generation-divide-baby boomers

(Photo: Pixaby/ hannahpirnie)

Bruce Cannon Gibney doesn’t see all baby boomers as sociopaths intent on hording all of the nation’s precious resources for themselves at the expense of everyone else. Just, ya know, most of them.

Gibney, a venture capitalist turned author, has just published an explosive attack on the vaulted boomers, those born in the first two decades after World War II, in a Boston Globe piece highlighting his upcoming book,  A Generation of Sociopaths: How The Baby Boomers Betrayed America.

His rather simple theory: The country has gone to hell because baby boomers are running things. Fix the country by moving them along.

We’re heard generational salvos like this before, usually as whining about the damn millennials and their “participation trophies.” Gibney tries to root his particular rant in a historical context.

Boomers, Gibney notes, have held a majority of House seats since 1994 and still have a “formidable 69 percent” presence in Congress. They also make up 86 percent of the nation’s governors, much of the judiciary and bureaucracy, and, outside the “youthful Silicon Valley,” the lion’s share of top executives in the private sector.

And what have boomers done with all this power? Bad stuff, says Gibney. They’ve ignored climate change, pushed through tough-on-crime policies that led to mass incarceration, and deregulated Wall Street and let the big banks tank the economy.

On a personal level, Gibney adds, baby boomers haven’t saved for their own retirements, and they’ve stuck the generations coming up behind them with a massive national debt.

Quite an indictment. Could someone else be guilty? Gibney doesn’t think so. He pushes hard against the progressive argument that links our broken economy to the concentration of wealth at America’s economic summit.

“The 1 percent is, by definition, just 1 percent,” he claims, “unable to dictate national policy on its own.”

True, the 1 percent do constitute just 1 percent of the nation’s population. But these deep pockets hold much more of the nation’s wealth and power.

America’s top one-tenth of 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent of the country combined. They use this wealth to buy power in our political system. With that power, they dominate and distort the shaping of public policy. We end up with a politics that helps the rich maintain their massive fortunes — and treats the needs of everyone else as afterthoughts.

In the United States, the rich do indeed come, by and large, from the ranks of baby boomers. But today’s rich and powerful thirty- and forty-somethings have offered up no evidence that younger elites will behave any differently. Wealth trumps generation.

Some key figures on today’s political scene consider immigrants the reason why so many Americans are struggling, despite living in the wealthiest country in the world. Gibney wants us to shift our collective scorn to the older and wealthier. He has that prescription half right.

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Taxation and Opportunity at the Institute for Policy Studies.