Tag Archives: Baby boomers

My Cursed Generation – the Baby Boomers

Seeing my nephew and all the other students graduate at his university produced within me a number of  mixed emotions. A pride in his success and that of the other students was mixed with a sense of despair about the world which they are about to inherit. While as individuals we have not been directly responsible for the actions of the powerful business corporations who with their political allies have been responsible for the devastation that they have wrought on the social fabric of our society; my generation has been complicit in support their destructive actions by giving them our support at the ballot box. In the last general election my generation overwhelming voted for the parties of the right. The parties whose policies are characterised by selfish individualism, greed and hatred of modernity. The vote to leave the EU was just one expression of this hatred of modernity. While we claim that we dislike European immigrants taking jobs away from our young people, what we hate more is the diverse ethnic makeup of our cities, which we associate with modernity. When a leader of the ‘leave Europe and hate modernity’ party complained that when he travelled on a train to London he could not hear one English voice amongst the speakers he was speaking for far too many of my generation.

I call my generation the  ‘cursed generation,’ because we were cursed by being born into wealth. Not the great wealth of the rich but a relative wealth, we were all aware how lucky we were not to have experienced the hardships of our parent’s generation. I can remember my father telling me that his family only had meat one day a week. On other days they had to resort to cutting for themselves a piece of ‘chitlin’ which was a slab of cured pig fat hanging in an outhouse. As a child I had meat every day of the week, even if some of those meals were of low quality meat. The English sausage which was a stable of so many meals in the 1950s contained almost as much bread as it did meat. We all knew that compared to our parents we were the privileged generation. It was this sense of privilege that was corrosive of our sense of collective morality.

All the belief systems of the past that had motivated our parents generation to work for a better Britain died in our generation.Being the generation of wealth we developed our own new beliefs. Ours was the generation of the teenager, a generation that had the money to spend on clothes and entertainment. When our parents were teenagers their appearance mirrored that of their parents. Their teenage years were for them but a short introduction to adult life. My father was at the age of 14 given the job of stacking the hay bales after harvest. It was an unpleasant job as mixed with the hay were thistles that priced the skin. He could not wait to get an adult job and leave behind his childhood. There was for him and millions of others no teenage.  Unlike my generation for whom it was a period of privileged irresponsibility. We could go out in the evening to clubs, buy fashionable clothes (which our parents hated), we were not overburdened with the sense of earning the income necessary for survival. Somehow this sense of childish irresponsibility never completely left us with the onset on adulthood. We were the first generation of child adults. The respected behaviour was one of self indulgence. We spent money on clothes, home entertainment and foreign holidays. Very much like the monied aristocracy of the past we became a generation of self indulgence. What mattered to us was how we spent our money, what had been the great issues of the past faded into insignificance.

A political ideology developed which mirrored the childish self indulgence of my generation, that of the New Right. The individualist philosophies which gave expression to our self indulgence were the philosophies of choice. What they damned was the corporate state, the state which provided had good quality social housing, ensured employed rights at work. They portrayed the laws and regulations of the good society as so many restrictions on individual freedom. A philosophy which won wide support among the baby boomers. When the Labour party in 2015 proposed a wealth tax on the most expensive of properties, the baby boomers uttered a collective expression of rage, as they were the prime beneficiaries of the housing boom. It mattered little to them that this money would go to fund local community services. If chance had increased the value of your house to £4 million, you claimed instead that the increase in value was due to your work in improving the house and that they state had no right to tax you for enjoying the benefits of your hard work.

One of the strange successes of this policy of freedom was the almost completer removal of state supplied social housing in many desirable areas. The ‘right to buy meant that tenants in local authority housing were able to buy them at a discount. Now thirty-seven years after the policy was introduced a majority of those houses are now in the hands of buy to let landlords. Now the tenants in these properties are forced to pay exorbitant rents and suffer anxieties of insecurity of tenure. Governments privileged potential landlords further by giving them the right to remove their tenants with only two months notice and so effectively ending tenants security of tenure. Right to buy has disadvantaged social housing tenants through denying them low cost housing and security of tenure. What the philosophers of the right failed to explain was that their philosophies of choice would privilege only a few individuals, the rich and powerful not the great majority.

Given the childish self indulgence of my generation it is not surprising that the newspaper, that so many of them choose to read was the one that deliberately crafted in message in a format that could be read by a child. Initially the owner of this most popular of papers insisted the articles in his paper should be written in the language that could be understood by the average thirteen year old. Today it has  been so dumbed down that the wording of its articles is that which could be comprehended by a seven year old. What better newspaper to popularise the political philosophy of individualism and self indulgence?

The political philosophy of these newspapers is very much that of the playground. When a child you want to belong, and you belong you must be a member of a gang. These childhood gangs have criteria for acceptance, criteria that must be met by all members. They have a definite sense of who cannot belong, who must be excluded from the gang in our to maintain its identity. If anybody could become a gang member the gang would cease to exist. Similarly our tabloid press identifies those who have a right to belong to the British gang and those who don’t. The don’ts are the poor, particularly those on benefit, European immigrants, particularly those of the East and European politicians of all sorts. All those who pose a threat to the British gang’s identity are to be excluded from membership. Just as children do, these papers subject the ‘outsiders’ to all kinds of abuse, reminding them that they are not wanted in the British gang.

