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Beware of Those Who Pit the Old Against the Young

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Have you noticed the proliferation of recent stories on TV, radio, in print, and online claiming there’s a war between the old and the young? Once you start paying attention you’ll see the headlines everywhere. One of the shrillest and most egregious screeds was by Stephen Marche in the April 2012 issue of Esquire. In an article titled “The War Against Youth,” Marche writes:

One thing is clear: There is a young America and there is an old America, and they don’t form a community of interest. One takes from the other ... Across the board, the money flows not to helping the young grow up, but helping the old die comfortably ... The biggest boondoggle of all is Social Security ... Only 58 percent of Boomers have more than $25,000 put aside for retirement, so the rest will either starve or the government will have to pay for them... Nobody wants this. The Boomers did not set out to screw over their kids. The wind just seemed to blow them that way ... The situation is obviously unsustainable ...

What Marche and the other alarmists are referring to is the aging of the world’s population, especially in the U.S., Europe, Japan, and China. Just as the post-WWII generation in the U.S. is larger than that of the Gen-Xers and Millennials, so too is the population aging in China, as a result of the latter’s one-child policy. Novelist Martin Amis quips that this worldwide “silver ­tsunami’” of increasingly aging people will lead to civil war between the old and the young. His prescription? “There should be euthanasia booths on every ­corner where you could get a martini and a medal.”

It’s true that young people are being robbed of their futures. But Baby Boomers are not responsible for this theft. We’re all in this together. Since 2008, U.S. workers have lost trillions in savings and millions of houses have been foreclosed. And real salaries haven’t grown in 30 years. People of every age are out of work. Baby Boomers aren’t the enemy of Gen-Xers or Millennials. We are each other’s best and natural allies.

The real culprits are the One Percenters: the Wall Street bankers, the corporate polluters, (especially big coal, oil, and natural gas), and the politicians and media who serve them. Boomers are no more responsible for mortgaging the future of the young than blacks are for the loss of poor whites’ jobs, or women for the loss of men’s jobs. The Haves (the One Percenters) will always try to turn different segments of the 99 Percent against each other. That’s how they hold onto their power, even as the System itself runs increasingly out of anyone’s control.

So who’s trying to stir up this age war, and what’s their motivation? According to Dean Baker, an economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a progressive think-tank, it’s a deliberate campaign:

There is a well-funded effort in this country to try to distract the public’s attention from the massive upward redistribution of income over the last three decades by trying to claim that the issue is one of generational conflict rather than class conflict... Billionaire investment banker Peter Peterson is the most well-known funder of this effort, having kicked in a billion
dollars of his own money for the cause.
 

One of the best sources of on-going coverage of all things age-related, including this invented generational war, is the daily blog Time Goes By, by Ronnie Bennett. In her June 25 issue, Bennett takes New York Times’ Washington bureau chief David Leonhardt to task for his June 24 article, “Old vs. Young.” She writes, “In Leonhardt’s world, the average $1,100 per month Social Security check is way too much, and if young people can’t have Medicare then old people shouldn’t have it either. It doesn’t occur to Leonhardt (or anyone else who blames elders for everyone else’s ills) that the better solution all around would be to expand Medicare to everyone along with paying all workers a living wage and seeing that the wealthy among us pay their fair share in taxes.”

Baker acknowledges that young people are not doing well. “But this is a story of Wall Street greed, corruption, and incompetence. It has nothing to do with the Social Security and Medicare received by the elderly.”

Don’t allow yourself to be fooled by this manufactured conflict between the old and the young. Find out more about this concerted campaign from sources like the CEPR and Ronnie Bennett. And, whenever you find stories in the media that perpetuate the deception of the generational war, contact the authors and their publishers and advertisers, and let them know the truth.

Eric Utne is the founder of Utne Reader

Image courtesy of bobboo_77, licensed under Creative Commons