Years from now an author will write, in the style of Tom Brokaw, a book about this current generation of ‘leaders’ and might title the scorching essay, The Dumbest Generation. Brokaw’s book was titled, The Greatest Generation, in reference to those born in the 1920’s and who fought both the Great Depression as well as the Axis Powers in WWII. After the war, they helped move this nation forward into the so-called ‘American dream’ of middle-class living, suburbia and the automobile as the key to that new lifestyle. They were also the parents of the baby-boomers.
Ten years ago columnist Paul Krugmanmade reference to the baby-boom generation as ‘‘the pig in the python”: a huge bulge in an otherwise skinny age distribution, and he warned that there would be an economic storm gathering as this generation moved into the retirement years. The python is now done eating and only the wormcast remains.
Krugman wrote the article in June of 2000, before the Gore-Bush election. He took note of both candidate’s ‘plans’ for dealing with the python issue- an issue that would be fact, not political banter, before either man would complete an 8-year term in office.
Here’s what he said if George W. Bush were elected:
Remember that Mr. Bush is also proposing huge tax cuts. Aside from eliminating a surplus that might have been used to help Social Security, those cuts will encourage the nation as a whole to consume more and save less, exactly the opposite of what an aging society should be doing.
Meanwhile the pig is still in the python, inching inexorably toward its destiny. Is anyone paying attention?
No, Mr. Krugman, no one was paying attention and, as a result, we, like inattentive students, are taking remedial courses to help us out of the bind in which we find ourtselves. Little did Mr. Krugman know at the time that Machiavellian schemers would have the ear of the naive president and that a Treasury-draining war would subtract immeasurably from that much-depleted surplus.
Greatest Generation suffered through the Great Depression and a World War, yet found the discipline and strength to move our nation to the greatest economic boom the world had ever seen. Their children, on the other hand, like the prodigal son of biblical lore, spent it all and scorched the earth in the process. Now, they come, empty handed, for their ‘share’ of the treasure- the treasure that is no longer there.
What is ironic about Brokaw’s Greatest Generation is that, after fighting and suffering through that terrible World War, they authorized and supported two more wars, in Korea and in Vietnam. Did they forget the lessons of war? And it was during that meaningless Vietman War, the war that asked the children of the Greatest Generation to fight and die in, that arose the protest song with the haunting lyrics, ‘When will we ev-er learn?’
The Baby-boomer’s children were asked to fight and die in three subsequent wars, the Gulf War, the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War.
And now the Treasury is completely empty and I ask, ‘When will we ev-er learn?’