After a three-decade party, with some folks getting to party a lot more than others, there is suddenly no way to avoid the reality other than drifting into closed-eyed fantasy. The generations I have identified as Generation Greed, the richest in American history, are leaving the generations to follow are much worse off in many ways. And, in many cases, those at the back end of Generation Greed are facing old age much worse off then they themselves had been, forced by their prior excess consumption, debts and prior lack of savings to downsize a material lifestyle that for many of them had been the whole project of their lives. As I most recently noted in detail in my previous post.
The consequence of this realization has not been an increase in empathy or an attempt to change the worst aspects of a collective legacy while there is still time. There is still no willingness to make any personal sacrifices in the present for the collective future. The fact that the non-greedy minority of Generation Greed hasn’t stepped up to face the facts and battle for their own offspring is one final disappointment. The desperate desire of some of its rich to insulate their own children from the consequences of a diminished society — by repealing the estate tax — is the only effective example of concern by today’s seniors with what they will leave behind. Rather, the media they dominate remains filled with demands for scapegoats and rationalizations, and one more round of “what about my needs!” Needs that are somehow supposed to be met by latter born generations that are poorer, and yet are having large economic burdens shifted to them that will diminish their entire future.
But if one uses the right search terms, one can find some examples over the past year of younger generations beginning to resent the country they have inherited, albeit not enough to get off the couch and do something about it.
“The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money” – Margret Thatcher in 1976
“The problem with capitalism is that given enough inequality, eventually businesses trying to sell things run out of other people’s money” — Larry Littlefield, 2016
For 35 years, generations of Americans born after 1957 or so have been paid less but sold more, with the difference covered first by more household members in the workforce, then by inadequate requirement savings, and then by soaring public and private debt. The richest and most entitled generations in U.S. history worked hard and were very creative, but they over-consumed what even they were able to produce and expected too many years in retirement with too little in savings, at the expense of the poorer generations that have followed them. With some members of those generations grabbing far more than the others. With too much money in too few hands, the whole world economy has become dependent on Americans spending more than they had. And since America finally started to go broke with millions retiring into poverty, the world economy has faced a global crisis of demand.
When you put all the trends together, as I have below, it adds to a shocking picture that puts every current debate in context. Today’s young adults paid less than Generation Greed was paid at the same age in 1975, and forced by government policy to pay more for housing. Life expectancy falling. Personal and federal debts once again soaring, all the mistakes of the 2000s being repeated. Topping it off, we now have Donald Trump as President. Does this mean that the U.S. is finally prepared to admit, face and tackle its problems? Or does it mean that the most over-privileged and entitled members of the most over-privileged and entitled generations in U.S. history are just grabbing more, in one last economy orgy before the final collapse?
The unsaid. During the Bloomberg Administration the “Budget Summary” document had included summary tables that showed how much money was spent on each agency for wages and salaries, how much for pensions, how much for other benefits, how much for interest, how much for lawsuits, how much for other non-personnel costs such as contracts and supplies, and how much of each function is funded by the city, and how much by other layers of government.
Last year DeBlasio provided that table for his budget proposal, but not for past years. But I was able to make a comparison with that table from prior years and write this post.
Paul Theroux is a travel writer and novelist. I was introduced to his work decades ago by a colleague at the Department of City Planning, who knew of my interest in trains and transit and other countries. I read several of his early books: The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, Riding the IronRooster. He branched out from trains, walking the whole coast of Great Britain in The Kingdom by the Sea. Theroux has been all over the world, and in particular all over what had been called the Third World, and then the Developing World, and more recently the Global South, generally mingling with and writing about the ordinary people there, but also meeting with writers and intellectuals like himself.
Now age 75, he did something recently he had never done before: wrote a travel book about his own country, Deep South. The book, for me, provided several big surprises. In light of recent events I’ve included extended excerpts and other commentary below. It’s a long post I suppose, but not to those of us who read books.
Who will you be voting against this November? That’s really what it comes down to, doesn’t it? The fact is, however, that this poor choice has been a long time coming. All you have to do is look down a level, or two levels, or three levels in politics to see that there is no there there, and the rot has now reached the top of the ticket. You see the same rot at the state and local level, in business, in the non-profit sector. It is the rot of a self-serving generation or two, now running the show in its own interest. And the United States is facing a Presidential campaign that will likely be a rehash of the social issues of Generation Greed’s youth, rather than an honest discussion of the diminished realities it is leaving to those coming after. In public policy, in the economy, even in many families. Scapegoating is likely to be the only discussion of this reality anyone hears about. The candidates will likely prefer to talk about something, anything else otherwise.
For decades my rule of thumb has been don’t vote for any Republicans at the federal level, on generational equity grounds, as since 1980 the Republican Party has been waging a financial war on everyone born after 1957. Don’t vote for any Democrats at the local level, because they are controlled by the producers of public services – the public employee unions and contractors – whom they have continually enriched at the expense of increasingly less well off consumers of public services. And don’t vote any incumbents of either party holding office in the State of New York, which is the worst of the worst. Is there any reason to change?
It is once again time for a major federal election, and I am once again doing my best to avoid listening to the nonsense being spoken by the Presidential candidates. I have not watched any of the past debates, and based on what I hear don’t want to watch any future debates either. Despite our nation’s challenges, the candidates are promising to hand out more goodies, and promising the people who would benefit would never pay for them. Bernie Sanders claims that everyone can have everything, and the only people to pay would be the rich. Ignoring the fact that the Bush tax cut for the rich has already been repealed, and we are still facing a national fiscal disaster. Republicans are once again promising tax cuts for the rich, and promising that the only people who would face sacrifices would be the poor and those in younger generations. The same people Republicans have made worse off in federal policy for the past 35 years, with no acknowledgment of that fact.
Only Donald Trump speaks as if he realizes how much worse off the younger generations following in the wake of Generation Greed actually are. But he doesn’t really explain it, almost certainly doesn’t understand it, and instead panders by creating scapegoats, blaming the Chinese, Mexicans and Muslims for all of the nation’s problems instead. The way the poor, immigrants and those living in older central cities were blamed 20 years ago. And he promises that all people have to do is elect him, and the unsustainable consumer debt-driven phony economy that floated his casinos, before they went under, will somehow return. None of this has anything to do with anything any of them actually would, or could, do if elected. So rather than listen to what they say, I have once again tabulated some federal budget data to what the federal government has actually done over the past 35 years-plus. To see how the choices of the past have affected our real future.