Are Baby Boomers to Blame?
Wikipedia defines a baby boomer as those Americans born from the mid 1940’s to the mid 1960’s (57-77 years old). It is generally thought that baby boomers are a group of people born to World War II veterans and their spouses after their return to the United States when the war concluded. At that time, people looked forward to having children because there was comfort in our country, our economy was booming, and our citizens were confident about the future. Those World War II veterans and their spouses are almost unanimously considered the greatest generation. They are idealized as heroic and giving; a group of citizens unlike any others past present, or future. Today, their baby boomer children comprise the bulk of our current Senior Americans.
Wikipedia further defines Baby Boomers as tending to think of themselves “…as a special generation, very different from those that had come before.” “As a group, baby boomers were the wealthiest, most active, and most physically fit generation up to the era in which they arrived, and were amongst the first to grow up genuinely expecting the world to improve with time. They were also the generation that received peak levels of income; they could therefore reap the benefits of abundant levels of food, apparel, retirement programs, and sometimes even “midlife crisis” products. The increased consumerism for this generation has been regularly criticized as excessive.”
A. Opinion I – They Deserve Much of the Blame: Since the last presidential election, many Americans have asked how in the world did we get to this point of conflict in society? Many politicians make more money while in public office than while in the private sector; a businessman was elected president rather than numerous republican and democratic career politicians; lies after lies occur from those we elect; corruptions after corruptions occur without real prosecution; depictions of a sitting president being assassinated in theatre productions; and B rated comedians photograph themselves with the bloody severed head of our president just to cause a stir. The rest of the world must think we’ve lost our minds.
But those who argue this conduct falls at the feet of baby boomers allege this conduct isn’t really all that unusual for baby boomers. After all, baby boomers were the people who comprised most Americans who smoked pot and experimented with drugs in the sixties; partied, had sex and boogied the night away to disco music in the seventies; took selfishness and greed to new levels in the eighties; and sought to make everything better in the nineties by expanding just about every entitlement program the government had at its disposal, all the while increasing our national debt to unheard of levels.
In 1970, the Public Debt was 907,701,000,000.00. By 2015…after baby boomer participation…that debt escalated to 18,150,617,666,484.33. According to those who blame them, greed and selfishness are the hallmarks of baby boomers. In his article, The Worst Generation, Paul Begala, a former Bill Clinton advisor and close confidant, harshly describes baby boomers as follows: “If they were animals, they’d be a plague of locusts, devouring everything in their path and leaving but a wasteland. If they were plants, they’d be kudzu, choking off every other living thing with their sheer mass. If they were artists, they’d be abstract expressionists, interested only in the emotions of that moment—not in the lasting result of the creative process. If they were a baseball club, they’d be the Florida Marlins: prefab prima donnas who bought their way to prominence, then disbanded—a temporary association but not a team.” Still others like Alexander S. Balkin, who wrote Baby boomers ruined America: Why blaming millennials is misguided – and annoying, contribute the destruction of America almost exclusively to baby boomers. In his piece, Mr. Balkin writes that baby boomers seek to deflect their contribution to today’s climate to their own children when in fact they are the ones who “ruined America.”
For those who blame issues on baby boomers, we ask…were baby boomers born this way or were they conditioned to be dysfunctional? Bruce Cannon Gigney writing for the Boston Globe hints they may have been conditioned to make interesting choices. In his article, How the baby boomers destroyed everything, he writes “Boomers weren’t genetically predestined to be dysfunctional; they were conditioned to be. They were the first generation to be raised permissively, the first reared on television and subject to its developmental harms, and the only living group raised in an era of seemingly effortless prosperity.”
