Friday 23 October 2020

The Twilight Of Boomer Power.

Heading For The End Of The Road: Martyn Bradbury is right about the Boomers: twilight does beckon them, as their long reign approaches its end. But before they go into “that good night” (which awaits us all!) I, as someone born right in the middle of the Baby Boom generation, would implore the younger generations to give my fellow Boomers one more chance to “rage, rage, against the dying of the light”. One last opportunity to demonstrate the wisdom of the poet, Robert Browning, who declared: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”

THE DAILY BLOG’s Editor, Martyn (Bomber) Bradbury, is characterising the decisive 2020 election result as the Twilight of Boomer Power. Martyn, and all those who share his view, had better hope not. Baby Boomer votes played a critical role in Labour’s historic victory. Moreover, as New Zealand’s most electorally diligent demographic, they are likely to play an equally critical role in the next. Under these circumstances, dancing on the grave of Boomer power strikes me as a sub-optimal strategy for holding together Jacinda’s winning coalition.

For clarity of analysis, it is important to remind readers that the age-range encompassed by the term Boomer stretches from those born in the year following the end of World War II, 1946, to those born at the very end of the post-war surge in fecundity in the mid-1960s. In other words, a Baby Boomer can be anybody between the ages of 55 and 75. Or, to put it another way: the first Boomers came into this world to the crooning of Frank Sinatra; the last to the pop poetry of The Beatles.

We are a singular generation. Those who pay attention to the ads on television will have noticed a strange shift in the marketing strategy of the corporations promoting retirement villages. Where once the ad-men conjured up visions of silver-haired ladies and gentlemen settling into their final years amid fine china and roses, they are now making their pitch to what look like slightly wrinkled versions of sixties-era hippies and rockers. The soundtrack, once Mantovani and his Orchestra, is now The Who and The Rolling Stones. Clearly, the psychographics are telling the advertising gurus that the Boomers are preparing to grow old as they grew up – disgracefully.

There’s a political side to all of this that it would be most unwise for younger generations of voters to ignore. It is, perhaps, best illustrated by a meme sent to me recently by a friend. It depicts a young woman from the Swinging Sixties standing in front of a Mini Minor motor car. The text reads:

Your Grandma wore: Mini Skirts, Hot Pants, Go-Go Boots, Bell-Bottoms, and no Bra.
Listened to: Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Hendrix, Janis Joplin and The Stones.
Drove: Mini Cars.
Rode on: Fast motor bikes and scooters.
Smoked: Slim cigarettes.
Designed: Fashion you are still wearing today.
Drank: G and Ts and shots, came home at four am, and still went to work.
You will never be as cool as your Grandma.

Boomer hubris? Of course! But it does make the point that the generation raised in the years of plenty turned out to be very different from the generation raised during the years of global economic depression and worldwide war. All that generation wanted to do when the shooting stopped was find a job, get married, buy a house, and start a family. (Although, not always in that order!) Their children, however, took all of their parents’ hard won opportunities and affluence for granted, and went off in search of something more. Not all of them gave up when the rules of the game changed abruptly in the 1980s. And even the ones who did can still remember what it’s like to reach for something beyond your grasp. Some of us are reaching still.

Could that “reaching” have played a part in Labour’s astonishing victory? I think it did. I think Jacinda reminded many Boomers of their younger selves. I think they contrasted her courageous handling of the Covid-19 Crisis with their own cowardly failure to meet the moral challenge of Neoliberalism. Where they had simply taken the corporate money and run, Jacinda faced down the “economy first” brigade with, of all things, kindness.

There was a transcendence in that brave display: a moment of – dare I say it? – transformation. It reminded many of them of things they had forgotten. Like the sheer size of the anti-Vietnam War mobilisation of 1971. Like the political electricity crackling across the first United Women’s Convention in 1973. Like the lonely thrill of seeing the Riot Squad advance with batons drawn in the anti-Apartheid protests of 1981. Like the passage of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1986, and the Nuclear-Free New Zealand legislation of 1987.

