Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Generational warfare

And so maybe it's really starting now: the Old Generation vs. the Young Generation. That's what a commentator on PBS tonight suggested is happening, and a part of the whole Occupy Wall Street movement. He was talking about the huge problems that young college graduates are having finding a well-paying job. College graduates between the ages of 25 and 34 - who should be entering their prime earning years - are making quite a bit less than those in the same boat a few years ago. Males in that category are earning 19% less, after taking inflation into account, than they were in 2000, when that group's earnings peaked. Females are earning 16% less than in 2003, when theirs peaked. And that's only for those with full-time jobs!

Meanwhile, the lead story on NBC Nightly News was how many people in their 50s and 60s have been totally devastated by what's happened in the last 3 or 4 years. Savings wiped out, unable to get a job or afford health care, losing their houses - really a very bleak picture for the group of people that's supposed to be winding down rewarding careers and entering their golden years. Juxtaposition that shocking reality with a commercial on the same program by the AARP, the group that represents people over 50. "We're 50 million strong," the ad declared, "we EARNED all the benefits we're supposed to get, we won't take anything less, and WE ALL VOTE!" Dang - talk about confrontational! And so the sides seem to be shaping up: the old demanding what they earned, vs. the young demanding a decent future.

I think that more and more, people are starting to see that this country is facing something more than an economic dip, a much more sinister, pervasive problem that absolutely will not be resolved in a few months or even a few years. Probably more like a decade or even two. To many, it's all about the corporations and the rich and the Republicans - that certainly is the consensus among the Occuply Wall Street (OWS) crowd and its supporters. But as I've pointed out in essay after essay on this site, the wealthy and the corporations - with all of their greed, power, and privilege - are the source of only a part of the problem. Where the OWS thinks maybe they're responsible for 90% of our problems, I think it's more like 40%. That share of blame, by the way, is partly addressed in my March essay here "A Really Big Question, part. 4"

So I'm not giving Wall Street a total "pass" on responsibility. But at the risk of being redundant, if you're really interested in an objective view of how the rich and their unequal share of the nation's wealth play into our nation's fortunes, read my essay "Income Inequality in America". There you'll hear Nobel Prize winning economists and highly respected liberal economists explain why - with all of their faults - the wealthy are NOT really the source of most of our economic problems, while finding out what really IS behind them.

But what I'd really like to go back to is a point made in February's essay "The Party's Over, and People Don't Get It". Aside from suggesting that we were in for a much longer period of much harder economic times than most people were willing to accept, a key point there was that we've seen this coming for decades. Quoting from that essay: "I remember back in the mid-1970s when I started in the investments business; conservative analysts were alarmed by the federal government spending more than it took in, year after year. The nation's debt was rising at a then-alarming rate, while the value of the U.S. dollar was rapidly eroding. We have to stop this now, they said, or else our children and their children will pay a heavy price down the road! Congresses and Presidents came and went, but nothing fundamentally changed. To fix the problem required raising taxes and/or cutting government spending - two equally unacceptable policies. Anyone who pushed either option would likely be voted out of office by angry voters: "You raised my taxes!" "You cut spending on my favorite program!"

So Congress borrowed more money instead, kicking the can down the road, letting the next Congress deal with the problem. Disturbing annual deficits in the tens of billions of dollars in the 1970s became shocking deficits of hundreds of billions in the 1980s and 1990s (except for a few surplus years in the late-1990s), and then insanely high deficits that eventually exceeded $1 trillion a year by the late-2000s. Each time, as Congress refused to make the tough decisions (cut spending and/or raise taxes), everybody said: "If we don't fix this now, it's today's children who will pay the price." Nobody pretended to not understand that their inaction would put the burden of their decisions on the backs of future generations; the presumption was always "well, we didn't fix it this year, but next year we will!"

But it was a cruel hoax, a deceit. Most politicians knew in their heart of hearts that they couldn't solve the problem, that they didn't have the nerve to take the tough actions needed to do so. And besides, by the time the problem got totally out of control - they'd be long gone. Someone else's problem!"
Pete Peterson, Nixon's Secretary of Commerce in the 1970s, wrote about this in his 2004 book Running on Empty. Because of failed leadership in both our major political parties, he documented the trend towards our nation's insolvency, the inevitable clash between old and young, and the bleak prospects that future young people would have in America.

