"We have been trashing the house, and then leaving it to our kids."
January 24, 2020 5:38 AM   Subscribe

Have the Boomers Pinched Their Children’s Futures? The post-war baby boom of 1945-65 produced the biggest and richest generation in British history. David Willetts discusses how these boomers have attained this position at the expense of younger generations. (YouTube, 47m)

From the video description:

Lord Willetts is a visiting Professor at King’s College London, Governor of the Ditchley Foundation, Chair of the British Science Association and a member of the Council of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. He is also an Honorary Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford. Lord Willetts has written widely on economic and social policy. His book ‘The Pinch’, which focused on intergenerational equity, was published in 2010, and he recently published ‘A University Education’.

Lord Willetts served as the Member of Parliament for Havant, as Minister for Universities and Science and previously worked at HM Treasury and the No. 10 Policy Unit.

This talk was filmed in the Ri on 28 November 2019.


There is an unlisted Q&A accompanying the lecture, but be warned: if you expect the boomers in the audience to show even a sliver of empathy you will be sorely disappointed. Apparently not even a Tory peer can convince this lot to remove their heads from the sand.
posted by Acey (26 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
A key quote, since this is a contentious topic, from the lecture: "This is an extremely inflammatory, dangerous situation for a society to get into. Some people accuse me of promoting generational conflict - I'm not, I'm trying to avoid generational conflict - but my fear is that, if we carry on like this, there will be generational conflict because it is not a society which is discharging its obligation to the young."
posted by Acey at 6:02 AM on January 24 [7 favorites]


Apparently not even a Tory peer can convince this lot to remove their heads from the sand.

I believe the correct spelling is "arse", not "sand."
posted by wierdo at 6:12 AM on January 24 [12 favorites]


More seriously, though, given how much I watch RI's channel and how often the algorithm recommends RI videos to me, I'm quite surprised I hadn't seen this yet. It's almost enough to make me go "hmmm.."
posted by wierdo at 6:17 AM on January 24


UK gov't debt to GDP: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/GGGDTAGBA188N

USA is similar, while Japan's went to 200% in response to the GFC.

8% of UK taxation goes to the debt holders now; clever that what should have been an additional tax liability exacted ON the wealthy 2008-2012 became in actuality a perpetual income stream TO the wealthy.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 6:21 AM on January 24 [13 favorites]


Society needs energy to flow through it to maintain complexity and vibrancy. This was first provided by exploiting the frontier. When that was exhausted, attention turned to exploiting third world resources. When that became exhausted, the consumption machine turned to consuming the future. There is no subsequent resource to consume. Have a nice day!
posted by hypnogogue at 7:21 AM on January 24 [42 favorites]


But wait! Space is full of resources. As soon as we've set up human colonies on the asteroids & Mars*, there will be infinite resources to exploit! Which will be great because we won't be going back to the smouldering hulk that was Earth before giant space projects finished the job started by the industrial revolution.

*I don't actually think this is going to happen.
posted by sneebler at 8:33 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


The second we set up shop in space, The Milky Way Enforcement Office is just going to have to swing by and make us extinct (all Earth life, humans are bad but we aren't any worse than anything else on the planet, given enough time and opportunity.). No way the galactic community would let such cursed genetics into the pool.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:16 AM on January 24


David Linsay Willetts, Baron Willetts, PC, FRS, HonFRSC, FAcSS (born 9 March 1956) is a British Conservative Party politician, life peer, and academic....Willetts took charge of the Treasury monetary policy division at 26 before moving over to Margaret Thatcher's Policy Unit at 28.

So ... things suck and he was part of the policy changes that make things suck. It's nice that he's having these insights now, but maybe he could have paid a bit more attention when he was younger?
posted by jb at 9:21 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]


A small minority of boomers have pinched the future of other people's children. The other plurality of boomers are happy to vote in people who work for those small minority of boomers as revenge for having the future of their children stolen.

Wealth inequality is so bad that the Fed keeps printing money as fast and as hard as it can and it doesn't even make a fucking dent in inflation figures. It just goes into the pockets of the capital holders as the Fed buys up everything it can get its grubby fucking paws on.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 9:23 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


As soon as we've set up human colonies on the asteroids & Mars*
*I don't actually think this is going to happen.


Well, the prep-work might get done, potentially even as far as setting up initial landing stations. But buildings designed and built by the lowest bidder are not created with "multiple resilient safety options" as a high priority. It takes exactly one unforeseen disaster to kill an entire remote colony - and building in an environment where no human has ever lived is a great place for unforeseen disasters.

And AFTER the first 350 desperate volunteer colonists die, it'll be hard to get funding to fix and rebuild.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:50 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


Not to abuse the edit window - I found this PDF slideshow about The Pinch, and slide 2 had me laughing.