Some may even remember the evening of Saturday, 25 November 1972, when New Zealanders, after 12 long years, shrugged off the blues and turned their country red. I certainly remember it. Sitting in my parent’s kitchen, watching the portable TV set, drawing a red star by every electorate that fell to Labour, and a blue swastika alongside every National win. And how, by the end of the night, the Special Election Lift-Out section of the Evening Post, sellotaped to the kitchen wall, had become a veritable galaxy of red stars. Thinking to myself: this is new; this is something I haven’t seen before. I was sixteen.

Nobody will convince me that in kitchens all over New Zealand, last Saturday night, there weren’t thousands of 16-year-olds looking at their devices and feeling that same shiver-up-the-spine as their country, very deliberately, turned a page. That they’re out there fills me with hope. But, I would be lying if I didn’t admit also to feelings of dread.

A recent study by the University of Cambridge indicates that: “Young people are less satisfied with democracy and more disillusioned than at any other time in the past century.” The reason? That’s easy. Their disillusionment has grown out of their steadily deteriorating socio-economic situation vis-à-vis the two generations that came before them. It’s the Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, who feel most aggrieved. And why wouldn’t they? When the Baby Boomers were their age, in the US, they held 21 percent of the nation’s wealth. Today, Americans aged 25-40 hold just 3 percent! For those disposed to light a match there is fuel aplenty here to set democracy ablaze.

That would be a tragedy, because the sort of people who set democracies ablaze do not offer hope – only hate.

Our democratic vote can be put to multiple uses. In dangerous times, it can be used as a shield. In times like these, of opportunity, it can also be used as a tool – to build a better future. But our votes can also be used as weapons: to punish and to harm political “enemies” of all kinds. But, when they are used in this way, history shows that the weaponisers suffer every bit as much harm as their intended victims. Political vengeance is a poor substitute for progressive policy. Giving up on democracy means giving up all hope of a better future.

Martyn Bradbury is right about the Boomers: twilight does beckon them, as their long reign approaches its end. But before they go into “that good night” (which awaits us all!) I, as someone born right in the middle of the Baby Boom generation, would implore the younger generations to give my fellow Boomers one more chance to “rage, rage, against the dying of the light”. One last opportunity to demonstrate the wisdom of the poet, Robert Browning, who declared: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”

In the name of generations yet unborn, I invite you to reach out your hands to those who, for a few, brief, shining moments, allowed themselves to believe that there is “something more”.

Because, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four: don’t we all, as New Zealanders, deserve the chance to say:

“This is new. This is something we haven’t seen before.”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 23 October 2020.


Geoff Fischer said...

Does the future of New Zealand lie with a drug-addled potty-mouthed Martyn Bradbury who tells us that we should vote for Jacinda and give her three years to prove that she can and will do nothing to arrest the decline, after which we should wait on his leadership of the real revolution?
I think not. He is simply deluded.

Shane McDowall said...

New Zealand's postwar baby boom peaked in 1961.

I dislike being lumped in with people who thought The Goons and Beano were the height of humour.

I dislike being lumped in with weiners who protested against the Vietnam War.

I dislike being lumped in with dweebs who allowed themselves to be distracted by David Lange's nuclear free bullshit while Roger Douglas took a chainsaw to the economy.

I especially dislike being lumped in with Prince Charles.

I was born in the year of the Ford Mustang.I am a Gen-Xer and damn proud of it.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Shane McDowall.

Well, Shane, I don't imagine people who grew up in the 1930s liked being "lumped in" with the Nazis, or the Stalinists, or any of the other political forces that shaped the era, but they had to live with it because those were the individuals and ideas driving events.

It is also a fact that generations have a beginning and an end. The Baby Boom Generation began in 1946 and ended in 1964-65. You neglected to say in which year you were born, Shane. If it was after 1965, then you are a Gen-Xer. If not, then, heh, you're one of us!

greywarbler said...

