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, cackling to ourselves 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-How Baby-Boomers Took Their-Children's Future and Why They Should Give it Back, which has been received with rapture by one and all…. 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. – Boris Johnson, UK Telegraph
Dominant Social Theme: You're OK, and we (baby boomers) certainly are!
Free-Market Analysis: This book review by Boris Johnson is actually disguised social criticism, and later on he brings another book into the fray against with which he contrasts Willetts' book. As we can see from the above excerpt, he is not willing to grant Willetts' argument that baby boomers have left the world a worse off place for their children.
We would probably agree with Boris Johnson though for different reasons. In this article we will explain why the world may gradually be improving in ways that matter. But we will take issue with the prism through which Johnson and others see this evolution. We will attempt to show that the paradigm that should be used is one that views human progress as a struggle between a controlling power elite and much larger mass of humanity that sees only dimly the manipulative techniques that are being applied to it. We will argue that successive communication revolutions have done much to reveal these tactics and the result is that people may have the opportunity to live more freely in the 21st century – and thus to realize more of their potential.
If you are an investor or merely an informed citizen of the world, these perspectives are (or should be) important to you.
But let us return to baby boomers and Johnson's narrative. We will grant him his truths: Baby boomers in France, Britain and America – where a kind of boomer "movement" coalesced that made baby boomers a distinct sociopolitical force – once comprised an energetic and confident amalgam. Johnson is not willing to leave the past behind, however. Neither profligate nor irresponsible, Johnson believes that baby boomers have done well as a group, at least no worse than any other. And not content with his own argument, Johnson brings additional firepower to the fray in the shape of a book called The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley.
Johnson spends some time in his review describing the book and showing how Ridley builds his optimistic argument that things are much better today than before and that baby boomers can take credit for the improvement. In fact, the problems of the baby boomer generation, according to Ridley (as described by Johnson) are no different than problems bequeathed by previous generations to the next. Every generation does what it can and must. Each subsequent generation has a series of unique challenges that differ from those of the previous generation. Here's some more from Johnson's review:
If you want to predict the course of the next 50 years, says Ridley, it is not unreasonable to look at the last 50. Let us go back to 1955, the year that baby Willetts and so many other babies boomed into the world. It was already an epoch of astonishing prosperity, with consumption proceeding at such a pace that the economist JK Galbraith complained of an "affluent society" that was over-providing for material wants. But look at what happened in the next 50 years, and the way those benefits were spread around the world. By 2005, average global incomes had gone up by one third, in real terms. Infant mortality is down by two thirds; life expectancy is up by one third as advances in medicine have helped to reduce cancer, heart disease, stroke and virtually every other affliction of humanity …
We are so much richer, as a society, that an unemployed man on benefit now receives more – in real terms – than the average working wage in Macmillan's Britain. London's air is far cleaner, and so is the Thames; and a car travelling at top speed emits less pollution than a parked car in the 1970s, mainly because cars no longer leak. Now the question is: will baby-boomer selfishness really call a halt to this progress? Are we really likely to see an interruption of the process by which human beings have been able to become, on the whole, richer, taller, healthier, more able to take holidays and pursue hobbies and – in important respects – happier?
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. …
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.
We find these various analyses interesting, but none of them, from our point of view, get to the heart of what took place in the past 70 years, since the end of World War II – a time when the most militarized generation Western generations in history returned home, battle weary and fecund, ready to raise the generation that would become "baby boomers." The basic problem that baby boomers faced actually came from their parents, the group that American newscaster and pundit Tom Brokaw has actually called the greatest generation. This generation came of age during the Great Depression, scarred by poverty, frightened by the future, and they imparted a unique sense of values to their baby boomer kids.
It was not however one of truth-seeking nor innovation. The greatest generation was also perhaps one of the most pliant, accepting of increased government control in every aspect of life, including the projection of ongoing, serial warfare. That baby boomers chafed at this perspective (and declined to be military fodder) is both remarkable and appropriate. As if dimly aware of what the future might hold, a massive group of 20th-century youngsters rejected the civil militarization of their parents and sought something more credible, sincere and personal.
But once the statements had been made, Woodstock begun and ended, the baby boomer leadership, the leading thinkers and youthful philosophers, had no real solutions to offer. The baby boomer movement thus fizzled, in fact, and this vast generation, its idealism all in a muddle, went to work eventually within the constructs of a society that had solidified around their parents. The very aspects of society that had once been rejected were eventually accepted, and even upheld. And now, having become part of what they once rejected, baby boomers such as Johnson are looking back and defending the intellectual journey of their generation and generally trying to justify it.
