Generational warfare


Like many kids raised in the early 1960s on a diet of Marvel comics, I enjoy a good apocalypse, Armageddon or bloody revolution.

It’s only a matter of time before we starve to death, drown under rising sea levels, evaporate in a meteorite strike or choke on our own bodily juices due to a pandemic virus.

These are sexy but I can out do them all. Prepare for a civil war against your parents and grandparents. Recent media reports state that generational inequity will rip families apart and forever destroy the tranquility and equanimity that was once dinner with the folks.

Last year two British journalists Ed Howker and Shiv Malik told the Sydney Festival of Dangerous Ideas that the next civil war will be between the young and the old.

”What you will have is an increasingly disgruntled younger half of the population. What happens when people don’t have that security? What do you end up with? You end up with a confused bunch of young adults who end up acting a bit more like children,” Malik said.

Being a confused young adult with a chip on your shoulder may be a precondition for a career in politics or journalism, but it does not mean you will, as Monty Python said, be living in a shoebox and eating gravel for the rest of your life.

Malik and Howker’s book ‘Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth’ stated that increased longevity means the folks won’t be passing on the inheritance anytime soon. So kids, its looks like you’re going to have to move out of home and get a job.

The other alternative is more romantic but riskier. Generation Y could rise up (like a tidal wave caused by a meteorite) and in the dead of night (insert I am Legend) and take over. I’m right with you, even though I’m 53 and part of the problem (insert Logans Run).

I used to have a job in Canberra where we’d count all the Boomers and work out how much it was going to cost the Government to provide them with healthcare and pensions over the next 30 years. How much you ask? There’s not much change out of $30 billion. You’re right, it’s time to knock off Ma and Pa.

Much of the pressure for intergenerational war comes from the cultural left. A typical example was Jeff Sparrow’s article in The Drum, ‘Skyfall as a parable of reactionary generationalism’ (13 December 2012). It was a cracker.

“Generational conflict has come to the forefront of contemporary politics because it’s so central to climate change, the key issue of our time. Denialism doesn’t necessarily correlate with age – there are plenty of older people concerned about the environment and lots of young fogeys who aren’t. Nevertheless, climate sceptics skillfully play on generational resentment, mobilising retirees who see environmentalism as an attack upon the values upon which they’ve built their lives,” Sparrow wrote.

Climate sceptics are mobilizing retirees? So sceptics are organising like the Weathermen Collective and are holding secret briefings in retirement villages across Australia? Note how by denying that older folks are involved in this revolutionary activity, it leaves open the possibility that there are fifth columnists at work spreading dissention and hate against clean cut greenies. Also, how did we end up talking about climate change?

Those who sow intergenerational disharmony point to how good the Boomers had it from the mid 1960s to 1973 when the first OPEC oil embargo hit with the force of a sledgehammer and stagflation set in. Ian McAuley’s article in New Matilda is prime intergenerational hate material.

“On graduation baby boomers could pick and choose their employment; these were the days when an unemployment rate above one per cent was regarded as a policy failure. If they bought a house in the rapidly growing suburbs they paid only for the house and bare land. The cost of local infrastructure (drainage, sewerage, street lighting, street and sidewalk pavements) was met by public expenditure. Now those expenses are paid for by developers, who pass them on to house buyers,” McAuley wrote.

How can one defend as an individual member of a generation, the rise of mass society, the rise of America as a world power and the boom and bust of Australia’s economic cycles? One doesn’t own their role in history, individuals are carried along by the tide of events .And now McAuley wants the Boomers to ante-up. The average superannuation balance for the post war generation is about $80,000. Hardly a king’s ransom.

The language is reminiscent of China’s Cultural Revolution, including a doctrinaire return to the lowest common denominator – ignorance.

Actually, my concern is that contrary to McAuley’s prognostications, the Boomers decide to form a powerful political lobby group such as the AARP, (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) or create a political party dedicated solely to aged care, superannuation, healthcare and the eradication of age prejudice (of all kinds). A bloc of six million voters is not pluralism at work.

Before you start sharpening the knives, an University of Adelaide study in July last year found that people over 50 supported their ageing parents and adult children to the tune of about $23 billion each year. For many, Mum and Dad still pay.

In Australia the post war generation will spend big over the next 20 years. Productivity will slow but spending will rise. Many of the Boomers will work on part time and the demand for young skilled labour will increase and so will their wages.

Gen Y and their brethren probably shouldn’t let expectations run away with capabilities. When it comes to inherited largesse, a 2010 Melbourne Institute’s Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey found that the average inheritance peaked at $109,285 in 2006, up from $50,861 in 2002. Still, it’s better than civil war.

Even so, what is happening in Europe is no laughing matter. Young people in Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Greece will spend the rest of their lives paying off debt, because their governments kept borrowing to fund a life style that was not sustainable. They will pay for the sins of their parent’s generation.

So where did all of this global doom and gloom, ‘knock off the folks’, stuff come from? Over the last 20 years there has been a shift in radical thinking. The hardliners in the environment movement decided the era of revolutions was over and the era of catastrophes had begun.

They dumped the rules of evidence in favour of fearful fantasies. You don’t need to prove anything, you just need to think it. The illogical extension of all this ‘thinking’ is that intergenerational war looms on the horizon – and it’s all Mum and Dad’s fault. As usual.


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