The problem with the rush of blood to our heads that produced action in the 60's for better things, and often got mixed up in licence, is exemplified by the saying that many US protesters ended up returning to the conservative fold as stockbrokers.

Parents have to talk to their kids about history and politics, we have shrunk from passing on important, even basic information like this, and also about handling human relationships and importantly, discussing sex and how to avoid it the urgings as teenagers, (many start at 14ish.) By the way, there's good learnings in relating to elders etc as a supermarket checkout.

I think the general way of informing family about politics adopted by activists, is to discuss the day's news over the dinner table, kids were included. It's not then like some odd hobby carried out in the garden shed like some individual hobby. No-one knows the full story of anything because they never heard their parents discuss their lives and culture. We have been left to bob about in it like peas in veggie soup.

Odysseus said...

The first Ford Mustangs went on sale in April 1964. So they are yet another achievement of the magnificent Boomer Generation, along with Manned Space Flight and Civil Rights. We are also the last generation to have received a rounded education and who learned to think for ourselves, even though or perhaps because comparatively few got to attend university in those times.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Let him go Chris. I dislike being lumped in with Shane McDowall.

Mark Wahlberg said...

If I remember right, Mustangs were introduced into America 1964.
Avery Motors Wellington showroom in Taranaki Street had a new white 67 GT fastback in their window and they made it shine under all the lights they directed at it. . I stood for hours with my nose pressed to the glass dreaming of Neverland. I have never regretted being a "Boomer."

greywarbler said...

WW2 ended 1945. We should have aimed higher after - not with guns but with minds, with rational physical outcomes that everybody needs, and for a vast turning to higher skills for solving problems like violence and excess that leads us away from where we apparently desire to go. Rewi Alley sorrowing about Vietnam wrote heartfelt poems. My fish and chip proprietors have an old encycopaedia on Vietnam and the war, there for those who might like to understand what their families and country went through. Most don't read anything while they wait minds elsewhere or nowhere.

One called The Stench.
Shot square
between the eyes
a farm lad slumps
amongst the rice
he transplants, as
over fed, over clothed
over armed, over paid
conscripts sent in
by war criminals
'flush out' Vietnamese
from their own countryside...
Rewi Alley 1897-1987.

Not a boomer but noting then democracy's decline only 10 years after WW2; twenty years of the Vietnam War, 1955-1975. It would be good if we could at least put our country on the tracks again to what NZ had in 1984. We thought it a rather patched-up model but we could look over the country and pronounce, like a famous Brit landscape gardener that it offered 'capability for improvement'. We have to pick up our gardening tools ad people skills and training and try again. En avant mes braves (sounds more stirring in French).

swordfish said...

Like Shane, I was born in 1964 ... and I'd have to agree that the demarcation line between the Boomers & Xers isn't as set in stone as you imagine, Chris. Official US sources, for eg, identify the end of the Boom very specifically as May 1961, other sources say 1964, 1965 or 1966. Some analysts (quite outrageously) even see the generation spanning right through to the early 70s. Appears to vary greatly between Countries. Like Shane, I like to see myself as an elderly Gen-Xer rather than a daft young Boomer.

I'd also say that, like many Boomer former activists, you confuse the (actually relatively small & atypical) 1960s-80s activist cohort with the wider Boomer Generation as a whole. The latter were certainly liberal / permissive on most personal moral issues but not particularly Left-wing on economic or indeed foreign policy issues. Personal libertarians more than anything else. Far too much heroic myth-making & eulogizing of the Generation by Boomer historians like Jock Phillips.

oneblokesview said...

An observation to provide context.
Your point
When the Baby Boomers were their age, in the US, they held 21 percent of the nation’s wealth. Today, Americans aged 25-40 hold just 3 percent!

