Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Kids These Days!

One refrain you hear from many 20-somethings today was "how good we had it" as an older generation.  Is this really the case?

In one online forum, a 20-something complains that "his generation" has it awful, and that the "baby boomers" ruined life for everyone - and even caused the economy to crash!   No one appreciates how gawdawful they have it today, compared to previous generations!   We older folks are "lucky" they tell us, because we grew up in an era of unprecedented economic prosperity and growth, and thus we have all this undeserved wealth.

Apparently, a little history lesson is in order.

To being with, yea, it seems like older people are wealthier than you are.   That's because they are.   That's because they have been saving money and accumulating wealth and getting pay raises for 20-30 years, and have real job skills and experience.

But two things you should realize.   First, your parents aren't as wealthy as you think they are.   Second, there are a lot of "Baby Boomers" with nothing saved for retirement, and they are going to be living in abject poverty for years to come.  The 401(k) generation is about to retire, and it is going to get ugly.

But if you think the previous generations "had it easy" then you really didn't pay attention in school.

Let's go back a few years and I will show you what I mean.

I was born in 1960, which was the tail-end of the so-called "baby boom".   It was also in the era where the largest number of kids were born in the US (1957-1961) in the history of the nation.   No year has topped 1957 since.  It was, coincidentally, a period of recession in the US, which is one reason you don't see so many collector cars of that era (1959-1960) compared to say, 1955-1957.

By the time I was ready for college and the workforce, in 1978, the economy was in the toilet.   Was it as bad as today?   No, far worse.   Inflation was running over 10%.  Unemployment was over 10%.  Mortgage rates were topping 14%.  And gasoline was running a dollar or more (which would be $3.47 today).  But that was assuming you could even get gasoline.  Stations would run out of gas and close.  You were only allowed to buy gas on "even" or "odd" days, based on your license number.   People were hoarding gas.

Now, compare this to today's numbers.  Inflation at a fraction of a percent.  Unemployment at about 6.5%.   Mortgage rates at 4.5% or less.   And gas under $2 a gallon and freely available.   Still think you have it worse than any generation previous?

Oh, yea, you have student loans to pay back.  I had $38,000 of them (worth $67,700 today) and paid them all back.   You can, too.   And student loans are a voluntary thing, too.   No one is forcing you to go to college and get a useless degree at Party U.

"But we were promised high-paying jobs if we went to college!" you say.   Well, whoever made that promise was lying to you.    I can't help you with that.   But if you read my blog, you'll start to appreciate that a lot of people are lying to you - from the guy selling you a smart phone, to the car dealer, to the "Hollister" t-shirt shop, to the government.   And they all lie to you through the television, and you watch that shit and think it is telling the truth.

Am I supposed to feel sorry for you because you are smart enough to go to college but not smart enough to add up a column of numbers?   Or may be it was all that partying you did in college.  Am I supposed to feel sorry for yet another generation that feels entitled to wealth without work?

Well, you sort that out.  Let's get back to the history lesson.

My elder siblings were part of the 1960's hippie movement.   Now, the 1960's sounds like it was a time of economic progress if you didn't live through it.   First of all, you have to understand that what we considered "wealth" back then was far different that what we have today.

In 1967, My Dad was a Vice-President of a camera company and we were living in the tony suburb of Lake Forest, Illinois.   We were considered fairly wealthy at the time.   We had one television, which was black-and-white, and our house had no air conditioning.   People didn't have a lot of shit back then.  No cell phones, no video games, no computers.   We had one landline phone in the kitchen (a dial, of course) and my parents had the "luxury" of an "extension" in the bedroom.   That was the year my Dad, about age 45, bought his first car with air conditioning - an unheard-of luxury.  It still had manual windows, locks, and seats, and a crappy AM radio.  I couldn't get you to even ride in a car so primitive.

People just didn't have a lot of shit back then.   We were poor by today's standards.  The idea of every child in the house having their own phone, car, and bathroom was alien to us.   Only the filthy rich had that sort of thing - people who were "millionaires" - back in an era where that was like being a Billionaire today.

Then there was the unrest.  Assassinations of President Kennedy, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King.   Rioting in the streets.   The draft.  Vietnam.  And rampant drug use.   It was not a happy time that people make it out to be.  And in 1973 we had something called "the Arab Oil Embargo" where the Saudis and other "OPEC" members decided to cut off the supply of oil entirely to the West.

Today, we have the opposite problem, as the Saudis throw open the taps and people complain that the price of oil is too low and hurting the economy!

Do you start to see how ludicrous your complaints are?

Throughout the 1970's, gas shocks continued, and it is one reason why the economy was "in the tank" by the time I was ready to graduate and go out into the world.

But what about generations before my older siblings?  The fabulous '50s were fabulous, unless you were drafted to fight in the Korean war - which was a thankless mess for which no one gives credit to the brave soldiers who fought there.  "The forgotten war" they call it.   And back home, things were Howdy-Doody, provided you weren't a Free-thinker, gay, a woman, or black.   Yes, if you dared express political beliefs even slightly to the Left, you would be barred from working forever.   And gays were routinely beaten, arrested, and even killed, with impunity.   And women who went "all the way" outside of marriage were either castigated for life as "sluts" or would risk dying in a back-alley abortion.    And for both women and blacks, employment opportunities were limited, if they existed at all.   Women were still basically property during the "fabulous fifties".

