Feel the Bern: Sanders-Clinton isn’t a battle of ideology, it’s just one more round of Boomers vs. Millennials

The Bernie Sanders-Hillary Clinton contest is usually presented as a battle for the ideological soul of the Democratic party. He’s a socialist, for heaven’s sake – do they really mean to go that far? Can they let the hard left dominate?

But there’s another way to look at Sanders-Clinton: not as a competition between ideologies, but between generations. It’s one more round in the ongoing battle between Baby Boomers and Millennials. Each side fields a distinctive view, not merely of taxes or regulations or other details of public policy, but of life itself, how things should work and do work, and what really matters.

The Millennial attitude comes down to this: how you feel about yourself is more important than what you actually accomplish.

It’s an understandable position. The Millennials have had the misfortune to be born into an incredibly challenging environment in which it’s difficult to accomplish much: crippling student debt, the gig economy, the greedy Boomers refusing to age and get out of the way. Compound this with an education system preaching self-esteem as the highest goal, and offering protection from the real world as long possible.

No wonder  they flock to Bernie Sanders. He offers the delicious double opportunity to not only feel virtuous, but courageous at the same time. He enables you be on the side of Good, and to do so fearlessly, in defiance of polls and focus groups and weasel words and all the grubby verbal and operational compromises of the usual political process. The very fact that he is a such a long-shot, that he won’t dilute his position to make it more broadly appealing, is part of the thrill. His supporters don’t get there through logic, they feel the Bern – not for them the cold-blooded reasoning, the sweaty bobbing and weaving, of the real world. That it’s an uphill battle, maybe even a lost cause, is the whole point.

Baby Boomers bring exactly the opposite philosophy, and Hillary Clinton is its perfect embodiment: nothing matters but results.

In pursuit of results, the Boomer generation has shown a fanatic work ethic and willingness to constantly change priorities and even identities. From hippie to Yuppie, from Woodstock to Wall Street, without batting an eye. You do what works. You do what advances the cause. And if a large part of that cause is…well, yourself? Hey, no problem.

Not surprisingly, this makes Boomers an easy group to dislike. Here’s Paul Begala, political commentator and former aide to Bill Clinton: “The Baby Boomers are the most self-centered, self-seeking, self-interested, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing generation in American history. I hate the Boomers.”

Many of those adjectives are being applied to Hillary Clinton. She’s seen as untrustworthy and unsympathetic, out only for herself. A nag, a scold, a grim score-keeper. She reminds you of that kid we all had in our high school class – you know the one I mean – who always reminded the teacher, on the last day of school, that she’d forgotten to hand out the summer reading assignments.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders offers an emotional experience that makes you feel like a hero just for supporting him. You don’t have to worry about whether or not he can actually win, let alone accomplish his stated goals. Those are Boomerish topics – outcomes, results. So pedestrian.

And right on cue, the finger-wagging Boomer steps in. Every Hillary Clinton speech is a resume – I did this, I fought for that. Busy, busy, busy. Committees, policy papers, amendments, coalitions.

Even when she grasps at progressivism, she makes sure to pour a little cold water on it. The Boomer reality check. “Progressives,” she sniffs, “make progress.” What are your numbers? What bills did you pass? What programs did you implement? What good is your ideology if it doesn’t actually, um, accomplish anything?
Thus, the pop-up ad on her website: “I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.” The visitor is invited to click on “I Agree” before proceeding to the site itself.

But wait a minute. Surely the Boomers had their own phase of youthful rage against the system? What about the sit-ins, the Vietnam War protests, the Freedom Riders? Surely the Boomers weren’t always such calculating main-chancers?

Right. But even here – in fact, especially here — we see the same clear distinction between the generations. The Boomers, even as rebel hotheads, were all about results. Feel-good sentiments were never enough. The Vietnam War protests took years, as did the civil rights struggle. People went to jail, people died, and still the Boomers persisted. They made alliances, they worked the system, they were patient, and never confused about what success looked like.

