Monday, 25 June 2012
How to Invent a Generational War
Crabby Old Lady went into near fits Sunday morning when she saw a story in The New York Times titled, Old vs. Young.
Yes, again, although the Times, as is so often the case, is a long way behind the rest of the media.
All of them have been trying to build an argument that greedy geezers are impoverishing young people and they all cite a November 2011 study from the Pew Research Center headlined, The Rising Age Gap in Economic Well-Being subtitled, The Old Prosper Relative to the Young.
Like yesterday's screed in the Times, most of the media amplify the tone and point of view from Pew's headline. As reporter David Leonhard wrote in Sunday's Times story:
“If there is a theme unifying these economic and political trends, in fact, it is that the young are generally losing out to the old.”
Although a large part of his story is devoted to the differences in political and social attitudes between young and old, Leonhart continues the onslaught against elders by contrasting, for one example, what he calls the “wealth gap,” based on Pew figures, as unfair to young people. This is Pew's chart on net worth by age:
The stupidity of seeing inequity here astounds Crabby Old Lady. Under 35s have a net worth $3,662 versus $170,494 for 65 and older. So? The largest part of everyone's net worth is the value of their home. Elders have been paying off their mortgages for 30 years longer than 35-year-olds have.
Crabby hates to be obvious, but that is the way the world works. We start out young with very little, we work hard, pay our bills and when we get old, we have accumulated a little wealth to see us through until we die. That is how it is supposed to work.
It's not just net worth. The “wealth gap” Leonhard blames old people for includes income and home ownership all of which are the largest since record-keeping began.
Apparently, he does not know that for the past four years, the U.S. has been living in a recession so deep, some believe it is a depression. Apparently, he does not know that the 2008 crash stole trillions of dollars in savings from everyone, that millions of homes have been foreclosed upon or are underwater, that unemployment is stuck on hold and that employers haven't raised anyone's salary in 30 years.
But never mind that. Young people are hurting and it's old people's fault:
“Young adults are faring worse in the private sector and, in large part because they have less political power, have a less generous safety net beneath them.”
In Leonhart's world, Crabby is guessing, the average $1,100 per month Social Security check is way too much and if young people can't have Medicare then old people shouldn't have it either.
It doesn't occur to Leonhard (or anyone else who blames elders for everyone else's ills) that the better solution all around would be to expand Medicare to everyone along with paying all workers a living wage and seeing that the wealthy among us pay their fair share in taxes.
Yes, young people are having a terribly hard time getting started in the world. Just ask the old people – parents and grandparents – they are still living with after college.
But it is not the fault of old people.
Just as Crabby was winding down this story, an email arrived from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) with economist Dean Baker's response to Leonhard's story.
Baker and Crabby pretty much agree but because Baker is smarter and follows this stuff more closely than Crabby, he had some interesting additional information:
”There is a well-funded effort in this country to try to distract the public's attention from the massive upward redistribution of income over the last three decades by trying to claim that the issue is one of generational conflict rather than class conflict.
“Billionaire investment banker Peter Peterson is the most well-known funder of this effort, having kicked in a billion dollars of his own money for the cause.”
Baker ends his tirade acknowledging that young people are not doing well. Then:
“But this is a story of Wall Street greed, corruption, and incompetence. It has nothing to do with the Social Security and Medicare received by the elderly.
“Leonhardt should be ashamed for falling for this tripe.”
Hear, hear. Do not let the one percent and their sycophants start a generational war.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary Hertslet: An Episode of Life or Death in Rome