Strange as it sometimes seems, the future quickly becomes the present. And our "present" really isn't much of a gift, if you'll excuse the silly pun. Government's refusal to act responsibly for most of the last four decades, combined with the American people's own fiscal foolishness (rather painstakingly detailed in many of this site's past essays) have combined to put us in this virtually unsolvable virtual insolvency.

Limited resources: that is the most fundamental crux of the social science of economics. There's not enough for everyone to have everything they want, so choices have to be made; economics is the study of how a society makes those choices. While most of the focus right now is how to let Wall Street and the wealthy have less and give more to the "99%", I think the real question, the real battle, is going to be between the past and the future. With somewhat of a shrinking pie, do we continue to give the elderly their full portion, while malnourishing the young? Or do we go the other way? Or see to it that neither group gets as much as they want, making both groups unhappy, but a bit less so?

Parents and grandparents, against their children and grandchildren - is that what it will come to? The Vietnam social divide all over again, 40 years later? That's what I predict, and I'm not pleased at the prospect.  But nobody should feign surprise that this is where we're heading; this sad situation has been an obvious eventuality for decades.

25 comments:

Josh Hallmark said...

It is a possibility that now college kids are jumping the elderly and the elderly fighting back with their dentures. The rising conflict between the young and the elderly has set gret tension imbetween the two generations. Both needing money to support themselves(medication, bank loans) and their familiy sets the question which genreation needs more money? this got my mind thinking and I did some intense research. Due to this topic I think that I learned a lot not only about why which generation needs money, but what I should prepare for just incase this is still a problem in a few years.

Josh Hallmark History 1a correct insertion said...

It is a possibility that now college kids are jumping the elderly and the elderly fighting back with their dentures. The rising conflict between the young and the elderly has set great tension between the two generations. Both needing money to support themselves (medication, bank loans) and their family sets the question which generation needs more money? This got my mind thinking and I did some intense research. Due to this topic I think that I learned a lot about the young and the old generation and also just incase, what I should prepare for just incase this is still a problem in a few years.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Saul said...

Well i agree with you in a Mr. Strebeler. The government has had this issue for along time. They walk in to Congress adn when they mess they leave and say it's someone else problem now. They aren't thinking of the future of the US. Period 3A talked about how the Americans wanted things now. That they didn't want to wait 20 years for the benefit of the country. Instead, the government is spending money and isn't thinking about the future. Thanks to them people are being cut off from their jobs, they can't get a job, and they lose their houses.
The Occupy Wall Street Movement are for all the people with the situations that i mentioned before. The government doesn't care because they are prospering with money. You are right Mr. Strebeler, but what would you do if you were the in the government with this problem? Or what would you if you were in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Christina Mello said...

When you look at all these constant changes in the world, people seem to like to choose sides and create competition. In this case, its the old generation verses the young. There has already been rocky ground between the two generations, so I'm sure some people thought, 'Why not add more fuel to the fire?' When companies are looking for new employees, I doubt that the first they look at would be age. A company would more so want a person with experience rather than someone who doesn't know what they are doing who would give the company more chance of mistakes. In this economy, mistakes cannot be afforded.

Nico Gomez said...

The younger people aren't dominating as we think they are. 'College graduates between the ages of 25 and 34' are actually making less money than the people that were in the same position a few years ago.The older generation is not dominating the working field, giving me the question of who is? The Older generation is not making enough to pay their bills, and the younger generation is making more than 10% less than the younger people a few years ago. Like Josh mentioned,I now know that I am going to have to prepare myself for the hard working world I will be entering in the years to come.

Eli Gibbons said...

The old versus the young. Not exactly how it should be but nonetheless it's happening. The young are getting out of collage and looking for jobs, while the old should be retiring with their years worth of money stashed away in some bank, right? Wrong. The older generation doesn't have the money they should because of the economy being the way it is. The two generations are now competing for the same jobs but there is one major factor. The lack of jobs. There are as many job openings anymore. I mean yes in North Dakota with the job 'boom' that happened there is great, but there are so many jobs that are need by people, now both older and younger, that need the opportunities

Amie Callaway said...

