Empty Cupboards: The Legacy of the Greatest Generation

A fascinating article in MSN Money asks, “Are Baby Boomers to Blame?” Specifically, is that famously large and famously self-absorbed generation the driving force behind our multi-faceted fiscal crises?

Mostly yes, concludes the author, Anthony Mirhaydari, who paints a grim portrait of our economic straights and lays the blame largely at the feet of aging boomers:

If nothing is done, by 2024 — according to a Credit Suisse estimate — 100% of U.S. tax revenues will go to entitlement spending and interest payments on the federal debt. That’s it. Nothing left for tanks, jets, food stamps and SEC regulators. Nada.

While this seems intractable, the root of the problem is really quite simple: too many old people.

Specifically, the nearly 80 million members of the baby boom generation are quickly aging, with most in their mid-50s now. This simple dynamic is the undercurrent beneath many of our problems, from a stagnant stock market to a bleak jobs outlook and the debt/deficit problem.

Certainly there’s no doubt that the rapidly retiring boomers are going to put enormous, perhaps catastrophic stresses on our entitlement programs as they get older and sicker. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and (perhaps) Obamacare will soon be absorbing legions of claims from this greying population.

But the real culprit of our fiscal woes is the generation that preceded the boomers, the so-called “Greatest Generation.” Members of this generation, roughly those born between 1914 and 1924, are rightly praised for their perseverance and courage in facing the ravages of the Great Depression in the ’30s and then putting paid to the Hitler-Tojo axis in the ’40s.

But the Greatest Generation has another, darker side that is far too infrequently acknowledged. A ravenous, greedy side. It was this generation, after all, that erected the modern entitlement state that is wrecking our fiscal and moral fabric. First, by continually re-electing Franklin Roosevelt and enthusiastically supporting his New Deal, and then by voting themselves more goodies from the public treasury in 1965 with Medicare and other wealth transfer programs.

The great generation demanded, and received, the Great Society.

Now that generation is passing away, but the the architecture of their avarice still stands. Indeed, it has grown and grown, and consumes more and more of our national wealth with each year. The boomers are hardly to blame for this — after all, the tail end of that generation was still being born in the mid-1960s when Johnson commenced finishing F.D.R.’s great social experiment. Now, boomers are guilty of little more than aging into, and taking advantage of, a system that their parents and grandparents created.

The boomers inherited the entitlement state, and an entitlement mentality, from the Greatest Generation, perhaps the greediest, most irresponsible generation in American history. The boomers’ predecessors demanded “security” from the government, either not understanding — or not caring — that it would come at the expense of the prosperity and liberty of future generations.

In a way, the boomers are lucky; most of them will likely get most of their promised benefits as they sail off into retirement. Not so lucky are Generations X and Y, who will be left with bare cupboards and cut-up credit cards even as the price of living in this decaying republic skyrockets.

It will get messy, and the “greatest” generation will be to blame.