Although mine was the self proclaimed generation of the age of Aquarius, that was an illusion. Instead it is the generation that disliked all that the Age of Aquarius brought with it. The disproportionate voting of my generation for Brexit and the Conservative party, is nothing more than the expression of this dislike.  I recently read an article by Thomas Franks about Republican supporters of Donald Trump which I think best explains this phenomenon. What we remember of our childhood was that it is was one of security, prosperity and endless summer holidays. Part of the reason for our roseate memories are that as children we were protected by our parents from the nastiness of society. However it was also a time of full employment, good wages and good housing for all who needed it. All that has vanished from society largely due to the rapacious behaviours of the large business corporations and their political allies. Yet rather than apportion blame were its due, we lay the blame at the feet of modernity. Modernity for us is the most visible expression of the modern bad times. As a group we dislike the ethnic mix in our big cities, we want to return to the security of our childhood. A childhood in which all the people were white ethnic British, as it as a time of job security, fair wages and the many other things that we associate with the good society. All of which are lacking today, so we think if we return to the past we will get all those good things that we had then. A belief not so dissimilar to those much derided cargo cults of the Pacific Islands. Instead of worshipping Prince Phillip and waiting for him to return and return all the wealth stolen by the Europeans, we worship the past and believe if somehow we could return to it, we would be able to return to the good society of the past.

I do believe that it is my generation’s innate sense of childishness and its nostalgia for a fondly remembered past, that makes it so susceptible to the siren appeal of the stories of the New and Alt Right.

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Economic magic, the reason why politicians constantly interfere in the running of our schools. Also one economist’s explanation of Britains low productivity economy.

There is one untruth that is always repeated about the baby boomers pensions and the young. Regularly one politician or another states that baby boomer generation has taken such a large share of the nations wealth that little is left for the young. Recently the Resolution Foundation released figures that showed the median income of a pensioner household exceeded that of the of the average working family. This became a media horror story, which the media claimed demonstrated that pensions were to generous. What the media ignored was that the median income for pensioners is not especially high and what it demonstrated was the appalling low level of incomes of the average working family. Rather than as the politicians argued that there was an urgent need to reduce the incomes of pensioners; what it demonstrated was the urgent need to increase the incomes of working families. No politician or media figure stated the obvious which was that even if the median wage of the working family was increased to that of the pensioner household, the former would still have great difficulty in paying their bills.

Britain is a low productivity and low wage economy. Without structural change in the wider economy the majority of families will remain in the category of either the ‘just managing’ or ‘not managing’. Our government and politicians sort of acknowledge the problem by talking about the need for educational reforms, reforms that they claim which will produce a highly educated and skilled labour force. This highly educated labour force will then produce goods or services of a high quality which will be in great demand and will be highly valued. Then these workers will then be able to command high salaries because they will be so highly valued. Sociologists use the term magic to describe behaviour or practices that the practitioners (in this case politicians) believe will magically solve their problems. Of course magic does not exist and neither do the imagined solutions to our economic problems.

One can add the rider that twenty years of educational reforms have produced a workforce that is less productive than ever. Britain is slowly slipping down the world productivity league.

The real cause of the problem of low productivity and low wages is the business model practised by most contemporary businesses. This model can be explained  simply as the minimising the cost inputs and maximising the output of profit. Labour is the most expensive of the inputs and if the costs of that can be minimised profits are maximised. All the reforms of the neoliberal era have made its possible for businesses to minimise wage costs through what can be described as the zero sum or gig economy. What is taken from the workers is given to the business’s owners. Workers are no longer employed by  ‘Deliveroo’ for example but they are independent suppliers, who are contracted to work when there is wok for them. This system achieves a massive cut in wage costs as the independent suppliers are only paid when there is work for them, which means low incomes for the independent suppliers and high profits for the owners. Also the business can pass on many of the other costs of the business to the ‘independent supplier’. They insist that they  buy they own means of transport, whether it be bikes or vans. This has a further benefit in that the independent supplier has to maintain their vehicles meaning the worker and not the employer has to bear the costs of maintenance of the business’s vehicles. Delivery businesses (goods or people) such as Deliveroo and Uber have achieved the nirvana of business perfection. All the firms have to invest in is the computer systems and staff for the handling and dispatching of the customers orders, all other costs are borne by their self employed contractors. When firms invest so little in the business they can only be low productivity businesses.

High productivity requires investment in machinery, and staff training all of which are high cost. As successive governments have reduced workplace protections to a minimum, it has become much easier to make money by squeezing wages and employment costs to a minimum. It is no coincidence that in a high cost industry such as car manufacturing there are no British owned businesses, all are owned by foreigners. Even Britain’s prestige car manufacturers Rolls Royce and Bentley are owned by BMW and Volkswagen. When there is a successful British manufacturer such as ARM, which makes computer chips for most of the world’s smart phones, it is sold by its owners to a foreign company. The owners preferring to live of the proceeds of the sale and live a life less arduous than that managing a business.

Only if the government took on British management and introduced legislative changes that would persuade or compel them to adopt the high input cost business model, would the low productivity problem be solved. However the government and the political class generally see this as a problem to difficult to tackle, so instead they continue with the non solution of constant education reform. In consequence every year there will be introduced by the government a ‘proliferia’ of education reforms. ‘Shouting in the dark’ is a behaviour which is intended to demonstrate that those scared by the horrors of the dark can scare them by talking loudly. Believing the noise they make will show that they are confident of resisting the evil one and force it to turn away to  find an easier prey. Educational reform is a shouting in the dark, politicians hope that if they shout loud enough they will scare away the horrors of the low productivity and low wage economy. Also by shouting loudly they hope to distract the people from the real problems that they are failing to tackle.