Are you still sure that things back then were better than they are today?

I shouldn't have to explain to you about the 1940's, should I?  People dying in a war, rationing of everything from gasoline to meat back home.   And the 1930's - when my parent's grew up, the great depression - unemployment at 30% or more.

Oh, but you have it bad, because you have to tolerate using last year's iPhone.

Every generation has its own cross to bear - its own struggle, its own difficulties.   And every previous generation says the same thing, "What kind of world are we leaving to our kids?  I wouldn't want to grow up in the world they have today!"

And that is true.  I would not want to be one of these texting kids today who spends his entire life with his nose glued to a smart phone.  But that is their world, the one they were born into.   My parents were equally alarmed that we had our noses glued to the television set.    Both are choices.

Yea, the world is more populated, too.   Places that were empty fields just a couple of decades ago, are now populated with mid-rise developments.  Roads seem more crowded, people less civil.   It seems odd and alien to me, just as the superhighways of the 1960's seemed odd to my parents, who learned to drive in rutted cornfields in a model-T Ford.   But for kids today, this is their norm.   They don't see this as some drastic change, but as the baseline of their reality.


Have we left the world in a better condition than we found it?  In some senses, yes.

One thing kids today have, that is entirely identical to previous generations is a sense of entitlement.   As kids in our era, we expected to have a lot of "things" in our life, and as middle-class kids, for our parent to pay for our college.   We did not expect Dad (or weekend Dad) to buy us a car, much less a brand-new one.   Today, many middle-class kids expect to rack up student loan debt while going to college.   But they are going off to college with a smart phone, a laptop, and often a brand-new car.  A car with power windows, locks, seats, cruise control, and air conditioning.   (Oh for the days when a "power everything" car had only power brakes and steering).  The level of comfort the new generation enjoys is far higher than in the past.

Sadly, many people today are paying for this level of comfort by using debt.   Families are spending it all for today, to have the "things" they are convinced they need to have.  And they are not fully funding their 401(k) plan or retirement.   In the past, you didn't have a choice in this matter, as you received a defined benefit pension.   So you were free to spend your paycheck until it was all gone - and perhaps that is one reason we had one crummy television and two lousy dial phones.  Today, you can rob Peter to pay Paul and "have it all now" on e-z monthly terms that won't bankrupt you for ages.

Unless of course, they are student loans, which can bankrupt you immediately.

And yes, today, there are far fewer protections from the government - as I have noted time and time again - to protect you from your own malfeasance.   You are now "free" to gamble all you want, to take out loans on onerous terms, to pay 2-3 times the going rate for anything at all.   Today you are free to make horrific financial decisions.   You are also free not to make them, too.

Of course, no 18-year-old, on the brink of signing that student loan paper, is going to read this blog.  If he did, he wouldn't make it to this point in the document.   If you can't fit it into a tweet, no one reads anything anymore.  And young people are more interested in partying and getting laid than anything else (and this has not changed, for eons).

Young people are stupid and impressionable, and In know this as I used to be one.  There is a reason why we send young men off to war, and not middle-aged fucks like myself.   If some General said, "Private Bell, go charge that machine gun nest!" I would rely, "Fuck you, go do it yourself!"   An 18-year old would obey orders, with dreams of glory in his eyes.

And maybe that is why veterans of wars are often so messed-up in the mind.  In addition to the horrors of war itself, they realize they have been lied to big time.   Everything they were told as a youth, was basically a crock of shit.   And maybe that is why some of them seem bitter.  They go off to war and come back and its like, "Hey thanks for getting your leg blown off in some pointless conflict overseas, like we really give a fuck or were willing to sacrifice even our hot lattes for you or anything."  But I digress.

And young people, while demanding "student loan reform" somehow think that mid-term elections "don't count" and thus don't bother showing up, unless Obama is on the ballot.  As a result, student loan reform may be a long way off, at this point, thanks to a GOP-controlled Congress.  But again, as with the military, this is part of the pattern.   Every generation exploits, to some extent, the younger generation.   Older workers get paid more than younger.  You have to pay your dues before you too, can haze the incoming class.

Have we left the world in a better condition than we found it?  In some senses, yes.  Pollution is far less that it was in the 1960's, even if CO emissions continue to climb.   Smoking is almost unheard-of these days, and life expectancy is longer as a result.  The Cold War has ended and the constant threat of nuclear annihilation is largely gone.   We have cars today that are safer, faster, more comfortable, pollute less and are less costly to operate, than in the past.  And while a lot of very dirty and messy jobs have disappeared from the workplace, a lot of new avenues of employment have been created, that involve levels of creativity unheard of in the past.  There is a lot that has improved in our world over the last few decades.

I guess the point is this:  If you are a young person today, you have challenges ahead of you.   Some of these are new and different challenges that your elders did not face in the past.  Some of the challenges they faced, you don't have to deal with.   But most of what you consider a "raw deal in life" is the same old "raw deal" that we all faced - being young and poor and having nothing, and yet wanting everything.

That much never changes.