Even the far-out radicals of that time, like the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), had to put forward detailed, tightly reasoned strategies that emphasized results and not just theatrics. Their Port Huron Statement, written in 1962, runs to more than 30 pages of step-by-step plans and tactics, including a very long-term program to capture and dominate university faculties. (Total success on that one.)

By contrast, look at the Occupy movement of 2011.

Here was a protest, largely driven by Millennials, against the very same inequality that Bernie Sanders condemns so eloquently today. Helped by the Internet, it quickly morphed from Occupy Wall Street to Occupy organizations in many other cities. The Occupy Toronto website proclaimed it intended to “work towards drastic changes to economic systems.” What changes, exactly? “We have not yet put out a unified message but be sure it will come.”

It never did. What came, instead, was winter — and everyone went home.

At that point, Adbusters, the Canadian magazine that was a major influence in the movement, offered this strategic advice for the next step: “We declare ‘victory’ and throw a party…a festival…a potlatch…a jubilee…a grand gesture to celebrate, commemorate, rejoice in how far we’ve come, the comrades we’ve been, the glorious days ahead…We dance like we’ve never danced before and invite the world to join us.”

A grand gesture. Exactly. Can you imagine the Boomers settling for anything so fatuous?

And now the Millennials have another grand gesture on offer. Another opportunity to “dance like we’ve never danced before.” And meanwhile the Boomers chug-chug-chug away in all their “can-do” earnestness, pushing, prodding, parsing, back-filling. Keeping score, like Madame Defarge at the guillotine.

There have been two primaries so far. In Iowa, Clinton barely won, if she won at all (some delegates were chosen by coin toss). And in New Hampshire, she was crushed by the biggest margin in New Hampshire since JFK.

And the actualdelegate count as of today? Clinton: 394. Sanders: 42.
How is this possible?

The Democratc party has a whole other layer of delegates who are not chosen in the primaries. These “super delegates” — party and officials and insiders — exist precisely to inhibit the primary voters’ ability to take the party in a direction the establishment doesn’t want. And the overwhelming majority of them (in New Hampshire, six out of eight) are already in the bag for Hillary.

Oh, and Paul Begala, the Boomer-hater?

He’s a strong advocate for Hillary Clinton. Maybe it’s because he is (gasp) a Boomer, too, though at the youngest end (born in 1961).

Boomers versus Millennials. Outcomes versus dancing.

When do you become an adult? Many answers in Atlantic article – and all of them undermine our age-driven thinking

As I’ve written in Beyond Age Rage, the intensity in the “war of the generations” is driven largely  by unmet demands and expectations.

Certain milestones of adulthood — marriage, first kids, first job — are supposed to happen by a certain age. When they don’t, there is criticism and blame from the older generations, and resentment and excuse-making from the younger. The Boomers (me included) make free with “when I was your age…” scolding, and the Millennials, who are not hitting the milestones “on schedule,” react with a whole arsenal of weapons, from irony and indifference to angry pushback (it’s all the fault of the greedy Boomers who won’t die off and unclutter the stage).

But all of this presupposes some kind of agreed-upon schedule of adulthood — markers plus a timetable. The consensus around this schedule informs most social commentary, government policy-making and, certainly, marketing and media-buying.

But what if  the whole construct is bogus?

A provocative article in The Atlantic argues for a much broader and more plastic definition of adulthood.  Most interestingly, for me, it points out  that the benchmarks that are causing so much inter-generational conflict today are themselves very recent — and limited — in history. These benchmarks — the age by which certain things are supposed to have happened — attached primarily to the post-war Baby Boomer generation; they were not nearly as widespread or entrenched in previous generations. The author, Julie Beck, describes them, collectively, as the Leave It To Beaver definition of adulthood. And it’s a totally inadequate way to understand what’s really going on now.

The article provides one more proof that policy-makers and marketers are wrong to use age as the primary tool of measurement in assessing status and behavior. There are many components to adulthood, and many way-stations in status. The rigidity of pursuing, to use a media-buying example, “adults 25-49,” inhibits our understanding of what is really going on out there and how we can best respond to it.

