The Baby Boomer Belly Drop

Having lived through a spectacular bull market, boomers now sell off assets to finance retirement, putting pressure on equity prices and denying young workers an easy route to wealth.

via The next crisis: Sponging boomers | The Economist.

The stylebook says, “As allusions to the population surge after World War II — between 1946 and 1964 — baby boom and baby boomer are overused; ration them.” Would that we could ration the boomers themselves.

The bill (hundreds of billions more in benefits than they pay in taxes) is coming due on the so-called boomers, and it is worth asking whether all the fun they had was worth the trouble to come. Following hard on the heels of the Greatest Generation — by the way, Guys, what have you done for us lately? — boomers can be thought of as the Greedy Generation.

In their youth, boomers — many of them, anyway — reveled in putting themselves first, carving an underground of drugs and confused sex out of the prosperous, if bigoted and superficial, America of the 1950s. That me-first attitude was indelible; less than 1 percent of boomers served in the military; about 10 percent of their parents did.

When they stopped smoking pot every day, boomers profited in putting themselves first at the office. But that was a good thing. There were so many them, and that meant more workers — and large numbers of women, too. If they had stopped there, that might have been O.K.

But in their dotage, boomers, still putting themselves first, have become a generational buzz kill that will transform the country for centuries. Like what, for instance?

  • The benefit derived from boomers’ knuckling under to the Man and joining the work force will become a serious liability as those hippies retire. Someone has to pay for their retirement.
  • Of course, the groundbreaking they did by bringing women along with them to work can’t be repeated.
  • Neither can you repeat the revolution in education wrought of the G.I. bill.
  • Boomers aren’t shy about applying political leverage, either, having pushed for lower taxes and generous government benefits for decades. Economists have calculated that “each American born in 1945 can expect nearly $2.2 million in lifetime net transfers from the state.”

But the biggest thing to me is that, unlike boomers who fattened nest eggs with decades of rising equity prices, young workers will be on their own. To add insult to the tax bill, most are surrounded by aging mentors who advise them to buy houses and invest their money in the stock market.

The model of America most older Americans believe is still in place is stuck in low gear. As The Times’s Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote in August, referring to today’s equity markets, “An entire generation of investors hasn’t made a buck.”

What I would like to see from the self-indulgent boomers who are getting into politics now is fewer rambles about the Constitution (“have you read it?”) and more ideas about how to fix the mess they made.