Tuesday 31 August 2021

Ice-Cream Dreams.

Sweet Surrender: The end-of-the-alphabet generations looked at the Baby-Boomers and felt not pity, but a contemptuous, envy-driven rage. It was as if the luckiest generation in human history had invited them into the wondrous ice-cream emporium it had inherited from its parents, only to tape their mouths shut at the door, and continue scoffing. 

HOW WILL the generations who came after the Baby Boomers be remembered? Every generation has a “signature”: a collection of ideas and aspirations that renders it instantly recognisable to the scholars and artists whose job it is to make sense of the past. Certainly, that is the case with the Baby Boom Generation. One has only to write a list of words and expressions: Beatnik, folk-singer, anti-war protester, New Leftist, civil-rights worker, feminist, acid rock, hippy, commune, Woodstock, New-Ager, environmentalist; and immediately, images, sounds, and a colourful cascade of defining historical moments conjure-up the generation born between 1946 and 1965 like a gaudy pantomime demon.

It is out of these vivid historical moments that the ideas and aspirations of Baby Boomers may be distilled. Like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle they fit together to form a complex generational portrait. The face we see bears the imprint of idealism and hedonism; rebelliousness and expediency; creativity and venality. The Baby Boomers may have set out to do good, but they settled for doing well. They may have been brave, but they weren’t stupid. They longed to be free, but drew the line at being poor.

Mick Jagger (who, like just about all of the cultural icons who enthralled and inspired the Baby Boom generation, is not a Boomer) happily adopted the persona of a street-fighting man, but fought the taxman harder. “Money, it’s a hit”, declared Pink Floyd, “don’t give me that do-goody-good bullshit.” Bob Dylan warned his young followers that “Up on Housing Project Hill/It’s either fortune or fame/You must pick one or the other/Though neither of them are to be what they claim.”

There has always been something disconcertingly sly about the Boomers. Sly, and a just a little bit cynical. The Who famously tipped their hat to ‘The Revolution’, only to bring their fans crashing back down to earth with that immortal sign-off: “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss.” It was as if the Boomers, like the Russians, were saying: “Trust – but verify.”

So, what about the Generations that followed the Boomers? What about Generations X, Y and Z? What distinguishes these unfortunate souls, historically, is that, unlike the Boomers, they were not born into an age of plenty and limitless horizons, but into a world of reduced circumstances and abandoned dreams. The Boomers looked at their parents and felt mostly pity. A worldwide economic depression, followed by a world war, had created a generation whose over-riding desire was for security. Work hard, keep your nose clean, don’t rock the boat, and, most of all, be wary of people peddling big ideas – because that way lies trouble! They got their security, bless ‘em, but only at the price of enjoying it in a cramped and unadventurous society. Poor bastards!

The end-of-the-alphabet generations looked at the Boomers and felt not pity, but a contemptuous, envy-driven rage. It was as if the luckiest generation in human history had invited them into the wondrous ice-cream emporium it had inherited from the Greatest Generation, only to tape their mouths shut at the door, and continue scoffing. They were sorry, they said, observing the resentment in the younger generations’ eyes, but there just wasn’t enough for everybody. When you’re older, the Boomers promised, ice-cream dribbling down their double-chins, you will understand.

In the meantime, however, Generations X,Y, and Z have created a culture negatively defined by the cynical idealism and hedonistic excesses of the Boomers. If the civil-rights workers and the feminists wanted equality; if the New Left of the 1960s preached participatory democracy; and if the hippies worshipped freedom; then the inheritors of these big Boomer ideas would impose them without debate. When they got their hands on power, Gen-X, Y and Z were fiercely determined to actually do the things that the Boomers only talked, and sang, and marched about.

When it came to politics, arts and culture, bombastic White men would have to step back for people of colour, women and the rainbow community. It was their turn now to strut and fret upon the stages of the world. The prophets and peacocks, whose singular political and artistic voices defined the 1960s and 70s, were creatively superseded by the mad-cap kaleidoscope of social media, and the incessant buzzing of innumerable Spotified bees. So many masters, so few masterpieces.

