An early childhood memory is of the time I explored the newspaper beyond the Funny Pages. I came across a story about the Baby Boom. During the four or five years of WW II (depending on how you figure beginning and end), thousands of men went off the fight while women stayed back to work on the farms and in the factories.
Nearly all of a sudden, in 1945, the wars in Europe and the Pacific were over. All those men came home to meet up with all those women. Where the US birthrate had declined during the war, it went Boom! afterward. So Baby Boomers, I learned from the story, were those children born between 1946 and 1950.
What I remember most about the article was not the information, but the terrible feeling I had around being left out. I was born in March of 1951. Three months too late! It felt as though I didn’t get an invitation to the party of the century—not that my world view at the time was large enough for me to understand a block of time larger than a decade.
Since then, the Baby Boom has been extended to 1964. So, thanks to demographers and statisticians, I feel included.
But that’s not the point. The point, and I’ve been hearing this for a long time, is that we Boomers will be, and are now, sucking up all the resources. That leaves the younger generations scavenging for what’s left of any social services, now that the my generation has consumed everything in site. Social Security, I’m told, will go bankrupt, leaving the kids to pay the bills of an aging population.
This New York Times article by Thomas Friedman (another one of us), suggests that the current financial crisis is can be blamed on us. Friedman writes:
Indeed, if there is one sentiment that unites the crises in Europe and America it is a powerful sense of “baby boomers behaving badly” — a powerful sense that the generation that came of age in the last 50 years, my generation, will be remembered most for the incredible bounty and freedom it received from its parents and the incredible debt burden and constraints it left on its kids.
He may be right, that that’s how we’ll be remembered. But our current state of affairs—socially, economically, and politically— is a much larger example of cause-and-effect in acti0n that goes beyond the increasing permissiveness of parents and the increasing demands of children.
Something else happened after WW II that directly correlates with the increase in population: an increase in productivity and Madison Avenue’s ability to reach millions of new consumer’s through television. With the post-war Baby Boom came the birth of consumerism as a way of life.
Advertising creates a desire for new things, coupled with an aversion for old things. Desire stimulates the creation of more goods and services, happily provided by prospering businesses. Businesses, in turn, desire more customers to consume their offerings. Among those businesses are banks who make it possible for people with little or no money to buy things they “deserve.” For example, “Take that dream vacation you deserve.” Easy money means easy debt.
And here we are today. The politicians argue about who is to blame and what to do about it. But their blame is misplaced, and their solutions are self-serving. The politicians dare not state the real cause of our collective financial problems, nor will they state the real solution. As a country and a society, we created our current financial problem collectively through the endless cycle of consumption made possible by an economic system that stresses profit above responsibility. The solution is to desire less and be contented with what we have. If it’s good enough for government to spend less to get out of debt, so too it must be for individuals. But what then? What of the cherished corporations?