The Big Think

January 28, 2009

Hysterical

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 7:13 am

The Hysterical Style

If anyone wished to know what the baby-boomer generation would do when, in its full maturity, it hit its first self-created, big-time recession, I think we are seeing the hysterical results. After two decades of unprecedented economic growth, rampant consumer spending, and unimaginable borrowing to satisfy our insatiable appetites, we are suddenly going into even larger debt and printing trillions of dollars in paper money to ensure that someone else after we are gone pays the debt. As if the permanent solution to a financial panic and years of spending wealth we didn’t create were a government take-over of the economy in the manner we currently witness in Spain, Italy, and Greece—or the high-tax, high-spend ethos of a bankrupt California.

The reaction to the economic panic was sort of analogous to the call to ‘charge it!’ after 9/11 (cf. Ike’s fights about the surtax to pay for Korea), or to the Iraq 2006 upsurge in violence, when suddenly our leaders declared the war lost, blamed the nebulous “they” for tricking them into voting for the war, and calling for immediate withdrawals and retreats. Ditto the Stalag-Gulag Guantanamo that, by January 19, had ruined the Constitution, shredded the Bill of Rights, and forever tarnished our reputation. Yet, on the 20th, it was suddenly complex and problematic, and required a “task force” to do a year-long inquiry into the bad and worse choices confronting us. At some point in all this serial hysteria, we are beginning to see the problem is not in the stars of the economy or of the war, but in ourselves—a weird generation that, when it finally came of age, proved to be just about what we could expect of it from what we saw in its youth.

And this:

“Having been a target of commercial opportunity during its entire sentient existence, the Baby Boomer generation’s lasting legacy may well be to have been the first American generation to have consumed more, or at least as much, as it has produced. . . . If generations actually had their own moral legacy, we Boomers would be the dependent loser — the one kid who could never hold a job and never save a nickel and was always asking for a ‘loan’ — of the American family. If we had a generational sense of duty (which we do not, obviously), we would realize that we need to surrender the long-tail entitlement benefits that bear down on the American economy.”

This is not, of course, to imply that then entire Boomer generation has gone sour, just the ones drawn to political power. My parents (and a great many of my friends’ parents) are models of foresight and smart planning. Wisdom seems to be antithetical to the attributes you would have found in a participant at, say, Woodstock. So while 90% of the post-greatest-generation deserves a lot of credit for responsible living, it’s the other 10% that will trash the place before handing the keys over to the young-uns.

My biggest concern is that the generational pendulum will swing back far enough when Gen X holds the reigns to undo some of the massive damage being done now. I hope my generation is wise enough to resist squandering whatever is left from this current debacle on short term pleasure.

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