Who Destroyed the Economy? The Case Against the Baby Boomers
My father taught me how to throw a baseball and divide big numbers in my head and build a life where I’d be home in time to eat dinner with my kid most nights. He and my mother put me through college and urged me to follow my dreams. He never complained when I entered a field even less respected than his. He lives across the country and still calls just to check in and say he loves me.
His name is Tom. He is 63, tall and lean, a contracts lawyer in a small Oregon town. A few wisps of hair still reach across his scalp. The moustache I have never seen him without has faded from deep brown to silver. The puns he tormented my younger brother and me with throughout our childhood have evolved, improbably, into the funniest jokes my 6-year-old son has ever heard. I love my dad fiercely, even though he’s beaten me in every argument we’ve ever had except two, and even though he is, statistically and generationally speaking, a parasite.
This is the charge I’ve leveled against him on a summer day in our Pacific Northwest vision of paradise. I have asked my favorite attorney to represent a very troublesome client, the entire baby-boom generation, in what should be a slam-dunk trial—for me. On behalf of future generations, I am accusing him and all the other parasites his age of breaking the sacred bargain that every American generation will pass a better country on to its children than the one it inherited.
We are sitting on a beach in late afternoon on a sun-drizzled lake in the Cascade Mountains, two college-educated, upper-middle-class white men settling in for a week of generational warfare. My son, Max, splashes in the waves with his grandmother; sunbathers lounge in inner tubes around us; snow-capped peaks loom above the tree line. The breeze smells of Coppertone and wet dog. My father thinks back on the country that awaited him when he finished law school. “There seemed to be a lot of potential,” he says, setting up the first of many evasions, “but there weren’t a lot of jobs.”
I’m mildly impressed that he’s even bothering to mount a defense. The facts as I see them are clear and damning: Baby boomers took the economic equivalent of a king salmon from their parents and, before they passed it on, gobbled up everything but the bones.