Nicholas D. Kristof of the NY Times has written what other columnists wont, that the net impact on America by the boomer generation is negative.
Our influence has been huge. When boomer blood raged with hormones, we staged the sexual revolution and popularized the Pill. Now, with those hormones fading, we’ve popularized Viagra.
As we’ve aged, age discrimination has become a basis for lawsuits, and the most litigated right has become the right to die. The hot issue of the moment is Social Security, and the newest entitlement program is a prescription drug benefit for the elderly.
Our slogan has gone from “free love” to “free blood pressure medicine.”
But I fear that we’ll be remembered mostly for grabbing resources for ourselves, in such a way that the big losers will be America’s children.
A word he doesn’t use is “selfish.” To me, more than any, this word sums up the experience of living on the fringe of boomerhood. I say “on the fringe” because I was born late in 1959. To some indicators, the booming population growth cut-off is 1960, some analysts say 1964, either way, I have always been too young to participate in the mainstream baby boomer mentality. Does this exonerate me? No. For many years I have lived the boomer life, but my perspective of a younger sibling has helped my see the outright selfishness inherent in the “me generation.” I was able, to some extent, to learn from the mistakes of my elders.
Nicholas goes on to explain the rise in affluence American seniors enjoy compared to the constant 18% poverty of American children. As the boomer generation has aged, political focus has aged along with them. Yet our focus on the welfare of children in poverty remains unchanged. What he misses is the failing education system, whose funds have been systematically raided for the benefit of the political hot issues brought on by the aging boomers population. Now that the children of baby boomers have all left the primary and high school levels, funding has all dried up. Nicholas D. Kristof continues:
One measure of how children have tumbled as a priority in America is that in 1960 we ranked 12th in infant mortality among nations in the world, while now 40 nations have infant mortality rates better than ours or equal to it. We’ve also lost ground in child vaccinations: the United States now ranks 84th in the world for measles immunizations and 89th for polio.
With boomers about to retire, I’m afraid that national priorities will be focused even more powerfully on the elderly rather than the young - because it’s the elderly who wield political clout.
“The elderly are retired, and it’s easier to get them to go to rallies or write their congresspeople,” notes Heather Boushey of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. “Children can’t vote, don’t give money and have no power, and neither do their parents.”
We boomers are also preying on children in a more insidious way: We’re running up their debts, both by creating new entitlement programs and by running budget deficits today. Laurence Kotlikoff, an economist and fiscal expert who with Scott Burns wrote the excellent and scary book “The Coming Generational Storm,” calls this “fiscal child abuse.”
The book says that the Treasury Department commissioned a study by two economists of the United States’ long-term liabilities, for inclusion in the 2004 federal budget. The study found that the government faces a present value “fiscal gap” - the excess of expected payments over expected revenues - of $51 trillion. That’s 11 times our official national debt and also greater than our total net worth, meaning that in some sense we’re bankrupt.
Not surprisingly, the Bush administration took a look at the study, blanched, and declined to publish it.
The suppression of unfavorable information will remain the hallmark of this administration. This is just another manifestation of boomer selfishness, as they are the ones in Washington, after all.
Such an attitude reminds me of a favorite work of mine from the boomer generation, The Point! as written by Gary Lund, and performed by Harry Nilsson. On his journey, the hero Oblio meets the Rockman, who states, “You see what you want to see, and you hear what you want to hear.” Does this remind you of the three little monkeys, Hear-No-Evil, See-No-Evil, Speak-No-Evil? In the story, therockman was pointing out the dangers of looking the other way. In fact, such behavior became indicative of the “My Generation” generation. Such willful ignorance is an barometer of a narrow minded, business-as- usual attitude of a not-in-my-yard selfishness that underlies what the baby boomers have always been about. To sum up the boomer generation, I would use the two word phrase: “Me First!” All other considerations are secondary. Nicholas D. Kristof sees it, too, as is evidenced by his closing statement.
In coming years, we’ll hear appeals for better nursing homes, for more Alzheimer’s research and for more wheelchair-accessible office buildings, and those are good causes. But remember that American children are almost twice as likely as the elderly to live in poverty, and that you get much more bang for the buck vaccinating a child than paying for open-heart surgery.
The solution is not to force the elderly to get by on cat food again. But we boomers need to resist the narcissistic impulse to ladle out more resources for ourselves. Our top domestic priorities should be to ensure that all children get health care and to get our fiscal house in order.
Otherwise, we boomers may earn a place in history as the worst generation.
Methinks it is too late.