Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Divergent Generations.

Try And See It My Way: As the Latin root of the word – generāre, to beget – suggests, a “generation” is the span of time between the birth of parents and the birth of their offspring. A period of, roughly, 20-30 years. Obviously, those born during this period cannot help living through the same historical events; facing the same challenges; sharing the same joys and sorrows.
 
THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF NOISE this past week about generations. Bill English’s NZ Superannuation announcement has sparked an explosion of arguments about when particular groups of New Zealanders were born, and to what, in terms of state support, their respective birth dates entitle them.
 
We have heard again (and again and again) about the perfidy of the Baby Boom Generation. We have been invited to feel the pain of the Millennials. There has even been an only half-tongue-in-cheek call to arms directed at the enigmatic Generation X.
 
Also in play – lest we forget – is the “Greatest Generation”. Though their numbers are fast declining, these are the New Zealanders who lived through the Great Depression and fought the Second World War. The first Kiwis to enjoy the social security of Labour’s “cradle to grave” welfare state.
 
But what exactly is a “generation”?
 
The Act Party leader, and its sole MP, David Seymour, offers a guide. In the Act Newsletter of 6 March 2017, he writes: “Adjusting the age [of eligibility for NZ Super] only works if it captures the massive Baby Boomer cohorts set to be retiring through to 2030. The impact of this adjustment will fall on gen-x (born 1965-80) and millennials (early eighties to late nineties). Again, an earlier, more gradual adjustment is needed.”
 
But Seymour’s divisions are far too arbitrary to constitute a reliable definition of “generation”. His deadly foes, the perfidious “Baby Boomers”, appear to include every New Zealander born between 1946 and 1966. Generation X, on the other hand, includes only those born in the 15 year period between 1965 and 1980. The Millennials (sometimes referred to as “Generation Y”) are an even more indistinct group: encompassing Kiwis born any time between the “early eighties to late nineties”.
 
As the Latin root of the word – generāre, to beget – suggests, a “generation” is the span of time between the birth of parents and the birth of their offspring. A period of, roughly, 20-30 years. Obviously, those born during this period cannot help living through the same historical events; facing the same challenges; sharing the same joys and sorrows. It is on the basis of these common experiences that a term like “Baby Boomer” acquires a measure of respectability.
 
What Baby Boomer does not remember The Beatles? Neil Armstrong’s “one giant leap for mankind”? The Vietnam War? Who can deny that the Boomers were raised at a time of unprecedented and prolonged economic prosperity? Or that the confluence of general affluence and the rapid expansion of higher education gave rise to a cultural revolution that is still unfolding fifty years later?
 
But if the first of the Baby Boom generation’s offspring started appearing between 1965-70, when did Boomers’ children begin having children? Did they, like their parents, start their families around the age of twenty? Or, by the time the Baby Boomers’ kids reached adulthood, had the average onset age of family formation advanced from the early 20s to the early-to-mid 30s?
 
Viewed from this perspective, in the roughly 70 years since the end of World War II there have only really been two generations: the Baby Boomers and the children of the Baby Boomers. And, if that is the case, then there are really only two coherent assemblages of historical events available for consideration when it comes to any discussion of defining generational experiences.
 
For the Baby Boomers, it was the social-democratic era, which extended from 1945 until the mid-1980s. For their children, it has been the neoliberal era, which kicked-off here in 1984 and is still with us today.
 
It is difficult to conceive of two more divergent eras. The social-democratic era was distinguished by economic, social, political and cultural expansion. The neoliberal era by the reverse.
 
One has only to consider the extraordinary generosity of the social-democratic state: its commitment to full employment and elder support; its provision of health care and housing; its democratisation of learning; and its empowerment of civil society; to grasp the true extent of New Zealand’s fall from grace.
 
To hear David Seymour tell the story, that fall has been the life’s work of the selfish Baby Boomers. He could not be more wrong. The vast discrepancy of experience between the Boomers and their children is not based on the social pathology of a single generation, but on the mutually-protective selfishness of a single social alliance.
 
Between the capitalist owners of New Zealand, and the professionals and managers who service them, there exists an unshakeable resolve to extinguish the social-democratic era’s legacy of social solidarity by eliminating every last institutional instance of, and opportunity for, its popular expression.
 
The only inter-generational conspiracy that makes ethical sense in 2017, is an electoral plot which commits the Baby Boomers and their offspring to the rescue of their children and grand-children.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 14 March 2017.

14 comments:

Nick J said...

An alternate viewpoint based upon the end of the oil / fossil fuel age....

Between the capitalist owners of New Zealand, and the professionals and managers who service them, there exists an unshakeable resolve to extinguish the social-democratic era’s legacy of social solidarity by eliminating every last institutional instance of, and opportunity for, its popular expression.

