The Unlit Torch

by Glen

Thanks to economic shifts in priorities by advanced government and international financial institutions the future doesn’t even look as bright as it once did, even for the Baby Boomers. They work an average of 55 hours a week in an attempt to keep their future investments secure but no longer maintain the confidence they historically possessed. This extends to the future prospects they felt they were putting aside for the their children. They are now waking to the realization that their younger family members will have a tough time of it and it’s creating a kind of collective disappointment. In this era of uncertain dividends, nothing seems sure anymore.

Where older generations took only little for themselves in an attempt to secure future prospects for their children, the Boomers believed they could have it all. They spent liberally on themselves but also for their kids. Christmas was bound to see the newest technologies under the tree, where past generations struggled hard just to provide a bicycle. As financial waters grew restless in the last decade, they believed the best way to support their lifestyle and keep money in the wallets was to keep governments out of their pockets. The days of supporting public investments through dedicated taxes were coming to an end – stripped by the very cohort that historically achieved affluence through them.

The Boomers are fighting for the own financial security at a time they believed they would be safe. While they struggle with work, perhaps periods of unemployment, pension decline, travel limitations, and mortgage payments, their children are often working at close to minimum wage, frequently living at home, with no real job security. Ironically, the Boomers are now paying heavily for what once had come so easily in times previous.

As their parents took their collective eye off the ball in the form of democratic and financial progress, the Gen Xers and the New Millennials see no way they could prompt such reforms themselves – they are outside the loop, discouraged and not a small bit disenchanted. They get it that any kind of employment is likely to be unstable. Across the board they have lost their faith in institutions. This is also sadly true of public institutions – their scepticism most likely due to the declining effect of politics to inspire and of public leadership to maintain access to the venues of a secure future.

The prospects of the work force look grim to the newer generations. It’s not so much the problems of the workspace, difficult bosses, or the lack of benefits. The number one concern is the constant “unconstants” of the nature of work itself. While older generations fuss over the rise and fall of employment rates, Gen Xers and the Millennials are likely far more concerned over job security. Sure you can work, but for how long? With all the bankruptcies in small to medium-sized businesses, how can you build a solid resume? How does one survive in a world of acquisitions, buyouts, closures, takeovers, layoffs, firings, downsizing, efficiencies, or attrition?

And then there’s politics. The average age of a parliamentarian speaks for itself. If there are entitlements to be offered through legislation, you know where they’re going. In the United States, the average net worth of someone 65 or older is $170,494. Any guess about those 35 and younger? $3,662. Figures for Canada are difficult to find and, though somewhat better, demonstrate the growing gap and the bleak future for younger people living in most municipalities. How do they respond? By moving back home. Postponing marriage. Delaying having children. All this has a cumulative effect on what for all appearances looks like the old eating their young. It’s troubling. It’s growing. And it’s largely due to politicians refusing to prioritize their policies and gearing them toward the next generation. Republican analyst David Frum describes it as the “going out of business sale for the Baby Boom generation.” It’s a damning observation.

The younger generations, instead of being the beneficiaries of older wisdom, have become the flotsam and jetsam of materially absorbed elders. They know from experience what W. Somerset Maugham wrote decades ago:

“It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched, for they are full of the truthless ideals which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded.”

Talk to any Gen Xer or New Millennial and you’ll discern Maugham’s sentiment. They are a cohort adrift – not from their abilities or ambitions, but from those channels which permit them to excel in broader society.

There are no political back room deals or secret consents by the political and financial establishments to cut the young off from their future – merely a kind of naive blindness to the pitfalls of endless growth at any cost. In the collective headlong dash to Wall Street, the gap between the Boomers and those who come after appears as a chasm too broad to bridge. And inevitably filling that gap are the cynicism and disenchantment of the Xers and the Millennials. Sadly, this was the last thing any honest Boomer desired for their children and grandchildren. In attempting to pass the torch to the next generation, the Boomers forgot to light it.

Note: These last two blog posts, and the next, are from a book I’m working on about London, Ontario and its current challenges and potential. It’s scheduled for release in September.