But what about the ice-cream? Who got the ice-cream? It is in relation to economic and social policy that the awful legacy of the Baby Boomers is most plainly in evidence. Because Generations X, Y and Z are not socialists – not even in their dreams. The neoliberals (who, like most of the Boomers’ cultural icons, were not Boomers themselves) may have seduced the Baby Boom Generation (Boomers are easily seduced!) but they convinced the generations that followed them. Ice-cream is for the best – not the rest. Work hard, keep your nose clean, don’t challenge the ideological powers-that-be, and you, too, will be invited to dine at the big emporium – and this time your mouth will not be taped shut.

This then will be the signature of the generations that followed the Boomers. Idealistic authoritarians. Obedient revolutionaries. Incorruptible puritans. Unflinching meritocrats. They will be remembered as the generations who, more than anything, wanted to have the Boomers’ ice-cream – and eat it too.

May God forgive us.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 31 August 2021.


Barry said...

Sorry to say this Chris - but your post is a load of BS.
think about all those boomers who lost jobs as Rogernomics ruined their prospects. You seem to think they had it easy...
I had 4 loans to get my first home - 1st and 2nd mortgage and 2 unsecured loans. To pay for it there were no overseas trips. The house was very run down - I rebuilt the kitchen, bathroom and laundry - no new flash new home for this boomer. I turned my labour into capital.
We purchased ONLY if we had the money - no layby or similar.
The reaction the 'end of alphabet' generations in comparison are selfish and have a 'I want it all and I want it now' attitude.
Being angry and annoyed will do them no good at all.
Theres an old saying "dont get mad -get even".
My advice to them is do what the boomers did - buy nothing you dont need ( travel, cafe coffee, late model cars etc). Mortgage yourself to the hilt and buy a property - any property that has walls and a roof no matter how old.
The Boomers have only got what they have by planning and working for it.
Of course not a by any means are all boomers property owners. Thousands lost a lot -if not everything - following the 2008 crash.
Im proud of what I can now do to help my grandchildren - those envy filled angry X,Y &Zs wont be able to do that due to their attitude.

David George said...

There's something unhealthy in these strained claims of generational stereotypes, surely there's enough intersectional divisions available to slice and dice society already.

A good essay up on UnHerd on this subject, conclusion:

But like every generation before them, today’s young need to understand the world as it was, before they can make it into the world they want it to be. They cannot do that on their own. That is why the conceit that generations exist in separate, polarised boxes is such a problem. It denies young people access to the tools used by those before them to made sense of their lives, and the resulting sense of mutual incomprehension makes conflict more likely.

It is fashionable to argue that our responsibility to the young requires greater thinking about the future — but it requires an equal commitment to the knowledge we have gained from the past". https://unherd.com/2021/08/why-we-need-the-generation-wars/

Chris Morris said...

I think that the person most future generations will associate with icecream is the hapless Joe Biden who is actually a war baby - in more ways than one.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Ah well, as the saying goes "We're going to have to start worrying about what sort of a world we are going to leave for Keith Richards.Alas – It's not quite the same without the picture. And if anyone fancies a bit of schadenfreude:

David Stone said...

I'm pretty sure that Boomers care far more about their children and grandchildren than they do about the other boomers except perhaps the one they share that offspring with.
This must make the ties between generations far stronger than within them and I'm quite sure that is the case. It sure as hell is in this establishment.
But the world has changed. There are more of some things and less of others. But the share of the world has to be divided among 3X the population. And there's been a "maturing". of wealth distribution under the capitalist system since 1946 which was from Bretton Woods a kind of fresh start.
In the little book The Good Earth I seem to remember the dubious hero and his wife becoming involved in a revolution where the poor rose up and ransacked the homes of the wealthy , redistributing the wealth of the country to start the cycle all over again as the writer described it as a continuous cycle. Maybe that hasn't ever stopped.
Any way during this cycle the extreme wealth imbalance we now have is between families rather than between generations. Some of the super rich have made it themselves out of technologies that post date the boomers, some are indeed boomers , but you can bet that the wealth in either case will mostly remain in the family. So it will pass to the next generation , just not spread among them .

Jens Meder said...

