We can’t blame mum and dad for everything

A recent graduate slams his peers for their constant whining about how the baby boomers ruined their lives.

Craig Purshouse

Topics Politics

They are greedy millionaires. They only look after themselves and exert influence over the political system to suit their own ends. But they are also scroungers who have sucked the state dry. A ‘time bomb’ who are ‘robbing us all blind’. They unite the right and left in hatred. Bankers? The Jews? Get with the programme: this year’s national scapegoats are the baby boomers.

And it isn’t only the young who are complaining. Trashing boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) has also become a way for people over 40 to try to gain a bit of cred. Francis Beckett, a baby boomer himself, is the author of What Did The Baby Boomers Ever Do For Us? and has recently taken his self-flagellation over to the pages of the Guardian. Baby boomers, he says, had a ‘wonderful inheritance’ that they have now ‘trashed’. It would be less unseemly if Beckett adopted the time-old middle-aged attempt to try to be ‘down with the kids’ and faked an interest in dubstep.

Hilariously, Beckett includes being able to read and write as part of the baby boomers’ glorious legacy before going on to argue that the boomers are forcing their children into school uniforms. It’s ‘like making them wear prison uniforms’, he observes. Those amongst us willing to forgive the boomers for their ability to read and write surely cannot overlook such fascism.

Anti-boomer hysteria reaches its climax over university fees. ‘How is it that your generation feels it can continue to shaft my generation?’ began a letter to the Guardian by George Lewkowicz in protest over the tuition fees. ‘[Y]our generation’, it continued, ‘is proposing raising university tuition fees due to a funding crisis which you caused’.

Mr Lewkowicz does have a point that those who have benefited from university now appear to be drawing the ladder up behind them. However, this ignores the fact that when the boomers attended university it was, in the main, reserved for a privilege elite. Painting a whole generation as hypocrites when only 10 per cent of them actually went to university is an unwarranted distortion. I’m no fan of tuition fees, but New Labour’s educational targets culture is perhaps the greater villain here: after all, aiming to get 50 per cent of school students churned through university doors regardless of whether they are academically equipped is a more coherent explanation for the need for fees than any generational conspiracy.

Like all forms of blanket finger-wagging, the anti-boomer philosophy is riddled with contradictions. It slates those born before 1965 for their greed while also coveting their houses, jobs and education; it carps at the boomers’ right-wing policies while, as a solution, suggesting the most unjust form of taxation (retroactive taxes). The New Statesman blogger Laurie Penny puts forward this latter proposal and has credulously swallowed Beckett’s line, complaining that, unlike in the boomers’ own era, we do not currently have ‘a culture that respects and nurtures young talent to catch you when you fall through the net’.

This golden age of nurturing young talent is a myth. There are countless talented and sharp boomers who left school at 16 for a life of working drudgery, never having fulfilled their potential. They may even outnumber successful, university-educated scions of the middle and upper classes who, were they any thicker, would need watering twice a week.

Of course, like most modern problems, the victimhood of non-boomers would not be complete without the inevitable blaming of ex-PM Margaret Thatcher. Colin Adkins writes to the Guardian’s letter page that the boomers ‘propelled Mrs Thatcher into power’ with the aim of ‘cut[ting] public expenditure to fund tax cuts’. Never mind that she left office 20 years ago or that most boomers did not actually vote for her; it’s much easier to lump tenuous blame-figures together.

By blaming boomers for everything, the real issues are camouflaged. The benefits – if a two-bedroom semi in the Home Counties can be classed as a benefit – that the boomers have supposedly swiped from Generation Y (those born in the 1980s and 90s) are middle-class ones. The complaints about education are not about access to GCSEs, they are about universities; house prices outside of London and the South East, while more expensive than 20 years ago (duh!), are still manageable for those on relatively low wages; and jobs in cafes and factories are still forthcoming.

The sweeping generalisations hurled at boomers miss the point: for every wealthy 50-year-old hedge-fund manager there is a struggling 50-year-old factory hand living in cramped accommodation. The current deficit and lack of social mobility were caused by New Labour’s nannying tenure (incidentally, has a nanny of such ineptitude ever survived in a job for so long?). If people must blame someone for their current woes – and it would be more productive not to – there are far better targets than any person over the age of 45.

Anyway, boomers will eventually die out. Give it 10 years and it will be the turn of Generation X (those born between 1961 and 1981) to be beneath contempt. Simple scorn for the boomers would be reactionary even if it was well-placed, but the arguments espoused by Beckett, Penny & Co make about as much sense as blaming those with brown eyes for a Borgia-like ploy to crush those with green eyes. It’s therefore time for the commentariat to end this ageist/self-loathing mud-flinging. The ‘I hate you and hope you die’ attitude to mum and dad is understandable when you’re 14 and denied life’s cheap thrills such as drinking cider in the park – it is less understandable when you are allegedly being denied the grand ambition of a mortgage and a paper-shuffling job.

Craig Purshouse is a recent law graduate from the University of Sheffield.

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Topics Politics


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