But let’s not blindly accept the theory that baby boomers are to blame. Instead, let us review a judicial, societal and legislative timeline of the baby boomer generation (1940-present) to see what significant changes they caused, or allowed to occur, in our country during their watch:
a. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (racial segregation in schools invalidated)
b. Rock n Roll
c. Alaska and Hawaii are admitted
d. First television introduced
a. Civil Rights Act passed
b. Griswold v. Connecticut (legalized use of contraceptives by married couples)
c. Mapp v. Ohio (illegal searches and seizures banned)
d. Johnson signs Executive Order 11375 (affirmative action to cover sex)
e. Engel v. Vitale (school cannot require prayer)
f. Gideon v. Wainwright (guaranteed legal counsel to all defendants)
g. New York Times v. Sullivan (gave the press expanded protection under the 1st amendment)
h. Miranda v. Arizona (required warnings regarding statements that may be used in court)
i. Tinker v. Des Moines (school dress code found to be against freedom of expression)
j. MLK, JFK and RFK assassinated
k. Ted Kennedy at Chappaquiddick
l. Woodstock and the Beatles
a. Roe v. Wade (legalized abortion)
b. Title IX (requires schools to fund male and female programs)
c. Women integrated into all branches of the military
d. Watergate – Nixon resigns
e. Medicare begins
f. Voting age lowered from 21 to 18
a. Texas v. Johnson (flag burning protected as symbolic speech)
b. Prozac and other drugs commonly introduced as an anti-depressant
c. OJ Simpson acquitted
d. Monica Lewinsky scandal
e. Reagan assassination attempt
Opinion II – They Deserve Little of the Blame: Without a doubt, baby boomers have had an impact on our society. But do the aforementioned events indicate they deserve blame for today’s issues? Some like Leonard Steinhorn, a professor of communications at American University and author of “The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy” reject that theory. Mr. Steinhorn attributes many significant accomplishments to baby boomers including diversity and pluralism; the reduction of bigotry and sexual harassment; more rights for gays and lesbians; and less toxic runoffs and belching smokestacks. He also deflects the label of materialism attributed to baby boomers by writing that materialism “is nothing new in America.” Instead, he argues that excess was commonplace in the roaring 20’s and again in the 50’s.
Still others argue that each generation if affected by natural events and other issues outside their control. For example, financial scandals, climate conditions, natural disasters and political events occurring in other countries often cause the United States to react. Boomers watched as their parents worked diligently to provide the American dream for their families. That often-required overtime and commitments outside the home and little interaction between parent and child. Perhaps boomers want a different lifestyle than their parents and choose instead to keep fewer assets, save less money and worry less amount mounting debt.
Baby boomers aren’t without acclaim. Rather, many wonderful influences arose during their lifetimes such as the following: (a) Social change – as we discussed previously, gays and people of color have received great care and attention during the baby boomer cycle. Without baby boomers, many of the laws that protect such groups may not be in existence; (b) Economic growth – baby boomers are among the highest earners in the history of our country. Without the excess and high earning potential of baby boomers, many of our businesses would suffer much lower profits; and (c) Technology – Bill Gates and others are baby boomers. Without the technological advances that occurred during the lives of baby boomers, our existence would be much less enjoyable.
In summary, baby boomers are one of the largest generation of people to ever exist in the United States and their impact is far reaching. Some believe our social decline is directly attributed to their relaxed religious and socioeconomic norms while others believe their generation expanded upon their parents’ greatest title. Whatever your belief, it goes without saying that baby boomers sincerely impacted our country and things will never be the same once they are gone.
Todd Miller regularly writes and speaks on various legal topic including estate planning, probate and elder law. In 2005, he formed the Law Office of Todd Miller, LLC, 1305 Southwest Blvd., Ste. A, Jefferson City, Missouri. He has been recognized as 2016 Adviser of the Year by GolfInc; Golf Tax Consultant of the Year by Boardroom Magazine three times; and “10 Best” attorneys by the American Institute of Family Law Attorneys and “10 Best” attorneys by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys. Mr. Miller earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1999 and graduated with honors from Lincoln University in 1991. You may find him at www.toddmillerlaw.com (573) 634-2838 or on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.