On today’s episode in the Generational Blame Game: The Baby Boomers

Posted On January 16, 2018

A favorite narrative these days goes something like this: If you’re wondering about the source of society’s ills, look no further than the millennials. Participation trophies. Entitlement. Pumpkin spice lattes. No wonder we’re in such a mess.

You can hardly run a Google search without finding another blustery column by a Generation X or Baby Boomer writer cataloguing the many different ways in which millennials are screwed up, and how they’ve screwed up the country as a result.

And all that is a load of bunk. So says Bruce Gibney, a Gen-Xer who was one of the early investors in PayPal and who lays the blame for many of the country’s problems squarely at the feet of another generation – the Baby Boomers.

In his 2015 book A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America, Gibney accuses Baby Boomers of being a “spoiled generation” that has pillaged the American economy through self-interest, leaving a rotting husk for millennials and iGen.

“The Boomers inherited a rich, dynamic country and have gradually bankrupted it,” Gibney says in a recent interview with Vox. “They habitually cut their own taxes and borrow money without any concern for future burdens. They’ve spent virtually all our money and assets on themselves and in the process have left a financial disaster for their children.”

For our purposes, let’s ignore the political bent of Gibney’s views on taxation and focus instead on his generational arguments. He asserts that:

  • Baby Boomers came up in an era of uninterrupted prosperity and took it for granted, naively assuming that the economy would just continue to grow.
  • Boomers are largely driven by feelings and not facts. “The irony is that boomers criticize millennials for being snowflakes, for being too driven by feelings,” Gibney tells Vox. “But the boomers are the first big feelings generation.”
  • Boomers have replaced a sense of social solidarity and commitment to their fellow citizens with a “cult of individualism.”

Much of this reads as boilerplate millennial response to the boomer narrative about entitled millennials: Boomers did a pretty thorough job of trashing the country before we ever came along. But there are points to be taken here, if they will be used constructively.

We are not as different across generations as we like to think we are. Much of the differences between generations have developed gradually, driven by societal change. And when you point a finger at a generation, there are three fingers pointing back at you.

Baby Boomers were restless and hopped jobs, too. Gen-Xers got participation trophies. We are all, as a society, often following our hearts more than our heads, allowing our belief systems to dictate our media consumption and even our acceptance of facts. We are all motivated by self-interest.

If you don’t like the current state of affairs in this country and in the world, there is plenty of blame to go around.

Categories: Baby Boomers, Recession Economy, Work