If, faced by the ageing population, climate, Delta virus and widening poverty problems and prospects, the majority of us agree, that on the economic level nothing can achieved without saving for it at the cost of hand-to-mouth consumption potential -

and therefore urge to vote for raising our national and personal investable wealth ownership creative savings rates with 100% participation in the effort -

then the current era in NZ since a.d. 2000 will go into history as the "Dawn of the Third Way" upwards by all, via "Compassionate Capitalism"

The latter we have working for us already through the NZ Super Fund, into which the wealthy contribute much more than the poor for the same benefit as for the poor.

Participation in KiwiSaving could be extended to all by unconditionally granting the $1000.- kick-start to all who have not received it so far - from new-born babies to still alive seniors.

What else can be thought of to inspire more constructive confidence in our young ?

Santa said...

Only God forgives.

Jays said...

I agree. I am not a boomer but rather a older Xer and my parents were both born just before the war broke out. Tales of people having it easy are propaganda.
My parents worked bloody hard for what they had, walked everywhere for 2 years while they saved for a car, sewed our clothes and went without carpet in our house until I was about 8 years old.
How many people of even my age these days would do that?
When my wife and I bought our 1st house, it had leaks in the lounge, 2 bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom with the leaks in the bathroom so severe to have destroyed much of the ceiling.
When we sold it 3 years ago it was undoubtedly one of the most beautifully decorated houses in our suburb having worked weekends and nights.
The new owners were gen Zers buying their first home using exclusively the bank of mum and dad.
I doubt they can spell the word sacrifice.

Tom Hunter said...

Aside from "Jays" it sounds like all the commentators here are Boomers. "Technically" I am too, but since coming-of-age culture is the true marker I'm Gen-X all the way or, since the phrase is so popular, I identify as Gen-X (dare you deny my truth :) ).

Anyhoo, with Gen-Z kids I can tell you that the degree of disdain and outright hatred of the Boomers, seemingly for everything about them, is off-scale in their online chatrooms and social media circles (FaceTwit, No. Discord, Yes). Personally I think it's OTT as it may simply be a spillover from the US generational conflict where the Boomers are seen to have had much better than their counterparts in NZ, not to mention all the cultural baggage attached to "The Me Generation" of selfishness that was very much a US thing.

One aspect that has made me laugh (a little sadly perhaps), is that many of these discussions focus less on getting better jobs, careers and incomes - the attitude being that that itself is a Boomer thing that does not apply in a age of low-paid service jobs requiring a Bachelor's degree - than it does on waiting to get hold of the Boomer's built up wealth.

The thing is that this may already be underway before death strikes, as shown here in Hand over the $35 trillion, you old farts

The average inheritance in 2019 was $212,854, up 45% from an inflation-adjusted $146,844 in 1998, according to an analysis of Fed data by economists at a unit of Capital One Financial Corp.

And people aren’t waiting until they die. Annual gifts taxpayers reported to the Internal Revenue Service—a fraction of the gifts that flow outside the tax system—rose to $75 billion in 2016, from an inflation-adjusted $45 billion in 2010. Over that period, the amount that people could give away without paying taxes on gifts rose from $1 million to more than $5 million for individuals, and from $2 million to more than $10 million for couples.

Heh. The fly in the ointment there is that plans are already afoot in the Democrat Party to get their hands on that, and I'm sure we'll follow suit at some stage.

Nick J said...

I read this wondering where all this generational nonsense actually originates? Labeling generations fortunes and characteristics strikes me as slightly daft.

What I can do however is disabuse people of false images and in doing so reference to Pythons Yorkshiremen sketch is instructive. The Yorkshiremen one upped each other in reference to the harshness of their childhood. And that seems to me to be going on in reverse according to the prevalent wisdom that Boomers took the lot. It appears to me that in a material sense we have never had so much, and our physical work life so easy.

For example as a student I used to patch clothes, no quick cheap replacement from the Warehouse. The car was a luxury with a tool set in the boot for fixing breakdowns, couldnt afford mechanics. Children biked and walked to schools. I worked in foundries pouring metal, at the tannery flensing, heavy work. It was different materially. I cant say better or worse but todays internet immersed consumerist culture wouldn't recognise it.

What has remained constant during my lifetime is the division between haves and have nots, class divisions. Who gets the bigger slice of the pie? I'd contend that it is this, not generational issues that are more important.

