19 May 2018

The role of baby-boomers in America's decline

Excerpts from a longread:
Lately, most Americans, regardless of their political leanings, have been asking themselves some version of the same question: How did we get here? How did the world’s greatest democracy and economy become a land of crumbling roads, galloping income inequality, bitter polarization and dysfunctional government?

.. the celebrated American economic-mobility engine is sputtering. For adults in their 30s, the chance of earning more than their parents dropped to 50% from 90% just two generations earlier. The American middle class, once an aspirational model for the world, is no longer the world’s richest... too few basic services seem to work as they should. America’s airports are an embarrassment, and a modern air-traffic control system is more than 25 years behind its original schedule. The power grid, roads and rails are crumbling, pushing the U.S. far down international rankings for infrastructure quality. Despite spending more on health care and K-12 education per capita than most other developed countries, health care outcomes and student achievement also rank in the middle or worse globally. Among the 35 OECD countries, American children rank 30th in math proficiency and 19th in science...

...many of the most talented, driven Americans used what makes America great–the First Amendment, due process, financial and legal ingenuity, free markets and free trade, meritocracy, even democracy itself–to chase the American Dream. And they won it, for themselves. Then, in a way unprecedented in history, they were able to consolidate their winnings, outsmart and co-opt the forces that might have reined them in, and pull up the ladder so more could not share in their success or challenge their primacy...

The result is a new, divided America. On one side are the protected few – the winners – who don’t need government for much and even have a stake in sabotaging the government’s responsibility to all of its citizens. For them, the new, broken America works fine, at least in the short term. An understaffed IRS is a plus for people most likely to be the target of audits. Underfunded customer service at the Social Security Administration is irrelevant to those not living week to week, waiting for their checks... On the other side are the unprotected many. They may be independent and hardworking, but they look to their government to preserve their way of life and maybe even improve it. The unprotected need the government to provide good public schools so that their children have a chance to advance. They need a level competitive playing field for their small businesses, a fair shake in consumer disputes and a realistic shot at justice in the courts...

The protected need few of these common goods. They don’t have to worry about underperforming public schools, dilapidated mass-transit systems or jammed Social Security hotlines. They have accountants and lawyers who can negotiate their employment contracts or deal with consumer disputes, assuming they want to bother. They see labor or consumer-protection laws, and fair tax codes, as threats to their winnings–which they have spent the last 50 years consolidating by eroding these common goods and the government that would provide them.

That, rather than a split between Democrats and Republicans, is the real polarization that has broken America since the 1960s. It’s the protected vs. the unprotected, the common good vs. maximizing and protecting the elite winners’ winnings...

 “American meritocracy has thus become precisely what it was invented to combat,” Markovits concluded, “a mechanism for the dynastic transmission of wealth and privilege across generations. Meritocracy now constitutes a modern-day aristocracy.” 
Much more at the Time magazine source.

20 comments:

  1. To me, the most telling sentence in this article: "In a battle that began a half-century ago, the achievers won."

    Read the article. Maybe I am missing something here, but the quote above seems to be the central point of this diatribe. The achievers won.

    I consider myself to be an achiever. Born during Ike's first term, went to public school, started working at age 14, served in SE Asia, used the GI Bill to become an aircraft technician, put myself through college in 3 years with no loans, worked as a teacher for more than 30 years (one more year, then I am done), put 2 kids through college (no government loans), own a home. I have lived fairly modestly but comfortably, have never borrowed money except for a mortgage, and continue to encourage my children to do the same. Through prudent investment and luck, and a modest pension from my teaching years, I plan to have a very comfortable retirement and leave a small legacy to my children. I know that it is likely that some government policies have helped me, especially the mortgage interest deduction, child tax credits, and some deductions for education expenses.

    Now I come to find that I am the reason for our crumbling infrastructure, declining achievement in schools, and the failure of our elected government to pass common-sense budgets. Who knew that over-achieving and making good decisions could have such negative results?

    I apologize to future generations for the achievements of my children. I think they both might be more financially successful than me, even though they were forced to attend state colleges.

    Excuse me while I go search for my hair shirt...

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    Replies
    1. I'm also a baby-boomer, from the first year of such. I don't feel "guilty" either.

      But I think you're taking personally what is meant to be an indictment of a generation of people. What happened during the past 50 years happened during the "watch" of the baby-boomers, though not by the unanimous coordinated behavior of everyone.

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    2. I don't believe that any indictment of a generation is valid. I see articles written about Generation X and especially the Millenials that paint them as lazy and entitled. If I were them, I would not appreciate being judged as a group because [a few, some, many, a majority, all, pick one] fit that description.

