Who is Responsible for this Mess? : Generation Parasite vs. Generation Apathy

It’s all too common for commentators to look at the world today with an overabundance of skepticism. With the global economy in upheaval, bloody revolts in fill-in-the-blank-region of the world, and an evolving and shifting political economy, there is certainly a lot to be pessimistic about- something this publication has definitely capitalized on. In an effort to find causes for this, many have returned to the classic trope of blaming youth culture. With our sheltered lifestyle, technology driven ethos, and our consumerist “iPhone” culture, we as a generation are said to have singlehandedly bankrupted and isolated the West. Our generation, dubbed Generation Y or “The Millennials” have been attributed with being the most self centered, self involved, and “The worst. Generation. Ever.[1]

Figure 1: Birth Rates in the USA jump exponentially almost immediately after the war until about 1959 (US Census Bureau)
Figure 1: Birth Rates in the USA jump exponentially almost immediately after the war until about 1959 (US Census Bureau)

Well, I am here to answer those accusations, and level the blame not on “us”- those currently in college or high school- but instead on “you.” By “you”, I mean the age demographic with the largest amount of political, economic, and cultural power ever to be born in the West: the baby-boomer generation. Or as the readership of this publication personally knows them: your parents.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term,“baby-boomer” was first coined by British and American census takers in the late 1940s and 50s. With GI’s returning home from WWII (or just The War), birth rates throughout the world skyrocketed, especially in the western world.  While baby-boomer parents were born into one of the most turbulent times of world history, fighting two world wars, dealing with devastating plagues, and surviving the Great Depression, their children were born into the greatest prosperity the world had ever seen. The western world was stable (the European Union just won the Noble prize because of this), there was no war on the scale of WWI or II, credit was easy and interests rates were low (due predominantly to the incredibly liberal reforms made throughout the world a few years before in an attempt to combat the Depression), money was easy to come by and there was a lot of it, globalization was just starting to become a thing causing a rapid increase in job demand, and the world saw the greatest single period of population expansion since the Columbian Exchange.

And the baby boomers took full advantage, becoming incredibly complacent in the process.

Every single economic and cultural trend of the past sixty years can be traced back to the presence, and zeitgeist, of the baby-boomer generation. The 1950s nuclear family and conservatism was merely a reaction to the fact that there were simply a lot of kids that needed raising, and society responded. The free-love and peace movements of the 1960s falls in line with the baby-boomers puberty years- and what do teenagers brought up in a nuclear family want more than to break out? The shock over the “first televised war” of Vietnam can only be explained as the shock of the young people who did not want to fight- the previous generations had seen war ten times more atrocious than Vietnam. The growing conservative movements of Thatcher and Reagan in the 80s and 90s coincides with the Baby-boomers getting steady jobs and 401Ks, and wanting to keep and expand their financial holdings.

To support this self-centered lifestyle, the baby-boomer generation sunk the entire world into an almost impossible debt. “Debt per capita in the western world skyrocketed up 142% in Portugal, 94% in Spain, 63% in Germany, 223% in UK, 90% in France 105% in Greece, 33% in Italy, 47% in Canada, 37% in Japan, 269% in Ireland and 151% in the US according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek.[2]” Baby-boomers were able to build an unwieldy economy on the back of dirt-cheap fossil fuels which they consumed in droves, contributing both to the fuel shortages throughout the world and to environmental issues that will take lifetimes to avert or adapt to. The current debates throughout the Western world on entitlements projects such as healthcare or social security that will cost younger generations trillions are a direct result of the baby-boomer generation beginning to retire, and feeling “entitled to their entitlements.[3]” The housing bubble and “Great Recession” can be traced back to the financial policies of the 80s and 90s, brought to the political fore by baby-boomers trying to live up to their opulent lifestyle.

To be fair, the baby-boomers did do some good in their time. It is because of their youthful rebellion and societal orientation that equality movements for women, minorities, and the disabled were able to gain enough momentum to effect change. They are the generation that decolonized the world; that implemented the idea of humanitarian intervention and recognized genocide; and they are the generation that gave us more than half of the 100 greatest music artists of all time according to Rolling Stone Magazine. However, it seems that recently, this generation has been backtracking a bit, growing in conservatism with old age and attempting to solidify it’s power. Over 60% of representatives in the US Congress, UK Parliament, and other European parliaments are members of the baby-boomer generation, and are supported and funded predominantly by lobbies and companies composed primarily of, and controlled by, members of this generation.

The Millenial generation has, in turn, been given one of the shortest straws in recent history. Dropped into a world where schools are the most difficult to get into and the most expensive they have ever been, with jobs waiting for them in a world more competitive than ever before. “The baby boomers built an economy where young people increasingly need a college education to move into the middle class, or even to simply hold on to the middle-class lifestyle they were born into.[4]” In a study conducted by Unicef in 2007, it showed that the two countries that had the largest baby boomer populations, the US and the UK, were also the two countries with children who had the lowest quality of life. All of this amounts to one of the first instances in modern history where, universally, parents think that the world they are leaving their children is worse off than the world they inherited.

Because of the odds stacked against us, it is dangerously possible that the Millenial generation will descend into apathy, confronted with too many problems that need solving. However, while the Millennial generation has inherited a world that is the result of the selfishness and opulence of the baby-boomers, it does not have to be defined by it. While the baby-boomer’s character traits were largely based around the individual, Millennials are much more focused on group dynamics and achievement. Our focus on technology and inter-group relationships has caused the rise of the greatest flow of information between cultures, and therefore the greatest potential for cultural understanding. The character traits of the Millenials are more civic-minded, as opposed to the nationalist-minded mindsets of previous generations, resulting in a greater cosmopolitanism. Also, because of the intense job market and collegiate requirements, Millenials will be one of the most achievement-driven generations, causing them to become more specialized, competitive, and indeed more intelligent than previous generations. Finally, due to the internet and globalizing forces, Millennials have greater access to information and different people, increasing the sense of cultural acceptance and plurality throughout the younger generations.

We as the new generation have been forced to live with the sins of the past, but that does not mean we have to be defined by them. Through acknowledging the negative characteristics of those that came before, we as a generation can move forward and change the world for the better, setting the world back on track and, once again, leaving future generations a brighter future than the one we have been given.

[1] This is a quote from the HBO series The Newsroom, citing a time when the previous generation “stood up for what was right, reached for the stars” and in general took credit for the actions of the GI and Great generations.

[2] Canada Investment Review. “How Baby-Boomers ruined the world” <http://www.investmentreview.com/expert-opinion/how-baby-boomers-ruined-the-world-6061>

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Atlantic <http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/10/who-destroyed-the-economy-the-case-against-the-baby-boomers/263291/>

2 Replies to “Who is Responsible for this Mess? : Generation Parasite vs. Generation Apathy”

Leave a Reply