I was born in 1948, which makes me a prime-time Baby Boomer. We have always represented a huge bulge in the population, a great concentration of individuals. After the years of the Great Depression, which made people reticent to procreate, and the years of World War II, which drew twelve million young people into the armed forces and far from home, America had returned to prosperity and peace. Americans returned to the business of having children with something like wild abandon. When I was a child, there was a vast army of us. When we were teenagers, young marrieds, seasoned workers, it was the same. It is the same yet. We are now a vast army coming to the end of our working lives, a vast army on the verge of retiring. Therein lies a tale.
It was great when we represented a market for goods and services, it was great when we were a huge work force that could be exploited. It was great to be a Baby Boomer. Now that we won’t be working as hard or spending as much it’s not so great at all.
I Warned You
I have always been one to look into the future and see terrible things about to happen. The people close to me always thought that it was kind of funny, crazy old Fred, “Mr. Happy.” But many of the things that I worried about have come to pass.
By the 1980’s we were relatively prosperous. Many of us owned our homes, and home prices kept rising at a most agreeable level. There will come a day, said old naysayer Fred, when they will come for our prosperity, our home equity, our job security, our retirement plans, our Social Security, our Medicare, our savings. There’s too much there, I argued, it’s too big a prize just to let us keep it.
“They” will want to steal it. “They” being that class of low-down sociopaths made up of our elected leaders and the giants of the corporate world. And come they have.
The P.R. Machine
There is a lot of crying these days about what has happened to America, the terrible state of things. Morals have decayed; incomes are down; jobs are rushing overseas; budgets are out of whack; deficits are soaring; the National Debt is out of control; it’s quite a list.
Let’s see now, who can we blame? It can’t be “their” fault; whose fault can it be? Oh! Let’s blame the Baby Boomers!
The leadership class of a subsequent generation in power is looking around for two things: how to clean up the mess and how to steal big money for themselves. They want to do these things, of course, without inconveniencing themselves, their rich benefactors, corporate America, or “Wall Street.”
The answer to their prayers is the miracle of “Entitlement Reform.”
I don’t know whose bright idea it was to call things like welfare, income assistance, retirement spending, and social spending in general “entitlements.” It makes a grand epithet though, and it has become a curse word of the first order of magnitude, along with “Liberal” I suppose.
These programs, taken as a whole, do add up to a lot of money, that much is true. Two things need to be remembered though. For one thing, if America’s National Security budget was in line with the rest of the civilized world we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. For another thing, aren’t these the right things to do? Don’t poor people have a right to some small portion of dignity? Don’t people who have worked all of their lives have a right to retire in peace without surrendering their own dignity?
Don’t even get me started about the National Security budget. No one even knows for sure how much money they consume every year. The numbers are so vast, do you even call it money anymore? Baby Boomers my ass, this is the real problem.
But, “Entitlement Reform,” that’s the ticket! It’s easy to demonize the poor, no one cares about them anyway. Just suggest that they brought the condition upon themselves, that’s a good start, and then suggest that they are somehow preventing new generations of workers from obtaining the things that they need. Demonizing old people is a tougher sell. I’ve got it, we can blame all of the economic woes of America on the Baby Boomers! What a great idea! It’s so simple!
Those Selfish Pricks, The Baby Boomers
Looking around the Internet now it’s easy to find people complaining about the Baby Boomer generation, now rechristened “The Entitlement Generation.” Lazy and greedy, “history’s greatest hypocrites.” Like we were the one’s taking bread out of people’s mouths.
What have we done that was so terrible? Most of us by far, the overwhelming majority, worked hard at some mundane job or other, lived within our means, and wanted only to live in peace with our families. We paid our way, and we paid our taxes, lots of taxes. I always figured twenty percent or so, at least, when you included things like sales tax and property taxes. (I was way into the modest range of income, by the way.) We paid into Social Security, and whatever you might have heard, Social Security is doing fine, thank you. No problem on the horizon until maybe 2037, I’ll help you with the math, that’s twenty-five years away. Our money, that we put away, is sitting right there for us, just waiting to be paid to us, as promised.
We’re getting ready to retire and cash in on those fabulous entitlements that we somehow engineered for ourselves behind people’s backs. I hate to tell you, all of our lives so far we have only been entitled to permission to work hard and pay taxes. We have had the freedom to shut the fuck up, work, and pay taxes. And note that we have been losing ground on our much vaunted prosperity for years, real wages and overall economic security have been in steep decline for the last half of our working lives.
With A Smile, They Steal
Who will defend us against this onslaught? No one is on the horizon I’m afraid. The Republicans are the worst of the thieves, that much is clear. The Democrats are not much better, almost imperceptivity better actually. Democrats in congress talk a good line, but their bottom line includes heavy cuts to social programs, including the perfectly healthy Social Security. President Obama is a good man, I’m glad that he got re-elected, but he’s no better really. He’s also too willing to cut, cut, cut. Oh, excuse me, reform social programs, to make them stronger, some bullshit like that. And nobody even talks about cutting defense. Defense from whom, exactly? I think we lost track of that question all together.
“Share the pain,” I’m sure that you’ve heard that one, but who’s in pain actually? Not the corporations; not the security establishment; not members of congress. The only ones in pain are the ones who are being asked to share the pain, and believe me, the old/poor/infirm/working class would love to share some of that pain with the corporations/security establishment/congress. You boys think you could get by with only fifty to a hundred times our salaries? Could you get by with only ten aircraft carriers? Need the whole sixteen? Do you really need to get hard copies of every single cell phone call and e-mail in the entire world? Congressmen need to get a good retirement plan after being elected to only one two-year term? Share the pain, boys and girls.
Get Used To It
That’s my advice, fellow Baby Boomers. Get used to it. Plan on getting less and less from Social Security; plan on paying more for your medical care; plan on eating cans of tuna instead of chicken (look for the good, at our age even those mercury laden cans of tuna will take longer to kill us than we have left anyway).
Oh, what wonderful conundrums we face, what limitless excitement! Within ten years I expect to be faced with a choice of living in America, where I might be able to afford adequate Medicare enhanced medical care, or living in Thailand, where I can afford food and rent and low-level medical care. Either medical care OR a comfortable living situation. Living under a bridge in between doctors’ visits in America or living in a rental in Thailand and dying for want of medicine. Afford everything at once? Not me, not unless I stay very, very healthy.
I hear people complain about Walmart, but I wonder if it’s a good idea. Aren’t they our employer of last resort? Do they let employees sleep in the store?