      IMO, far more baby boomers have made this world a better place than than it would have been without them. An indictment of an entire generation due to the actions of a very small percentage of them is poor journalism. It is like judging the actions of all males on the behavior of a relatively minute sample. Oh, wait, we've already done that one...

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    3. As a baby boomer, I see my generation as a failure. The majority of us voted for Reagan in 1980. We left our ideals behind--ideals never very deeply rooted in the first place. Very much a "me" generation, we chased the buck and let the poor fall victim to neoliberalism. We flirted with environmentalism, but never made any real sacrifice. Still don't. My affluent liberal peers are unwilling to even engage on civil liberties issues affecting the homeless, in our medium sized California city. More concerned with fine wines and international travel. Sign me, Disgusted.

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    4. I see an article written by the "meritocracy" for the "meritocracy", one managerial classmate to another, about how dreadful it is that the unearned pride and glory they have in their gated communities and connected lives is all the fault of "boomers" and the crumbling infrastructure has NOTHING to do with the trillions wasted on feel-good, worthless initiatives to feed the "hungry" and house the "homeless" and "educate" the masses of near-illiterates (who STILL deserve free college, of course).

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    5. Now I come to find that I am the reason for our crumbling infrastructure, declining achievement in schools, and the failure of our elected government to pass common-sense budgets. Who knew that over-achieving and making good decisions could have such negative results?

      Yep. You(r generation) voted for tax cut after tax cut, raiding government funds to pay for your own stuff instead of the common good. You(r generation) voted for the politicians that did this. Not the kids. Not the millennials that you(r generation) now accused of being lazy. They have lived their entire lives at war. They are confronted with skyhigh tuition fees. You(r generation) didn't overachieve. It raided the public coffers.

      Here's the British reply to your feigned innocence. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QQOD4dqSoY
      (In case you don't know British politics, just replace Jeremy Corbyn with Bernie Sanders, and you're ok).

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    6. And here's the American equivalent.
      https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/06/the-birth-of-a-new-american-aristocracy/559130/

      Delete
  2. I'm straddling the generations and the classes, and I hope, and work for, a change to the status of the privileged minority. Let the minority, the women, the non-whites, rise and take control.

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    Replies
    1. Why? Looking at the population, white males are a minority. I don't think they should be in "control," whatever that means, any more than any other group. Shouldn't all residents of this great country work together for the good of all, rather than various groups taking control?

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    2. That's a nice... thought- but various groups have always been in control of this country, amongst others, and one group in particular( ie- rich White males). That hegemony finally started to be threatened the last half century- notice where Reagan began his campaign for President. What you see now under Trump are the final, desperate, all out gasps at retaining that hold on unilateral power.

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    3. Rather than a last gasp, it seems to me the power is ever more entrenched. The top ten percent now own 75% of US wealth and the bottom 50% own O%. This gets worse by the day. It got worse under Obama. So,we may have more privileged white females in DC or even more racial diversity, but I see no evidence this will diminish the power of the haves and the have mores. The upper class will continue accumulating almost all of the capital, Trump or no Trump.

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    4. No argument there- the rich now demand the crumbs as well! But it is also of no argument that most of those who hold that power, wealth and privilege are the rich White males the world over who always have- and are now more panicked and determined to hold on to that privilege, and increase it at eveyone's perile...

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  3. I haven't read the article yet, but I definitely will.

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  4. I guess one of my greatest achievements as a Baby Boomer is that my children are VERY likely to do better financially than I did. It would be hard to do worse.

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  5. I think the biggest danger is in people believing stuff like this. Believing the game is rigged against them by an "other" instead of achieving and out performing the genereations that came before.
    The real danger, as clear as the sun rising, is in complacency, entitlement and unwillingness to sacrifice as earlier generations did.

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    Replies
    1. If the game is "rigged" then it seems we have a contest between realism and optimism. Especially if I were a Millennial, or younger, realism might facilitate grief, better than optimism. And, environmentally, I think grief is a legitimate, authentic response. Perhaps for the loss of a more "human" way of life, as well.

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    2. How exactly are Gens XY&Z not willing to sacrifice?

      Who fought all those wars in the Middle-East?

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  6. Isn't this just class warfare rhetoric? How do we determine the winners? Do we measure this globally or only from the previous generations of Americans? I'm not sure that the answer is as simple as, "Some people won and sabotaged the government and refused to share."

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  7. "Class warfare rhetoric" is exactly what we need and exactly what the article is saying was repressed by the new class of "haves."

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  8. Another, very much, related article:

    https://www.vox.com/2017/12/20/16772670/baby-boomers-millennials-congress-debt

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