Referring back to the 70s egalitarianism was the theme in NZ Aotearoa, even if class was very evident. Equality of opportunity we understood and it was available. What I'd suggest we are railing against with intergenerational rants is the abandonment of that shared idea to the tender mercies of faux freedoms, like the market, extreme identity politics, equality of outcome etc.

Class warfare is the way I see it, those that have versus those that havent is why young people cant get into housing. Not some idea of a lucky greedy generation. By taking the controls off, by inculcating greed is good philosophies for 40 years we have allowed a gulf to occur between an ownership class with high earnings and the rest. Thats what we need to redress, not generational nonsense.

Jens Meder said...

Nick J - I agree with your last sentence at 6.39 on Sept. 2.

So in what way would you prefer to resolve the conflicting interests between the haves and have-nots ?

Converting us all into haves or have-nots, i.e. capitalistic - or only labor - based service providers ?

Or what else can be put up for discussion ?

greywarbler said...

Nick J's points resonate. NZ seems to have carried the 3B's as a banner. Bach,boat and beemer.
We have looked for material success and when there was delay in getting services, ie the P&T taking 3 months to instal new phone lines, the money-hungry were well prepared to abandon the plodders for international fast money along with a more sophisticated standard of living. The ordinary life must be put aside. Those whose interests and jobs were ignored, got sidelined. Less wages, no weekends, no reasonable welfare, no land zoning, no future planning by government, no school buses, just a random number of the effects; all middle of NZ hollowed out and derision and hate for those who can't jump high enough.

Nick J said...

Jans, To answer your question about redressing the balance.

Im in acceptance that the rich and poor will always be with us. That reflects so many things that are not determined by the individual. Some are capable, some are incapable. We must accept that and make provision for both. Equality of opportunity enables all to reach their potential should they wish, to them the rewards.

That said there is a cost to equal opportunity, and that is to remit some of the gains to those less able. They too are us, we come from them. We do this through a redistributive tax system, it pays for our social equity.

The issue is always how much does the individual owe to society for allowing his / her advantages versus what is rightfully the fruit of their endeavours? My answer is always an amount more than it takes to motivate them as from that motivation everybody benefits.

There is a converse need to how much redistribution. That is the poverty line. A society is only as good as how it treats its worst off members.

Jans you regularly go on about savings. Our society has lost touch with the concept of saving for a rainy day, not surprisingly when debt can be generated to pay for todays desires and needs. You are right to get fundamental about sacrificing today for tomorrows benefit but in todays economy nobody believes in it. Our current economic alchemy doesnt understand todays debt is an obligation on the future. Somebody will be made to pay.

Jens Meder said...

Yes Nick J, you are right in that too many of us have lost touch with the concept of saving for a rainy day - and the prevention of poverty.

So is that reality not a potentially powerful motivator for a universal savings effort through the taxation system that will also include participation in efforts and wealth ownership creation by the poorest through a savings factor built into welfare benefits?

Will that not benefit the whole nation through more domestic capital generation and the increasingly profitable productivity possible through that, when interest is being paid on domestic capital debt, rather than foreign debt, and consumption debt ?

Is not an increased savings rate by all a new "THIRD WAY" upwards by and for all ?

Nick J said...

Jan Ive advocated local savings schemes for years. Im a little split on coercion, the voluntary Kiwisaver seems a good balance. So yes we are in agreement.

One very important thing that you recognise is the need for local capital accessible to local business. Our economic development would be much accelerated.

Jens Meder said...

Yes Nick J.
Living within a "Law and Order" culture requires a bit of basic restrictions of freedom and liberty, as has been mentioned already many times.
Thus most of us agree with enforced traffic rules, compulsory basic education, taxes payment obligations and many other prescriptions, which might be thought of by anarchists as "fascist".
So, since we have widening complaints about poverty, why not accept a universal effort of wealth ownership creation through compulsory saving ?
On the collective level we have the beginning of it already through the NZ Super Fund (even welfare beneficiaries contribute to it through the taxes - e.g. GST. - they pay), and could not their participation in Kiwi-Saver nobly and compassionately initiated by unconditionally granting the $1000.- KS kick-start to all those who for whatever reason did not get it, from new-born babies to still alive seniors?

What do you think of the latter clear and simple action as an intensified effort to reverse the trend of widening poverty into one of widening prosperity - and why do you think so ?