Essential reading!

 

 

 

Conference Board of Canada discovers the obvious: older workers earn more than younger ones. Yikes!

The Conference Board of Canada has released a new study that, in the words of the Financial Post, “suggests that younger workers are making less money relative to their elders.” SUGGESTS?  Let’s get serious. Of course they’re making less money than older workers. When has it ever been different?

“Age, not gender, is the new income divide in Canada,” the headline shouts. New? Like the Baby Boomers, when we were in our 20s and 30s, were making more money than the 50-somethings?

But wait – the gap is much worse today. According to the study, Canadians 50 and up have 64% more disposable income than 25-29 year olds, whereas it was 47% in the mid-1980s.

Why is that bad?

Because it is somehow unfair. The story quotes Andrew Langille, a Toronto-based labour lawyer and youth employment advocate: “Increasingly it’s clear that Canada doesn’t have a problem with a declining middle-class; rather, it’s a problem of income and wealth inequality for younger generations.” What’s more, he says, “unless politicians get serious about intergenerational equity, the issue has the potential to cause damaging social and economic consequences.”

What are those consequences? One was spelled out by David Stewart-Patterson, a vice-president of the Conference Board and one of the co-authors of the study: if the younger generations  don’t start earning more, their inadequate wealth won’t throw off enough tax dollars to pay for health care for the retiring Boomers.

Okay, let’s stop and catch our breaths and try to make some sense out of this mish-mash.

In absolute dollar terms, there is no question we have a problem. I have chronicled it in Beyond Age Rage, and blogged it about frequently here: the Millennials are not getting untracked. They are struggling to find good jobs and earn good incomes. Everyone knows this; even the advertising industry is starting to realize that the much-touted “youth market” is no longer performing the way it did in previous generations.

And yes, if the younger generations don’t start earning more — and generating more tax revenues — many government programs, and not just health care for the Boomers, will be at risk. The Millennial malaise is real — and serious.

But it doesn’t that “intergenerational equity” is equally real, or serious, as an issue.

For openers, the concept is inherently silly: why should someone who has been working for five or ten years necessarily earn more than — or even close to — what someone can earn who’s been working for 20 or 30 years? It has nothing to do with equity, and everything to do with experience and level of responsibility. The Millennials of today may be delayed by several years, but they are on the same track as the much-hated Boomers were: they will gradually earn more and rise in the ranks, and it’s an absolute certainty that when they are the same age as today’s Boomers, they will be pulling in significantly more money than today’s newborns.

Duh.

And besides, if you’re really worried about the under-earnings of the Millennials, what can the solution possibly have to do with the higher-earning Boomers? Do you decree that they must all take a pay cut and transfer the funds to the younger generations?

The Boomers are already paying up, after all. 6 out 10 provide financial assistance to adult children still living at home.

No, the answer lies elsewhere — and again, we have documented all of this consistently and faithfully on this blog. The education system drastically needs reform, so that it doesn’t churn out so many unqualified people. The good news is that this is already starting to happen, as Generation Z, coming in behind the Millennials and learning from the horror show of their immediate elders, shows more interest in job-related courses in the colleges and less interest in the humanities, which offer the double disadvantage of being (a) expensive and (b) disconnected from the job market.

In one sense, we can look at all of this as the inevitable result of the “revolution in aging.” If 70 is the new 50, why shouldn’t 30 be the new 20? What looks like “falling behind” will certainly level out. It will just take longer than we’re used to. But then again, the Millennials will have much longer at the other end, too. (Unless they take Ezekiel Rmanuel’s advice, outlined in my other post today).

Oh, no — Boomers moving in with Mom and Dad? It’s actually happening…

Now it’s Boomers! Yes, according to a report in the LA Times, “older people are quietly moving in with their parents at twice the rate of their younger counterparts.” For the seven years 2005-2012, the number of Californians age 50 to 64 who live in their parents’ homes jumped 67.6% to 194,000, according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development.

