25 June 2006

Baby Boomer Legacy

The Globe and Mail ran a series on Saturday regarding the Baby Boomers now that their leading edge is on the cusp of retirement. The section includes a variety of issues, such as health, snarky commentary (my favourite type), and a documentary on tupperware. The timeline for the Boomer generation, Gen-X (the Bust), and Generation Why? (Baby Boom Echo) is given here. I am firmly ensconced in Generation Why?

Trying to make sweeping generalizations about the nature of a generation is somewhat useless, but we can look at the defining events of the baby boomer generation. First is the Cuban Missile Crisis. One can imagine what sort of impact this sort of trauma would have on young lives. The "Duck and Cover" ads (read: propaganda films) of the time were downright sinister. This has got to be the most widespread childhood trauma of the baby boomers. It wouldn't matter where you lived, or how rich your parents were, the fear of the bomb was over your head

In America the next major event would be the Vietnam war. However, Vietnam is not applicable to Western Europe or Canada. Furthermore, given the way people have reacted to 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq I think I can safely say that the Cuban Missile Crisis trumps Vietnam for psychological impact.

The relevance of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon is tough for me to analyze. I see it as posturing that accomplished nothing of significance, but I understand that it's one of the events that led to the general optimism of the baby boomer generation.

The next events that we would think would have a major impact on the collective consciousness of a generation would be the oil shocks of the early and late 1970s. Baby boomers were young adults at the time. While the oil shocks would have sweeping changes on the economy, the effect on psychology appears to be dependant on which continent you live on. In Europe and Japan attitudes changed; in North America the same generation later popularized the SUV.

In the 1980s and 1990s are mostly notable for what didn't happen. While Gorbachov and Sakharov did manage to bring down the Soviet Union, that only added to the general euphoria of the baby boomers. The 1990s were truly dull from my recollection. What didn't happen was any change to the unsustainable status quo. I think the overriding legacy from the baby boomers that we can quantify is the massive debts they're leaving behind as they retire. I'm not simply talking of publicly held debt, but pension and health entitlements, infrastructure investment, and the burgeoning energy and environmental crisis. They will probably be held up in history as the least sustainable generation.

The service payments on public debt consumes a major chunk of the budget of developed nations. This is a good life lesson against living off your credit card, although too many people seem to not have grasped this constatation.

On entitlements, in Canada the national pension plan has $100 billion in assets, as opposed to a box of IOUs in the USA. Our health situation is no better, however. As baby boomers age, one can easily invision massive pressure building on the health care system. Will we yun`uns be able to handle the demand baby boomers create for health care? The more pertinant question may be are we willing to pay for it? I would not be surprised to see the boomers force the issue of health care to the forefront due to their power as a voting block. However, I would also expect an eventual backlash.

Infrastructure debt seems to have maxed out in the mid-1990s. From what I've seen, that trend is slowly reversing itself. However, I would certainly take umbridge with the allocation of new capital for infrastructure. Mass transit has not even remotely kept pace with suburban development while the university system seems to have been overdeveloped compared to trades. The rise of MBA programs are a pox upon our lands while the electricity grid is in frighteningly bad condition.

The depletion of energy resources and the associated problem of climate change that comes with the burning of fossil fuels is the biggest issue, at least from my perspective. One thing I kind of miss with the Blogger software is the ability to run polls. It would be nice to survey people and see how the taxonomy of peak oilers fits with the various generations. (And yes, I am wondering if Doomers are predominately Generation-Xers.)

In the new millennium, there was the tragic day of 9/11 followed by the biggest non-sequitur ever, the invasion of Iraq. I do wonder how much of the reaction to 9/11 can be ascribed to a desire to counter the helplessness of baby boomers during the Cuban Missile Crisis. They've pretty much gone round a full circle and now we're right back at Vietnam.


Big Gav said...

Its funny - I'd guess most Doomers are boomers - looking at the more prominent ones (Colin Campbell and Jay Hanson for example) they are into their 60's or even 70's.

I'm a fairly stereotypical Gen-X'er and I feel we're too cynical to truly believe in anything all that strongly - including the prospect of industrial collapse based on peak oil theory...

Robert McLeod said...

We need to get Super G to run another poll. Of course, the last voluntary poll didn't seem representative.

Anonymous said...

"I'm a fairly stereotypical Gen-X'er and I feel we're too cynical to truly believe in anything all that strongly"
So why do you believe so strongly that the industrial economy can just go on forever the way it does now? For me, assumptions without evidence ARE a belief system -- although not a very sound one.