The Boomer Bust
Thursday, July 31, 2003
By Radley Balko
"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury.” -- Sir Alex Fraser Tytler (1742-1813), Scottish jurist and historian, professor of Universal History at Edinburgh University.
“Don’t trust anyone over thirty,” -- 1960s radical Jack Weinberg.
Message to my fellow Gen-Xers (search): Lace up your boots. Shave that God-awful dot-com goatee. And stop sulking about how you hung onto those stock options just a wee bit too long. It’s time for inter-generational war. We’re about to be blindsided, Pearl-Harbored, politically cold-cocked by our generational nemesis.
I’m talking about the baby boomers (search).
Don’t get me wrong, some of my best parents are baby boomers. But the most self-aware, self-congratulatory, and self-destructive generation in American history is aging. Boomers are catching faint glimpses of their own mortality. They’re beginning to see themselves in nursing homes, convalescent centers and retirement communities. And so the generation that introduced us to political identity groups (search) and the culture of victimization now sees itself as an identity group, and an aging generation of victims. And now they want entitlements.
Consequently, my fellow Gen-Xers, you and I will be footing the bill, for example, for an $800 billion prescription drug benefit egged on, voted on and signed into law by baby boomers. Soon we’ll be paying for the God-given right of our parents to, for example, get erections well into their seventies.
Funny how just 10 years ago, boomers roundly rejected Hillary Clinton’s (search) proposal for socialized medicine (search) -- senior citizens have a right to force taxpayers to buy their pills? Absurd. A decade later, as boomers themselves approach retirement, having someone else pay for their medicine doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
And Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson (search) points out that as boomers age, it’s inevitable that they’ll discover more “rights” they’re entitled to as well. Perhaps taxpayers should foot more of the bill for nursing home care, for example. Look for boomers to move for targeted tax breaks they can exploit as they start cashing out their retirement accounts. Subsidies for the applesauce, muscle ointment and shuffleboard industries can’t be far behind.
Then there’s Social Security (search), the massive ponzi scheme (search) that unless radically reformed, is certain to collapse by the time anyone under 30 reaches retirement age. But don’t count on any meaningful changes. The retirement age will stay put so long as we have free elections. And despite its pending collapse, Social Security won’t be going away until the last baby boomer goes away, too. What you can count on is the “FICA” (search) portion of your paycheck growing heavier and heavier to support a system slouching ever closer toward insolvency.
Sure, there’s talk of reform, of giving younger workers ownership of their Social Security taxes (and let’s call them what they are, they’re “taxes,” not “contributions”) to perhaps invest for better yields than the paltry returns we get from government.
But don’t count on it. Boomers run 75 million strong. They have more money than we do. They vote more than we do. And lest we forget, most of the people drafting, amending, passing and signing the laws are boomers, too. If there’s any -- any -- danger of Social Security privatization interfering with the hand-backs boomers feel they’re entitled too, it simply won’t happen.
And those are just the government programs that directly benefit boomers.
Boomers I think suffer from a natural inferiority complex. The generation just before them -- the World War II generation (search) -- saved the world, after all. And when your parents saved the world, what, really, can you do to better them?
So when boomers aren’t busy voting themselves entitlements to prolong their lives, they’re striving for immortality -- if not for “Greatest Generation” (search) status, which is taken, then at least for “The ‘Damn the Results, At Least We Tried’ Generation.”
So we can also thank well-meaning leftist boomers for the litany of social safety net programs that have resulted in, ahem, more people in need of government-funded safety net programs. We can thank boomer idealism for the wars on poverty (search) and drugs that gave us, ahem, more poverty and more drug use.
Our current boomer president wants to change the world, too. And like his leftist boomer cohorts, he too will be sending us the bill.
President Bush and his cadre of boomer advisors have committed to a “nation building” (search) project in Iraq that we’re told will cost us $1 billion per week, for a minimum of five to 10 years. And when the U.S. government says we’ll be present in a foreign country for a “minimum of five to 10 years,” you might look to Bosnia and Kosovo (search), where President Clinton promised the troops would be out “by Christmas” (Christmas when? In 2050?); to Kuwait, where we still have troops a decade after the war; to Korea, where we have troops 50 years after the war; or to Germany or Japan, where we have troops 60 years after the war.
And that’s assuming that the war on terror stops with Iraq. Who’s to say how many other $1 billion per week projects our boomer leaders will decide to take on after that?
If you’re not a boomer, you ought to be worried about all of this. Because you’re going to be paying for it. When the last boomer pops his last Viagra (search), or her last Valium, when the last Middle Eastern country flies the American flag, when the last child of the last World War II couple buys his ticket to that grand CSNY concert in the sky, it is us, Gen-Xers, who will be stuck with the bill.
And to that, I can only quote another boomer, the great Roger Daltry (search):
“I hope I die before I get old.”
Radley Balko is a writer living in Arlington, Va. He also maintains a Weblog at www.theagitator.com.