Beware of Those Who Pit the Old Against the Young


new young and old

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.

10/3/2012 7:55:50 PM

There is an awful lot of obfuscation and lying going on just as this article mentioned! There are several good books dealing with the increasingly thorny issues of the income and wealth redistribution that has been going on for the past 30 years. "Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids..." by Matt Taibbi, "Perfectly Legal: The covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax Ssytem..." by David Johnston, "The Price of Inequality:..." by Joseph Stiglitz just to name a few cover the subject in an excellent manner and point out that much of the problem is that the "moneyed class" has bought the "political class" and gotten them to do their bidding in a myriad ways that few people know about much less understand! There are indeed many other issues involved such as demography, an increasingly global economy etc. but there are things this country could do to help tremendously but we have allowed ourselves to be so mightily distracted!

Evelyn Murphy
9/30/2012 7:11:16 PM

This article is an interesting take on a critical issue; demographic shifts and their consequences. The aging of the population in much of the industrialized world, which we are seeing now, is only the latest example. Utne's article seems to suggest that there is a unified effort to foment conflict between the generations (Note the comment about, "this concerted campaign") While people willing and able to take advantage of such hot button issues for personal gain will probably always be with us, I think we should be cautions about ceding them quite this much power. I do like his call for people to be critical analysts of media; read for content; hold authors accountable for the quality of their sources; and question, question, question!

Facebook Instagram Twitter