Post war their was a severe labour shortage and tremendous growth and no welfare to speak of. The "boomers"were over 33% of the US population (remember also a lot of boomer babies clogging up the stats)

Then came the millenials. Hard on the back of the welfare explosion of the 60s.
Now they make up approx 20% of the population while the boomers stay intact with their lifetime earnings.

While I applaud your article in general, the hit piece on boomers is not appropriate in my view.
There are many other reasons that millenials share of wealth is way different to boomers.

I do get a bit sick of the lazy hits on boomers.
They were the generation who basically took the country from post war doldrums to created the wealthy society.
One thing that seems to be forgotten is that the Boomer generation created the welfare state in the US. This step has been researched/analysed as the greatest contributor(due to increase in families without fathers) to overall poverty, low education levels and violence in said USA.

Keep up the good work.
I like your writings even tho from time to time I vehemently disagree with you.
Long live freedom of speech in ALL its forms.
It will be a sad day if Mr Little gets his way and places even more restrictions on freedom of speech.

Yes, I dont believe in having hate speech laws. In my view they only divide, not unite.

Nick J said...

Defining different age groups and contrasting them without understanding their formative eras is fraught with confusion and needless conflict.
For example I can humm along to the Stranglers but don't get gangsta rap. Should I draw a generational value judgment?

Boomers like myself grew up with parents who were often shelled shocked war veterans, our bogeyman was Hitler and we played war in the playground. The events of the 30s and 40s shaped us in the 50s and 60s. Now I watch the children of Douglas era and puzzle at their attitudes, having also lived through that era too I can understand even when we disagree.

Rather than labelling and judging it might help if we showed a little more understanding of era and circumstance.

Shane McDowall said...


When the baby boom started and ended is not set in stone.

True, the Boomers are often seen as born between 1946 and 1964.

But Generation X can be born as as early as 1960.

If you don't believe me, just read the Wikipedia entry for Generation X.

And I did tell you the year I was born. The same year as the Ford Mustang ... 1964.

Both my parents were born in 1927. They are both definitely of the Silent Generation.

We Gen-Xers like The Goodies, not The Goons. Motorhead not Mantovani.

The Boomers were our arsehole school teachers.

You might want to read Douglas Coupland's " Generation-X '. It is our Bible.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Baby boomers grew up with parents who lived through the great depression and World War II in the main. Even if they didn't fight on it like my father, they suffered bombing and privation like my mother. Although to be fair, mum sort of enjoyed World War II given that women were required to work and received quite reasonable pay according to her. It gave her a certain independence her mother didn't have. Her mother was forced to work due to the lack of financial security, but received pretty terrible remuneration, and was expected to do all the housework as well.
Parents who lived through the great depression taught us frugality, even if we didn't always practise it. They taught as the need for a decent social welfare system. They taught as the true patriotism of contributing to society rather than grabbing all the money you could – even if it was simply as an "arsehole" teacher.
Can't say for sure, but I suspect it is Generation X which gave us Roger Douglas, greed is good, the dismantling of the social welfare system and worker protections. They moved our society closer to that of the US where 90% of the jobs are "at will" – and with some exceptions, you can be fired for any reason and no reason. As far as I'm concerned that makes them the arseholes.

Kat said...

Oh, so we are doing generation comparison with cars now. Well, I was born in the year of the Corvette which became synonymous with freedom and adventure, ultimately becoming both the most successful concept car in history and the most popular sports car in history....... all according to that everymans "bible" Wikipedia.

To quote the great Ry Cooder: "Listen to a Boomer's story, pay attention to what I say. Well, I hear another train a-comin. Guess I'll be on my way..............."

swordfish said...


(Quote): "Can't say for sure, but I suspect it is Generation X which gave us Roger Douglas, greed is good, the dismantling of the social welfare system and worker protections. They moved our society closer to that of the US where 90% of the jobs are "at will" – and with some exceptions, you can be fired for any reason and no reason. As far as I'm concerned that makes them the arseholes."

