By David Willetts
Atlantic Books; €21.75
ANYONE over 50, and thus a member of the Baby Boom generation, enjoyed a golden lifestyle attained at the expense of their children.
This is the basic thrust of this book, outlining how the present middle-aged demographic fashioned the world to serve their own interests and, in the process, burdened their offspring with a sea of debt from which they have little chance of escaping in their lifetimes.
While the evidence used to support this theory is based on UK statistics, many of the same hard facts could well be applied to Ireland. The baby boom of 1945-65 produced the biggest, richest generation that the world has ever known. Today, at the peak of their power and wealth, baby boomers now run Britain and have fashioned the world around them in a way that meets all of their housing, healthcare and financial needs. Social, cultural and economic provision has been made for the reigning section of society, whilst the needs of the next generation have taken a back seat. Willetts argues that if our political, economic and cultural leaders do not begin to discharge their obligations to the future, the young people of today will be taxed more, work longer for less, have lower social mobility and live in a degraded environment to pay for their parents’ quality of life.
In his introduction, David Willetts poses the nightmare scenario encountered by many a parent returning home from a weekend break only to encounter the wreckage of an impromptu teenage house party. Turning this cliché on its head, Willetts argues that it is today’s parents who are the party animal culprits in terms of sound financial planning – and leaving the children to clean up the mess.
However, whilst the imbalance between the generations is becoming more obvious, what is less certain is whether the older generation will be willing to make the sacrifices necessary for a more equal distribution. Willetts, who has written widely on economic and social policy, is the current Shadow Secretary of State for Universities and Skills and a Conservative MP since 1992. Aged 53, he is a member of the boomer generation. He condemns governments for failing to rein in the irrational exuberance of the last two decades, when the world “treated a boom as a structural change in the growth rate and treated an asset price bubble as part of saving.”
As happened in Ireland, Britain’s saving rates dropped to catastrophically low levels, forcing the entire financial framework built over generations into a plummeting downward spiral, taking the future prospects of the boomers’ children with it.
And, as the first of this baby boomer golden age become pensioners in 2010, the pensions crisis that will inevitably follow the huge numbers seeking social and health benefits threatens even further the life plans of that younger demographic.
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