The current economic malaise of non growth (except for financial fraud that create a mountain of debt for the next generation) has resulted in the afore-mentioned (owners and the bloated well fed middle classes) has resulted in a grasp to capture the last of the profits, to keep them away from society. Social democracy used to get away with it because there was some cream on the top, that has now evaporated. As the real return on energy (EROI) falls, so do economies struggle to make the margins. Don't be fooled by the current low price of a barrel of oil, nor the huge amount being pumped. The real cost if charged kills "growth", energy companies are suffering capital bleeds of monumental proportions. So summed up, we cant make profit like we used to, and there is a struggle by capital to keep what they make away from social democratic delivery systems.

The only inter-generational conspiracy that makes ethical sense in 2017, is an electoral plot which commits the Baby Boomers and their offspring to the rescue of their children and grand-children

Very true, except we need to see this in real terms. As energy depletion conflates with debt mountains there will be a new economy, which people like Kunstler describe as "made by hand". What ever the "electoral plot" is I have very little doubt that it will be based upon wrong assumptions about the future. For example you will never find a Treasury projection that does not assume growth. So when the numbers are toted out to justify the policies and promises there will be a delivery issue. And it will get worse until the reality forces our grandchildren to address their reality in real on the spot terms. Social democracy based upon high margin wealth based upon cheap energy resources and freely available planetary resources will be a ghost. Debt and financial failure will take the rest of the facade away.

This is our legacy: I would like to think we might somehow be clever enough to plan an alternate path of "managed decline" in which we set our priorities around what we need to deliver to society. The alternative to doing this is far worse, but I doubt that this knowledge or thinking actually permeates the consciousness of Joe / Jill Average, look for example at climate change and our personal response as we continue to drive ever larger SUVs to the Warehouse.

mikesh said...

One factor that seems to be overlooked is that the pre-boomers seem to have bred like rabbits, whereas their children, the boomers, seem to have been less prolific in that regard. If boomers had bred like their parents, we would perhaps not be facing a problem.

jh said...

Dawkins see humans as genes surviving generation to generation. To follow the anti boomer line of argument you would think that parents of property investors no longer cared about the well being of those genes. One thing it does do though is deflect attention from undeserved recipients of wealth (and their families).

jh said...


It is difficult to conceive of two more divergent eras. The social-democratic era was distinguished by economic, social, political and cultural expansion. The neoliberal era by the reverse.
.....,
And from 95% homogeneous to "multicultural" with encumbent political correctness (a Grampscian revolution). Millenials have known nothing else.

adam said...

As always all roads to smashing middle class and working class people. This is just another illusion this inter-generational debate. Just look at volunteering, it has all but collapsed, not because baby boomers are self absorbed as some from my generation would like you to believe. But because a major chunk of them are still in the work force, not by choice but necessity. Another bigger group, are those looking after their grand children. When their grandchildren's parents are working longer and longer hours. With it's creations of equality in New Zealand, meaning women and men both get payed bugger all, rather than a fair days pay, for a fair days work.

I'd say it's just more of the divide and rule game. Rather than look at the underlying problem of an economy now devoted to enriching the rich. Kiwis turn on each other and fight over the scraps. The longer people debate this ridiculousness about generations, the fifthly rich have a round of unfulfilled greed they want to push on the rest of us.

Wayne Mapp said...

How do generations divide?

We are all agreed on the baby boomers and the "greatest generation". Baby boomers end at 1966, which is 51 years ago. Donald Trump fits in, so does Bill English, though they are at different ends.

Looking outside New Zealand, you could say the greatest generation ruled the roost right through to 1990. As young people they fought in WW2, they went to the moon, (half of the men who landed are already dead), and they defeated communism (Reagan and Thatcher).

The first baby boomer President was Bill Clinton, and baby boomers have been Presidents ever since. But I suspect Trump will be the last.

In NZ Jacinda Ardern looks like she will be the first Gen X/Y Prime Minister. Canada already has theirs with Justin Trudeau. Jacinda Ardern was astute in using the generational divide argument against Bill English's super plans. It worked perfectly for her.

New Zealand was a bit different to the rest of the West. The first baby boomer cabinet was the Labour government elected in 1984, and they had they job of bringing the New Zealand economy into line with the rest of the OECD, since we were well outside OECD norms. It proved traumatic for the left, and still defines many left activists of a certain age.

Fifty years is enough for two generations, but only two. Maybe in reality Gen X and Gen Y are the same. They are both the children of baby boomers and cover 1996 to the early 1990s.

Millennials have different experiences. The first true children of the digital era. In Eastern Europe and Russia they would also be all the people born after the fall of communism. It is after all 27 years ago since the Berlin wall was torn down.

So when do we move to a new generational divide? What is the definitive event that sets the enw generation apart? Is it the GFC? In hindsight, at least from the NZ perspective, that does not seem so bad and thus not so defining. That would not be true of Europe.

We will know when the divide happened only in hindsight.



Jens Meder said...