In the beginning I agreed that the older generation should be "paid in full" for working all of their lives. But while reading this I thought if maybe in some ways this is the older generation's fault. If these problems hadn't been put of for so many years by each generation expecting the next one to fix it, there wouldn't be such a big problem now.

Alexander said...

The older generation versus the younger generation has been a problem that has existed for ages. The focus has just been changed. Somehow the focus is always on money like it is now, who should be paying for who? Is it the obligation of the older generation to fend financially for themselves or is it the obligation of the younger generation of workers to support the older one? On the other hand, is it the right of the younger generation to make a living as their parents did without contributing to monetary systems that will not be in existence for them? I think that both generations have an obligation to each other. It is the mutual cooperation that exists between the two generations that has made our nation into what is is today. These are hard times but when your at the bottom, the only way to go is up.

Kane Russell Cruz-Walker said...

This essay was very informative and i have learned much from it. It is surprising to see that the old government noticed these things and just let them go for the government to come to deal with. It seems to me that the reason for this whole crisis is the government and if they cant figure out the solution it would be thought that they would be trying to bring in ideas on how to fix it. One thing that i think could have made the essay better is if it after talking about the effect on it maybe talk about a possible solution for it. Or even the efforts that are being done to help the problem.

Brandon Matticks said...

Brandon Matticks
All people seem to do now a days is complain, complain, complain about our failing economy. The old vs. the young is the main theme for this essay and I think with this economy it will always be the “theme”. Like said in the essay people are questioning the importance of college for a well paying job in the future, and I’ve questioned it myself, short seeming like not a bad idea however in the long run it will be so much more beneficial then you could expect.

Shane Jost said...

Well, no matter what we do in regards to this issue, it seems we'll lose; because on one hand you have the benefits of the older generations, whove worked hard all their lives in order to insure the benefits that are in question, and on the other hand we have the younger generations, who need the funds in question to help ensure a better future for themselves. And if we just give both sides a piece of the funds, then it helps a little, but still fails to solve the problem. It would be like putting a Band-aid on a gaping wound. It's not enough to solve the problem, but hey, it's something, and it sure is better than nothing at all.

Jasper Crusberg said...

Intersting and controversial essay essay. It's all about whose earned the right to get what they want? As you explained, the elders have worked their whole lives, so it makes since they want something they something in return. Who wouldn’t? But the young generation has valid reasoning too. Their future consists of trying to make a living in an economy that, from my understanding of the essay, is far worse than when the elder generation was working, so how is it fair to improve the life of someone who has already lived most of their life and leave the young generation trying to make ends meet in an terrible economy that isn’t improving.

Jay White said...

Every child grows up in the school system knowing that going to college is necessary to being successful and having a nice career. What are graduate students supposed to do when they cannot get the job that they went to school for? People are suffering and it is obvious that its due to the decisions that the older generations have made years ago, decisions that WE did not make. Politicians are afraid to make the tough decisions to improve the country because they are decisions that people may not like resulting in them not being kept in office, so they make the choices to keep the people happy when it may not be the right one. How wrong is that??

mayapapaya said...

The essay somewhat reminded me of freakeconomics because of the fact that a lot of points were mentioned that people don’t usually take into account when it comes to Occupy Wall Street or our county’s debt. I find it interesting and hard to understand why there is the “Old generation Vs. Young generation”. Young people as in college graduates are not able earn high paying jobs as before, while old people in their 50’s and 60’s are losing all their savings and similarly can’t find a job. I just don’t understand how bother the young and older are undergoing financial trouble yet they are against each other. In a way I can see how the younger generation would blame the older generation for the economic situation now, back in the 80’s the economy was doing really well, and the economy wasn’t a concern and saving economy wasn’t a concern.

Melinda Sevilla said...

There are so many people out there right now who owe hundreds of thousands of dollars to the banks. Yes, this is a big issue, but fighting over who is to blame or who deserves the limited amount of jobs will not magically help our country come out of this recession. The young kids out of college didn’t necessarily have anything to do with it since they most likely have not attempted to buy a house or anything, but the older adults may. The bottom line is that no matter who is to blame, there are issues to be solved that will not be solved anytime soon until our country gets our act together and realizes what a big deal this really is. It won’t be solved over fighting over who did what wrong, it will be solved by realizing we all have to work together to fix this issue that has caused a large group of people to lose their jobs.

