Revenge of the ‘baby doomers’

By Christian Nielsen

Could the disgruntled ‘baby doom’ generation turn on Europe’s baby boomers?

16 July 2009

“As the recession tightens across Europe, the young are hurting disproportionately,” Time magazine reported last week in its piece The broken hopes of a generation. Unemployment in Spain is around 17% – already high – but one in three of these are under 25.

Bankers have been blamed for the global recession, but in Spain blame is starting to fall on successive governments seduced by the boom times, and a seeping suspicion that joining the euro has lined the pockets of businesses and left young people – even very well educated ones – scraping for entry-level employment opportunities.

“The lack of decently paying jobs for young Europeans is one the continent’s great failings,” writes Time. In France, they have a term for this which translates literally as ‘young graduates’ (jeunes diplômés) but means so much more. It speaks of a generation of young people who, perhaps for the first time since World War II, may be worse off than their parents. It speaks of a generation that will have to live longer with their parents. Without jobs and with dwindling prospects of getting one, as employers increasingly look for proven track records, this generation is even unattractive to a contrite financial sector.

Spain has dubbed this disappointed generation the mileuristas apparently because they scrape by on a thousand euros a month. They have been chewed up and spat out by companies looking to avoid the country’s onerous employment laws, with few benefits and little protection now that the axe is falling.

In Greece, a similar phenomenon is called the “Generation 600” which, according to the The Wall Street Journal (In Greece, protests echo European students’ ire) refers to the country’s national minimum wage of €600 a month. Germany calls them “Generation intern” because of the long spells of no- or low-paid jobs they are forced to take.

Turning on the baby boomers

Greece’s violent riots in December last year and Italian student protests – at their government’s unfavourable schools overhaul – are a palpable sign of things to come elsewhere where younger generations are starting to question a system set up by their ‘baby boomer’ parents who (they may well conclude) have sucked the planet dry for 50 years. Economic growth, asset creation, feathering nests… however you want to put it.

And don’t even get the youth started on the environment and how their erstwhile parents and grandparents have sat on their growing wealth (and hands) while the planet got sicker and sicker but the oldies’ bank accounts got healthier and healthier. At least the stock market (and pension fund) crash of 2008 set some of that straight, the young people may well conclude.

Don’t forget, it’s the same baby boomers who invented the pill and decided to breed by choice – fewer children means fewer future workers, which means less tax revenue, less money to pay for future pension schemes… The same baby boomers who are also hell-bent on living longer than ever – through medicine, genetic manipulation, what ever it takes – and the health and welfare systems of socialist countries in Europe will pay for it! (Read Promises of immortality.)

“ No problem, say the baby boomers, our health systems are strong enough for this right now and our nest eggs survived  the crash.”

But the deck is stacked… in their favour.

No problem for them. It’s the 40 year-olds and down – generation ‘baby doomers’ – who will have to pay tax for their parents’ comfortable (cruising the Caribbean) retirement, and stump up at the same time for their own superannuation in the expectation that most government pension schemes will probably be scrapped within 30 years anyway. And with financial markets faltering and crashing, private schemes are not a safe bet either.

The Economist had a great idea a few years ago to deal with this dearth of money and burdened pension schemes: it suggested granting baby boomers income tax-free status on everything they earned beyond the legal retirement age. Good idea, yes. But again the sliver set score big at the fruit machine.

Who knows, may be this problem will solve itself, as it looks like governments will expect baby doomers to work till 70, 80 or till they drop! Or perhaps growing automation will make most work redundant in the coming decades.

So, how is generation doom supposed to do all this, and be all things to everyone (model employees, positive parents) if their parents hold onto the jobs?

How is this generation to strive for better things, to put its all into an economic and social model created by their elders when the model now seems to be a one-size-fits-me (the parents)?

How can they trust that any decisions made on their behalf today will be any better suited to their needs in 30 or 40 years’ time?

They can’t. And when the penny drops, just watch it roll.

This article is published with the author’s permission. © Copyright – Christian Nielsen. All rights reserved.

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