Congratulations for your conclusion, that "the only 'intergenerational conspiracy' that makes ethical (and economic!) sense in 2017 is 'an electoral plot' which commits Baby Boomers and their offspring - (with the support of seniors who unwittingly experienced evaporation of the Michael Savage initiated Universal Super Fund) - to the rescue of their children and grandchildren"...-

through permanently resumed contributions into a "resurrected" permanent "Cullen" NZ Super Fund ?

And what about another "conspiracy" to heal the schism between our substantial national wealth owning capitalists and very little or nothing owning non-capitalists -

by a systematic policy to convert the non-capitalists also into capitalists with at least a minimally meaningful level of capital ownership eventually ?

greywarbler said...

NickJ 14/3 12.40
Concerning how we face up to The Future which will be surely problematic, not just a scary thought like the man with a sandwich board declaring The End is Nigh, this comment from a recent politician illustrates why the news hasn't prompted practical forward-thinking stuff from Wellington. It appears that wilful ignorance rules our day.

While assessing the likely outcome of another referendum on Scottish self-government there was a comparison with NZ.

I imagine it will be quite close, but I reckon it will be on less favourable grounds for the Scottish independents than last time. However, it is really difficult to assess how much emotion will rule the day .

Obviously Scotland can be independent. After all Scotland should be able to do as well as we do, and I reckon we do pretty well.

But apart from distance we probably have more going for us. Distance matters less than it used to. International shipping is now incredibly cheap, and will be so indefinitely. Airfares are low and are still going lower.


This was, I believe, fresh baked from the mind of Wayne Mapp.

Sarg said...

The 'Super' debate is not about various generations battling each other.

It is about the Neo-Liberal elite attempting to wipe out a social and public good ie universal superannuation at the age or 65 or some other age.

We shouldn't buy the generational warfare nonsense.

Neo-Liberals only want private wealth and privately owned capital.

And nothing to be in public hands for the public good.

Nick J said...

Grey, you demonstrate my case very well, the sandwich board accusations come fast whenever this subject is aired. It is indeed well demonstrated again by the kind of opinion you attribute to Mr Mapp. At times I feel that I might be the one "off the planet", then I check the evidence again, and yes, black is still black. And others cant see it because their spotlights are so brightly tuned in to the beam rather than the image. They see the first few steps in front of them, behind that unseen is the abyss.

Anybody who wants some light reading on alternative energy potentials might read one of the optimistic "realists", Prof Ugo Bardi of Perugia UNi on http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.co.nz/
Others who want the "real oil" on energy depletion and economic consequences should watch Nicole Foss on Youtube. There is nothing unknown about our future predicament, we can however predict and plan for the end results of taking different trajectories. What we are faced is deliberate short termism that will hurt our grandchildren in immeasurably worse terms because of our willful ignorance, as displayed by people like Wayne.

Prang said...

'Sarg' is correct.

The problem in New Zealand is the indelible imprint of Neo Liberalism.

And the inequalities that it generates.

It has nothing to do with a generation battle but everything to do with an elite seeking to control as much capital as possible.

The mainstream media seem to lack the intellectual clarity & ability to grasp this very basic conclusion.

Bushbaptist said...

@Prang: The only thing the MSM care about is their profit margin. They are Corporations after all. They are part of the problem not part of the solution.

jh said...

They despise what has become of the Britain they once fought to save. It's not our country any more, they say, in sorrow and anger.
Sarah harks back to the days when 'people kept the laws and were polite and courteous. We didn't have much money, but we were contented and happy.

'People whistled and sang. There was still the United Kingdom, our country, which we had fought for, our freedom, democracy. But where is it now?!'
Royal Navy
Sarah Robinson, who joined the Royal Navy when she was 18, says the Britain she once knew no longer exists
The feelings of Sarah and others from this most selfless generation about the modern world have been recorded by a Tyneside writer, 33-year-old Nicholas Pringle

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1229643/This-isnt-Britain-fought-say-unknown-warriors-WWII.html
Our culture is draining away and we are forbidden to say anything'

That's where Susan Devoy ($200,000) comes in.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Our culture is draining away and we are forbidden to say anything"

If they're forbidding you from saying anything JH, they're not doing a very good bloody job. You managed to say a hell of a lot although much of it incomprehensible. Perhaps that's why they allow you to say it. God you can get sick of people whining about not being allowed to do this or that when they obviously bloody are,("can't use the word gay any more.") because here they are saying it, albeit in the daily mail which is just about as bad as Breitbart. Funny how these people, when they're mentioning all the great things that they used to be – "whatever happened to all that nice streaky bacon we had before the war then?" Never mention the fact that you could be refused a rental simply because you are Maori, women weren't allowed to get a bank loan without their husband's permission, and gay people were beaten up without consequences or persecuted by the government. Who knows what Alan Turing might have produced if he hadn't been essentially murdered by the British government. Swings and bloody roundabouts I think.