Natalie E said...

I agree with the conclusion that both sides should be willing to take a little less and that drastic measures need to be made. Little nips and tucks at the “misc.” slice of the pie won’t cut it – there needs to be large (or at least semi-large) slices taken from the Social Security and such (I can’t seem to remember the name for it). As for upping taxes, well, there doesn’t seem to be any other viable solution. As I previously mentioned, the time for small measures has passed.

Dana Garcia said...

Both generations are undergoing financial difficulties, yet they are against each other... Everyone seems to be unhappy with whatever politicians choose to do in order to fix the problem. This fight between the young generation vs. the old generation could've been fixed if only it wasn't put off for so long. The younger generation is filled with enthusiasm to get into the working industry; perhaps if they are given the chance, in the long run the economy will turn around.

Elizabeth Kenyon said...

It is a problem that college graduates can't find work. Isn't going to college supposed to open the field of work, not the opposite effect? That may have been how it used to be, but now, if you don't have an internship during your junior or senior year of college, you'll have a much more difficult time finding a job. Responding to the parents & grandparents vs children & grandchildren, I'd like to assume that the situation would never result in that fashion, but it could most definitely occur. The politicians have put off fixing the nations economy for years and sooner or later, we're going to pay the price for it, which would be today's youth. I wish that the politicians could just get over their differences and just agree on something for once or at least make an attempt. There are more important things than petty differences among political parties.

Unknown said...

So when will it stop? As much as I would like to take responsibility I can’t see my generation being any more active than the previous ones. What choices will society make, how can we make the most of our resources? Us or our parents? Maybe it lays in a third option, our kids. What if we treated ourselves as a “sacrifice generation” and made sure things would be better in the future, at the cost of our own happiness? I just don’t see how people would be willing to sacrifice for the kids that they don’t have yet.

Gabriela Peralta said...

The younger generation of course is having problems with college and whatnot and its getting harder to create a future, but we cannot just blame everything on big wealthy companies and corporate greed because like you stated in your essay they are only a part of the problem. I believe that instead of generational warfare we should bind together and get problems resolved instead of creating new ones that will leave much deeper wounds in our future generations. I will of course follow up on this topic as it is of interest to me and my education because it got me contemplating on the fact that I might not be able to afford college and that my older family will struggle, but I'm just hoping that we will see some type of improvement in the future.

Haley Sweet said...

I really never thought about the fact that the problems with debt were turning in to the old vs. the young, but wow... I guess it has. And it's pretty easy to fall in to that mentality I've noticed, being a young person it's so easy to be mad that the actions of people before you were born are going to affect you future, and even with that, it's hard to say that the young should get the money because well talking money from old people just plain sounds bad. The essay definitely helped outline how much this situation sucks.

Anonymous said...

There is no correct anwer to this blog because both young and elderly are a contribution to the society. Politicians need to come to an agreement of giving help to both generations or of an equal distribution. Also, even though tax increase will not completely solve the issue, it will have a major contribution. So the elderly need the help because that is were politician votes come from and the young need help too because that will determine the future standing of the government and economy.

- Karla Zuniga

Anonymous said...

This issue has been seen coming for decades. The US’s debt has been rising, due to an increase in federal government spending, and our nation has been “taking in” (importing), then exporting out. “We have to stop this now, they said, or else our children and their children will pay a heavy price down the road!” And unfortunately, that is exactly what we will have to do. The only solution is considered political suicide; raising taxes and/or cutting government spending. No matter which route is chosen (if we ever make a decision on a policy) someone will lose. Someone is going to have to “take one for the team”; however, the question is who?


-Haley Davis

SonjaImhoof5683 said...

Each need each other because when the elderly were young and paid the government in taxes and whatnot the government spent their money. Ironically, that is what is happening with the money of our generation because our money is being given to the elderly. This cycle will continue unless a generation sits down and actually fixes the problem. In the movie "Inequality for All" narrated by Robert Reich he mentions that the economy is all about the middle class and that is true. If the government makes everyone more affordable, than raising taxes and cutting spending may not seem such a huge deal. That is why although they are dependent on one another, they don't have to be.



- Sonja Imhoof