Everyone hates a granny-basher. What is more morally warped than accosting a little old lady as she does her weekly shop and swiping her purse? Terrorism, maybe. And murder. But not much else. The dolts who do over old women and grab their cash make us mad because it is part of human nature to look out for the old, not nick their stuff.
Which is what makes the outburst of boomerphobia among Generation Whinge – or Gen Y, to give them their official sociological name – so grating. Granny-bashing has gone respectable. Sure, the twenty- and thirtysomethings who blame the baby boomers for their every financial, social and personal screw-up don’t actually rough up old folks and snatch their stuff. But they do spend an insane amount of time weeping and moaning over how the boomers had it really good, and they have it really bad, and plotting new ways to make these cosseted fogeys cough up some cash or space to help young people out. It’s polite mugging, with words rather than fists.
The latest wheeze of the meanies of Gen Y is basically to boot old people out of their homes. Really. Last week, a new report from the Australian Population Research Institute (APRI) evoked whoops of delight from the Gen Y self-pity party by suggesting greedy old farts should be encouraged to ‘downsize’ their homes. It recognised that this will be difficult, because, in the words of the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘they’ – ‘they’ being that blob of ageing irritants – ‘prefer to live in homes they have lived in for a long time’. Fancy that! Old people wanting to stay in homes they lovingly curated and raised their families in! The grasping rotters. But APRI is confident the crones and codgers can be elbowed out with the help of some tweaks to the tax and pension system that would ‘incentivise’ downsizing.
‘Incentivise’ – what a deliciously Orwellian word. Here it really means ‘pressurise’. And why must the old be ‘incentivised’ to leave homes they love? Because the young need them. There is ‘looming demand for detached houses by younger families, which the authorities have failed to plan for’, as SMH summarised, and so oldies must be ‘incentivised’ the hell out of town so that needy thirty-somethings can sleep in their beds.
In Britain, the Y whiners actually refer to old folks who live alone in their own homes as ‘bed-blockers’. These people are so stupefyingly self-entitled that they think they have the right to move into your bedrooms. Actually they think that these are ‘their’ bedrooms and you are unfairly colonising them. Whatever sins the boomer generation may have committed pale into insignificance compared with the poncy privileged tantrums of the Y mob.
At least street-based granny-bashers only make off with an oldie’s shopping money or credit card. The Gen Y muggers want far more than that: they want boomers’ beds, homes, lives.
The pressure on pensioners to shrink their living quarters sums up everything that is wrong with boomerphobia. It speaks to the ugly Malthusianism of generational politics, where instead of agitating for the building of more homes and the creation of new wealth the post-boomer moaners act as if all resources are fixed, as if there’s only a certain amount of things and money to go around, and thus we need a Mad Max-style war for stuff that pitches the allegedly hard-up young against the apparently moneyed old. Boomerphobia is the bastard offspring of an unholy marriage between two of the worst trends of our time: environmentalism and narcissism. The former convinces the young that everything is running out so they’d better steal whatever they can; the latter makes them think they deserve what they steal. ‘We’re worth it’ – the criminal cri de coeur of our era.
The lingo and plans of the boomer-bashers get uglier by the day. ‘Baby boomers suck’, said a writer for the Daily Telegraph last month. They ‘ruined the planet’, no less. Earlier this year a writer for the Age said the boomers had committed an act of ‘intergenerational theft’, benefiting from free education and a healthy housing market and now leaving only debt and a destroyed environment to their offspring. Young Aussies are being ‘massively screwed by the baby boomers’, said the Age. In the UK, a columnist for the New Statesman says the young have been ‘screwed over’ by boomers, who are ‘richer, freer and more powerful than any generation this country has seen’.
Okay, stop. Aside from the chalkboard-scraping noise of whinging they emit, there are two basic problems with youngish people’s declaration of generational war on the old. The first is that it is straight-up ludicrous to make sweeping generalisations about generations. The boomers, says that Telegraph writer, ‘enjoyed free tertiary education, affordable housing and unparalleled acquisition of wealth’ and now ‘swan about between their three properties’. What is she talking about? Do these moaning muppets really think all boomers, all people born between 1946 and 1964, had lives like that?
My parents were born in the 1950s, ostensibly making them boomers. They left school at 14, travelled from Ireland to London when they were 18, lived in a hovel as they had six kids, and worked pretty much every hour of the day. There are loads and loads of so-called boomers who were working class, or poor, or even destitute, who never darkened the door of a university or bought a nice home. And yet these members of the postwar generation – the majority – are airbrushed out of history by Gen Y people who fantasise that literally everyone born in the 40s and 50s went to the Sorbonne and had sex with Jim Morrison before magicking up mortgages for their three future homes.
The second, and most colossal, problem with boomerphobia is its dearth of social imagination. Bereft of ideas for how to kickstart economic life, and campaign for more house-building or a bigger and better capitalism, instead the Y lot take swipes at people who are comfortable, and who got comfortable by working and taking risks. They seem to think that the way things are is the way things will always be. How bizarre. How dispiriting. The problem here is not boomer greed but youthful fatalism.
You want a home? Build one. You want a society that has more opportunities for younger families? Build one. You want a stronger economy? Build one. Quit your bitching; build a different future.