’s the age of maximum privilege and power. We’re giving everybody orders. The oldest boomers are enrolled in Medicare, collecting Social Security and receiving tax-free Roth IRA disbursements. Plus, American life expectancy has increased by almost 12 years since the baby boom was born, so it doesn’t just seem like we’ll never go away. From President Obama, Rand Paul and Jeff Bezos at one end of our age cohort to Hillary Clinton, Rush Limbaugh and Cher at the other, we cannot be escaped or avoided (or shushed).
But running the world means taking responsibility for it. The boomers have been good at taking things: Mom’s car without permission, drugs, umbrage at the establishment, draft deferments, advantage of the sexual revolution, and credit for the civil rights and women’s liberation movements that rightly belongs to prior generations. The one thing that can be left in plain sight without us putting our sticky mitts on it is responsibility. Ask our therapists. Or the parents we haven’t visited at the extended-care facility.