Bill Keller, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times, painstakingly summed up his baby boom birth cohort as “The Entitled Generation.” This snippy criticism is typical of jeremiads written by and for Boomers to portray unseemly conclusions about the nation’s largest generation.
So writes the columnist from on high, “We are an entitled bunch.”
Keller’s views fall way short of balance. For example, while warning of and alleging future entitlement fund shortfalls to be imposed by the generation, he neglected to mention the Greenspan Commission, which in 1983 increased Social Security withholding from 9.35% in 1981-83 to 15.3% by 1990.
It’s typical of opinion pieces like Keller’s to avoid any suggestion that maybe — just maybe — the two older living generations — the GI Generation born between 1900 and 1925 and the Silent Generation born between 1926 and 1945 — have had something to do with the current U.S. budget crisis and anticipated shortfalls in the future. Perhaps it is too imprudent to mention that the GI’s and the Silent’s have benefited from entitlement programs while contributing their share to public policies and laws that have propelled the U.S. government into chronic deficit spending.
Greenspan’s farsighted bipartisan recommendations to Congress substantially buttressed entitlement trust funds so the nation would be financially ready to support Boomers in their old age, or so the story goes. Although they were underrepresented in Congress at that time, given that most Boomers were then under the age of 30, they have paid excessively from their paychecks since Ronald Reagan signed the Social Security amendments into law in 1983.
But as soon as entitlement surpluses began to accumulate, beginning in 1985, the surpluses were then shunted into the general revenue fund and tossed away on other government programs, including lavish pork-barrel spending (a.k.a. bridges to nowhere). A Congressional majority from predecessor generations — principally Boomers’ older siblings, parents and grandparents — led and implemented entitlement surplus repurposing.
For the GI Generation, this was a gift from their children, feeding the trust funds with bountiful cash and solvent security through the last 30 years. Boomers have spent the majority of their working lives making these elevated contributions. And in some cases payroll deductions for entitlements have reduced paychecks sufficiently to inhibit adequate retirement saving among those with marginal middle-class incomes.
Keller also trotted out a cursory summary of Boomer bashing, from Paul Begala’s Esquire diatribe “The Worst Generation” to ignoble actions of Clinton and Bush, the Boomer presidents who were either morally clumsy (Clinton’s Monicagate) or brashly deficit inflating (Bush’s Medicare Part D drug benefit).
Keller’s snarky criticism skirts mentioning the extent to which the Boomer generation has propelled the consumer economy for the last forty years, while standouts from the generation have created enduring business legacies such as Microsoft, Apple, Starbucks and Whole Foods.
Encouraging the Boomer generation to take corrective action by rubbing faces into threadbare criticisms of this generation’s alleged turpitude is not the way to motivate Boomers. Boomer bashing articles lacking journalist balance are neither fair nor accurate nor potentially effective.
If the fiscal mess now besetting the nation is to be resolved, then it must begin with sober reflection and sacrifices among all living generations, because, as Keller accurately implies: none are perfect; all have fallen short of creating a fiscally stable platform for future, unborn generations.