In fact, there can be no justification, nor does there need to be one. Human beings as a species are between 100,000 and 50,000 years old, depending on which DNA tests you trust. The idea that human "advancement" can be measured generationally is probably something of a canard. There are ways to chart progress, but we think it has more to do with a larger underlying conversation that a generational analysis misses entirely. This analysis has been greatly facilitated by the Internet and would tend to involve closes scrutiny of those who provide REAL leadership to Western society, a group we characterize as the power elite.
We would argue that the construct the Bell (and other such publications within the alternative media) have offered to interested viewers is more comprehensive than a generationally based analysis. It begins long ago, with the rise of Neolithic urban centers such as Babylon and the rise, as well, of controlling elite families that used regulatory and religious methodologies to accumulate power and wealth.
These families, or those like them, are with us today. They use the same basic command and control methodologies that they used 3,000-5,000 years ago. And this handful of elite, empowered familial, religious, banking and corporate interests have always been opposed, intra-generationally, by an inchoate mass of outsiders – the common folk, resenting the harrying regulatory confines of their existences and striving to overcome the barriers penning their aspirations.
The key to modern society is not to be found in modern generational differences but in the invention of the Gutenberg press which shattered the medieval construct of power elite society and provided non-elites with information about their sociopolitical environment that had not been previously available. The result, as we have alluded to before, was the Renaissance, the Reformation, the founding and refinement of society in the new world and a variety of Western "revolutions" in America, France, etc. that built the modern world.
The history of the 19th and 20th centuries is actually the gradual retaking of power by an Anglo-based elite that was eventually, after the Civil War, able to extend its hegemony to the United States. The WRITTEN history of this time period, however, is seemingly one of empowerment – of women, of slaves, of oppressed people everywhere. But the narrative and the reality are far apart. The West has been drifting more and more into destructive authoritarianism – in the 20th and 21st century – under the guise of minority empowerment (and redistributionist benevolence) and this process has seemingly speeded up in the past decades.
The reason for the increased speed, in our estimation, is because of the rise of the Internet, the second great societal-shifting communications revolution of the past 500 years. The power elite has changed and become more dangerous and manipulative during this same time, as the methodologies of Venetian banking have been applied to historical approaches. Central bank money-printing has been elaborated upon, fear-based dominant social themes have been cultivated to accumulate power more narrowly, and, generally, the power elite has attempted to consolidate authority in the face of several waves of communications' revolutions.
This is the true organizational dialogue of society as we see it. It is not the rise and fall of singular generations, each struggling with their own series of "challenges." No, the history of humankind, at least in the West, is the struggle between an intra-generational elite that believes it is entitled to rule and a larger mass of humanity that opposes the command and control formulations endlessly being laid upon them.
It could be said (and we have written this, above) that baby boomers instinctively understood this underlying struggle and reacted, youthfully, in their own way against it. But the Internet was not yet invented during the 1960s and the information about what was really going on was lacking. Today, such information is available, but baby boomers are older now and the passion of youth is diminished. It is not likely that many boomers are apt to take up the fight to live more freely and to unravel the entanglements that elite have placed upon everyone else. That will have to be left to subsequent generations.
Seen from this point of view, a generational narrative of serial social "challenges" does not adequately define the arc of modern human history, which is seemingly a fight for freedom and the ability to realize as best as possible one's full potential. The elite has certain manipulative mechanisms that have long been put in play. The Internet has revealed them and made a deliberate opposition possible. Thus, there are movements afoot (not initiated for the most part by baby boomers, though) to build a better mechanism of governance, one with less regulatory authority fewer taxes and a monetary system based on free-banking and a private gold and silver standard. Meanwhile, the fear-based promotions of the elite have foundered in the face of the new technology and the fundamentally credible information it has spread. We think this happened before, during the Gutenberg era.
None of this has a great deal to do with Johnson et al.'s generational narrative or even whether one generation is being fair to the next. But if we choose to look, we can see that there is nonetheless a profound dialogue taking place and a historical document is indeed being erected act by act, story by story and report by report within the confines of the 'Net's alternative media. This is where the "action" is. The truth of humanity's condition is to be found in these dispatches, not in books that attempt age-based summations.