Denver Bar Association
July 2000
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Will Boomers Ever Think?

by Tom Macdonald

Favorite Docket critic Tom Macdonald admires the World War II generation
and will keep his Social Security Benefits to himself, thank you very much.


Critic-at-Large

Doug McQuiston's blood is up. He wants us to follow his charge up the hill. And right off the cliff.

He urges the baby-boom generation to atone for "a lifetime of selfishness" by renouncing Social Security benefits. ("Will Boomers Hit the Beach?" June 2000 Docket). According to Doug, we should do this because our generation "corrupted the country with its hedonistic pursuit of pleasure" in the '60s, discovered money in the '70s and '80s and ignored public upbringing of our children while acquiring a "suburban mansion, dual Lexuses, Vail condo and golf outings to Hilo." Our generation's other sins include Vioxx, laser surgery, liposuction and Viagra. Wow!

Reading such an ill-tempered attack on a whole generation, most of whom don't drive Lexus automobiles, one might conclude that it was spurred by a bad case of indigestion. Let's hope so. But according to Doug, it was prompted simply by reading Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation."

I share Brokaw's admiration for my parent's generation. My father enlisted on Dec. 8, 1941, and served in Europe. My mother served in a medical unit in the South Pacific. All of their friends also served. As a child, I heard plenty of stories about the war--rarely of combat, but much about the places they had been and army life.

A family friend, who flew bombing raids over Nazi Germany, once described the horrible reality of air combat. Thirty-five years later, I remember the conversation vividly. He was not bragging, but passionately arguing against the Vietnam war. He did not want his sons to die in Vietnam. He understood the distinction between a necessary sacrifice and a senseless one.

While the World War II generation was heroic in war, its members have also enjoyed the generosity of the nation. Many attended college on the G.I. Bill and bought houses with government-insured mortgages. Most retired with Social Security benefits. Its members have adamantly opposed changes of Social Security--making meaningful reform difficult.

I also share with Doug a certain amount of disdain for some members of our generation, but my disdain is directed more at fuzzy thinking than any perceived sinfulness. Examples of such fuzzy thinking abound in Doug's proposal. For instance, the trendsetters in the baby-boom generation--the ones he excoriates for corrupting the country in the '60s--were born before 1950. Yet Doug calls on only those born between 1950 and 1965 to sacrifice benefits. Worse, still, he focuses on the acts of a few affluent members to disparage the entire generation. While a fortunate minority may be able to afford golf outings to Hilo, the majority have been running harder just to stay in place.

According to an article in the June issue of The Atlantic Monthly, from 1979 through 1998, the average family income of the lowest fifth of American families decreased at an annual rate of -0.3 percent, while the lower middle fifth's and middle fifth's

average incomes increased at the respective annual rates of 0.2 percent and 0.4 percent. The article, "America's Forgotten Majority," by Joel Rogers and Ruy Teixeira, explores how

political parties have forgotten the white working class majority and focused instead on soccer moms living in affluent suburbs. Most of the income statistics it cites are for white Americans. It's safe to assume the figures for all Americans would be lower. Only one quarter of white adults have college degrees. For those who don't, the median family income is $42,000. Two-thirds have an annual income between $15,000 and $75,000. I suspect most are not squandering money on Vail condos.

The World War II generation grew up during the Depression and cared about social justice. While they were in control, America rid itself of legal segregation. Public education received generous funding. Medicare and Medicaid were enacted, and Social Security was greatly expanded. Most of this was designed to help the less affluent members of society.

Doug, on the other hand, wants to sacrifice the less affluent. Those with millions in a pension plan and those with nothing, all sacrifice their benefits.

In World War II, they sent only the combat-ready onto the beach. Doug is sending everyone. Without any Vioxx for the arthritic or laser surgery for the near-sighted. Ouch! Watch out for that friendly fire.

Let's make a necessary sacrifice, not a senseless one. Let's just send the combat-ready. Instead of depriving a whole generation of benefits, let's just introduce means testing. Then the fortunate ones, like Doug and I, can make the sacrifice.

What do you say, Doug? You and me, buddy, straight up that hill. Let's take out that machine gun nest.



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