"The UK is expected to become the largest country in the EU by the middle of this century"
(Followed by a population growth chart)

Errr... that looks substantially less likely now than it did in 2015.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:56 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]


It takes exactly one unforeseen disaster to kill an entire remote colony - and building in an environment where no human has ever lived is a great place for unforeseen disasters.

Exactly. Ironically, that's the reverse argument to the one used by the techies in the twitter thread I was reading earlier about how there aren't really any serious obstacles to human bodies making long space voyages - "Our civilization can NEVER be resilient unless we have colonies 'off-world' [not kidding], because we're one disaster away from extinction!" Boy, I wonder what they think about climate change?
posted by sneebler at 1:04 PM on January 24


The second we set up shop in space, The Milky Way Enforcement Office is just going to have to swing by and make us extinct (all Earth life, humans are bad but we aren't any worse than anything else on the planet, given enough time and opportunity.). No way the galactic community would let such cursed genetics into the pool.

"There’s no point in acting surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for 50 of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now...What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? Oh, for heaven’s sake, mankind, it’s only four light years away, you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs, that’s your own lookout. Energize the demolition beams."
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 1:09 PM on January 24 [11 favorites]


A small minority of boomers have pinched the future of other people's children. The other plurality of boomers are happy to vote in people who work for those small minority of boomers as revenge for having the future of their children stolen.

And let us not forget the plurality of boomers who never lost sight of the lessons learned during the civil rights and anti-war years of the 60s and 70s, who still hold to their left-of-liberal value and politics, and who wouldn't dream of fucking over their own children.

This is not an intergenerational issue, this is about economic classes and inequity.
posted by she's not there at 1:52 PM on January 24 [5 favorites]


Society needs energy to flow through it to maintain complexity and vibrancy. This was first provided by exploiting the frontier. When that was exhausted, attention turned to exploiting third world resources. When that became exhausted, the consumption machine turned to consuming the future. There is no subsequent resource to consume. Have a nice day!

Eh, humans lived in an essentially zero growth state (in terms of energy at their command, not the modern monetary concept) for most of their history. I haven't seen a convincing argument that modern civilization is impossible in a zero growth state. I actually find that to be a religious view. I think to prove that we can't (not that you'd be able to get there) is to show that we can't avoid the kinds of social hierarchies we've had since we started doing agriculture and with it enough surplus to do social organization at levels above small groups and by extension role specialization.
posted by MillMan at 2:41 PM on January 24 [3 favorites]


It takes exactly one unforeseen disaster to kill an entire remote colony

Or a foreseen one that was not adequately prepared for, or even just ignored completely.
posted by Pouteria at 5:01 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


I've got about as much faith in David Fucking Willetts of all people having The Answer as I have Iain Duniversalcredit Smith.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 5:44 PM on January 24


Thanks, I found these two videos fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the one bit from the Q&A where he talked about facing a roomful of older constituents who were dead set against housing development. The same generational cohort that benefitted, when they were young, from their parents’ generation building affordable housing for them.

I’m not in the UK but this is the sort of situation and attitude that I encounter a lot in my city. This is such a simple and, to me, effective way of summarizing why it’s so infuriating to be a younger have-not in a city of older haves that protest any development that isn’t another single-family home.

(I was not previously familiar with Lord Willets so I don’t know if there is some baggage that comes along with him. Also how did half this thread turn into a discussion of space colonization?)
posted by good in a vacuum at 9:18 PM on January 24 [2 favorites]


"Some people accuse me of promoting generational conflict" - by framing this in this way it does EXACTLY that. Enough of these ridiculous generational epithets! Societal 'advancement' comes with benefits and other negative payloads. Accusing individuals because they were born in a specific time period is divisive and loaded with blame and accusations.

I will not indicate which section of this artificial division I am located but I am mighty glad for the technology that is freely available, my cell phone which I can use to communicate almost instantly with others wherever they are on the planet (and off!), no rotary dial phones, the easy access to untold riches in food, media, computerized axial tomography, lack of typhoid/cholera/polio/insert your infections here, easy access to unlimited knowledge, micro USB cards, ... the list is long and varied and I am sure there are 'blame arguments' on both 'sides' (glad to see the use of leeches in medicine has not gone away BTW). There again, many of us are able to argue this because we are not faced with the daily survival struggles others have and are able to sit behind our computer terminals / phone screens in our A/C controlled house/office pontificating on the moral evils someone of a specific age committed on others behalf...

Let's give it all up and level the playing field by wrenching cellphones from peoples hands, negating the value of annuities, and go back to not using technology to be confrontational to others!
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 8:35 AM on January 25


I suppose I should add my perspective for posterity, youtube comments and in-post editorialising notwithstanding.