No, GS, from the limited polling I've seen ... I'd say the Boomers (particularly first-wave Boomers b 1946-55) were the most supportive of Rogernomics. (Boomers are first & foremost personal libertarians / hedonists ... and for more than a few that fed into Friedmanite sympathies).

Broadly speaking, in the late 80s, Boomers were more likely than other Generations to feel positive about Privatisation & other Free Market reforms (with a somewhat smaller neutral segment & a pretty small negative %),

Gen X was notably Neutral, with smaller positive & negative views of the Rogernome Revolution,

Whereas the Older (Silent & Veteran) Generations were very Negative ... comprising the key opponents of the Revolution right from the very start..

By the early 90s, however, the public mood had moved heavily toward opposition to Roger/Ruther-nomics ... with significant majorities of all age-groups taking a negative view.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

In NZ in the last 100 years the Total Fertility Rate only met or exceeded 3.4 in the period between 1946 and 1966 hence the 'boomer' period. A parent and their child could both be boomers yet have utterly different life experiences.

Flaneuse said...


Interesting that you believe the majority of Boomers were most supportive of Rogernomics. I'm 70 and no-one I knew at that time supported what Roger Douglas et al put us through. It was a time that many of my friends' marriages ended - I suspect due to the incredible stress of trying to keep a roof over one's head with interest rates reaching an all-time high, and hoping not to be made redundant, if we hadn't already been. They were brutal times. I worked in an organisation associated with the share market in those days and I would say that those who supported the politics of Rogernomics were mainly the people who still follow neoliberal politics - they come in many shapes and sizes - and age demographics - and it is not just boomers in my observation.

thesorrow&thepity said...

The Baby boomers have had their time. They wantonly failed on global warming, & for that their grand children's generation will pay the price.

pat said...


Given Swordfishes age i suspect he is aware of such, though chooses to look at the lack of rollback as 'support'. Like you I know of few that supported what Douglas unleashed but also remember my dismay that it continued not only unabated but intensified.The reality is that we dont have much choice in these matters, we fall in line with the direction of the dominant economies and tinker at the edges...the refusal to comply was personified by Muldoon...we know how history (to date) has remembered him.

Tom Hunter said...

Martyn Bradbury is the same roaring oaf tromping around in his Doc Martins that he has been since he was twenty. Brand image I guess.

And he's wrong about the Boomers and this election. Think about it this way. What demographic was targeted by Covid-19? The answer is older people, especially those older than 65. And that demographic was naturally the most terrified about the disease, the most grateful to whomever protected them best, and thus the most likely to vote for that person and party.

And who comprises the bulk of that demographic? Why none other than the Boomers. Martyn should be bloody grateful to them, and I say that as a GenXer.

Geoff Fischer said...

Chris wrote:
“Young people are less satisfied with democracy and more disillusioned than at any other time in the past century.” The reason? That’s easy. ....
Well it may easy, but still you managed to get it wrong.
Young people are less satisfied with democracy because democracy is less satisfactory. There is no direct connection to "the economy" (which also happens to be unsatisfactory).
"Democracy" has failed more obviously than capitalism. The reason being that it is not democratic at all. It does not give power to the people. It takes power from them, and entrusts it to political elites. Despite your continuous eulogy for a corrupt and dying system, ordinary folk are coming to see this clearly and with certainty.
All the devices which are used to allow mass manipulation of the population and political fraud are being thrown into sharp relief by the presidential election in the United States of America. This is a system which allows ample scope for both fraud and false allegations of fraud, both of which are designed to thwart the so-called "will of the people".
All of this is easily corrected by the institution of a truly democratic system, but unfortunately that would not serve the interests of the class which you represent.
Erudite you may be, but the future does not lie with the erudite. It lies with those who have the courage to see and speak the truth, and those to whom "transformative change" is more than a phrase empty of meaning.