I put this on in a state of sleep deprivation, thinking this was sure to send me to sleep. In the end I was unable to believe quite what I was hearing. Yes, I know, David Willetts, by all accounts a Thatcherite. But evidently he has children in the millennial generation and has spent several years working with this social science foundation and I was struck by how much the story he was trying to get across flew in the face of neoliberalism and was coming from the mouth of a life peer. My immediate thought was, I should show this to my parents: they might finally understand the economic trends my family is gripped by. Then I watched the Q&A and the response from the boomers left me bereft and I decided instead to post it to Metafilter. Not quite sure how that turned into a discussion of space colonisation but so it goes.

I'm personally quite disturbed by the generational divide I'm experiencing, and while I have a good relationship with my parents, the gulf is a massive one, practically impossible to bridge. It leads both sides to consternation and frustration and anger and could so easily evolve into something far worse. Clearly this is not a UK issue; this is almost universal, and nor is it instead of but rather in addition to existing class and racial divides. In short, it's a huge problem, and the fact that someone who contributed to its formation has had an about-turn and is now proselytising to his own contemporaries was, I thought, pretty notable.

But, in the end, I'm left feeling dejected by the audience response and the general refusal to face facts, in keeping with our general societal mode at this time. It feels like everyone is digging their heels in and I fear for where it is leading, on top of all the other crises we face as a society. For my part, I ended up yelling "it's a bit bloody late" at the computer, and what little optimism I might have briefly had for some kind of enlightened rectification of the problems was replaced instead by the feeling that if the older generation aren't going to even acknowledge the issue then the only alternative that remains is that they end up forced against their will to share the wealth, and they aren't going to like that one bit. Their loss.

I understand the defensiveness but it's in my opinion pretty misplaced - these are macroeconomic trends that we ignore at our peril. Never thought I'd find myself agreeing with a bloody Lord of the House but there you go. The difference is that Willetts thinks socialism or something like it might be averted by throwing a £10,000 bribe to the millennials, whilst I remain skeptical, to say the least. There's a parallel I think to the foundation of the welfare state post WWII in the face of rising communist sentiment (a project that benefited the boomers) and the subsequent embrace of neoliberalism by that same cohort. Something tells me that isn't going to happen this time around.

And yes, I realise that #notallboomers are the same but again, this isn't about individuals, this is about the bigger picture, and it's not going away any time soon.
posted by Acey at 10:20 AM on January 25 [7 favorites]


I've got about as much faith in David Fucking Willetts of all people having The Answer as I have Iain Duniversalcredit Smith.

Even people who don't have the answer (or have the wrong answer) sometimes manage to ask the right question.
posted by wierdo at 10:40 AM on January 25 [5 favorites]


And let us not forget the plurality of boomers who never lost sight of the lessons learned during the civil rights and anti-war years of the 60s and 70s, who still hold to their left-of-liberal value and politics, and who wouldn't dream of fucking over their own children.

#notallboomers.

Seriously, Boomers shouldn't pretend they're all that, though I can see why they do. They didn't go survive the Depression, they didn't fight W.W.II, they didn't engage in the major civil rights campaigns in the South...they didn't even invent sex drugs and rock and roll. Honestly, they didn't really accomplish anything. Is it any surprise that completely narcissistic and self-centered generation has a major inferiority syndrome? And they have to take it out by criticizing and screwing over Gen X and Millennial at any turn?

Thank God that whole "longevity through injection of teen blood" thing didn't turn out, because otherwise the Boomers would be talking about how Gen Z completely owes them, and aren't worth anything other than to nourish their elders....
posted by happyroach at 11:58 PM on January 25


Earlier this year I found myself looking at all the named generations of the US, and I discovered something.

There are multiple people who advocate for splitting the second half of the Boomers off into “Generation Jones”, which is named this in part because “[t]he generation is noted for coming of age after a huge swath of their older brothers and sisters in the earlier portion of the baby boomer population had come immediately preceding them; thus, many complain that there was a paucity of resources and privileges available to them that were seemingly abundant to older boomers. Therefore, there is a certain level of bitterness and "jonesing" for the level of freedom and affluence granted to older boomers but denied to them.

Tortured Wikipedian syntax aside, I find it fascinating that even the younger Boomers felt like the Boomers were consuming all cultural capital and resources.
posted by egypturnash at 8:19 AM on January 26


I wonder how many people under 30 have read / seen Logan's Run?

/Over 40, and still that movie predates me
posted by jb at 7:10 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


she's not there: And let us not forget the plurality of boomers who never lost sight of the lessons learned during the civil rights and anti-war years of the 60s and 70s, who still hold to their left-of-liberal value and politics, and who wouldn't dream of fucking over their own children.

This is not an intergenerational issue, this is about economic classes and inequity.


This actually gets covered in the talk in terms of Conservative and Labour voting predictors. There's now a strong correlation between age and voting intention, and not between economic class and voting intention.

Definitely looks inter-generational from that.
posted by MattWPBS at 9:36 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


The other part which I noticed from the Q&A were the shots with some of the questions from elder audience members, and the exasperated "what world do you live in...?" expressions on younger people around them.
posted by MattWPBS at 9:45 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


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