The main reason:  dollars and cents. True, some are moving back to their parents’ homes in order to take care of those parents (who would be in their 80’s or 90’s) but for the most part it’s due to the financial squeeze caused by the Great Recession. Either their nest egg has been wiped out, or they’re unemployed, or both. Long-term unemployment is a big problem: the number of Americans 55 and older who have been out of work for a year or more stands at 617,000 – five times what it was at the start of 2008 when the recession began.

The article lays out the emotional toll this is taking. Boomers, after all, are supposed to be the super-competent generation who take care of everyone else. Says public policy consultant Jenny Chung Mejia, “”It’s unexpected vulnerability at this point in your life. When you’re supposed to be the provider, sort of the rock for yourself and your family and maybe your parents, the table just gets turned on you and the rug gets pulled out from under you.”

When you look at it in percentage terms, it’s a dramatic story. But the absolute numbers give a different spin. The 194,000 California Boomers who have moved back in with their parents compares to 1.6 million Californians age 18-29 who have moved back home.

Even so, it’s a sobering reminder of the financial vulnerability faced by the Boomers, whose retirements are seriously underfunded. Thus, the pressure to keep on working, as opposed to retiring “on schedule” at 65.

You can check out the entire article here.

 

 

“It’s not that you’re slow. It’s that you know so much.”

The brain slows with age – right? At the more modest end of that spectrum, we have the benign (and sometimes even humorous) “senior moment.” At the other end, the tragedy of Alzheimer’s Disease.

There is strong evidence for age-related physical impairment triggering mental decline. We’ve all read about plaque build-up in the brain, for example.

But now comes some fascinating evidence, reported in this excellent article in The New York Times, that other factors may be in play.

Over the years, some scientists have questioned this dotage curve. But these challenges have had an ornery-old-person slant: that the tests were biased toward the young, for example. Or that older people have learned not to care about clearly trivial things, like memory tests. Or that an older mind must organize information differently from one attached to some 22-year-old who records his every Ultimate Frisbee move on Instagram.

Now comes a new kind of challenge to the evidence of a cognitive decline, from a decidedly digital quarter: data mining, based on theories of information processing. In a paper published in Topics in Cognitive Science, a team of linguistic researchers from the University of Tübingen in Germany used advanced learning models to search enormous databases of words and phrases.

Since educated older people generally know more words than younger people, simply by virtue of having been around longer, the experiment simulates what an older brain has to do to retrieve a word. And when the researchers incorporated that difference into the models, the aging “deficits” largely disappeared.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that there are no physical effects of aging on the brain, or that these effects are not important:

…the new study is not likely to overturn 100 years of research, cognitive scientists say. Neuroscientists have some reason to believe that neural processing speed, like many reflexes, slows over the years; anatomical studies suggest that the brain also undergoes subtle structural changes that could affect memory.

Still, the new report will very likely add to a growing skepticism about how steep age-related decline really is. 

To sum up, from the last line of this article:

It’s not that you’re slow. It’s that you know so much.

Take the time to read the  entire piece. It’s important.

Meet the “encore” entrepreneurs (you may be in for a surprise)

I’ve written before about the growing trend of Baby Boomers to start their own businesses. It’s an ideal way to handle the economic “triple threat” of today – real or potential job loss, under-funding for retirement, and lousy rate of return on those funds that have been set aside. Now comes evidence that women are outnumbering men as “encore entrepreneurs.”

This interesting report from BBC News cites data from a Kauffman Foundation study to show that the Boomer entrepreneurship trend is growing: in 2012, people aged 55-64 started 23.4% of all new businesses in the US, up from 14.3% in 1996.

But according to data from another source – Babson College – 10% of US women between 55 and 64 had taken steps to start their own business, compared to 7.5% for men.

The BBC story includes several interviews with women who have taken this step. The main reasons are what you’d expect – job loss, income reduction due to the recession, inadequate retirement funds. What’s different this time – compared to people of that same age in previous generations – is the perception that there is still time to turn things around, the willingness to start again, and the presence of a strong entrepreneurial mindset.

That – and a growing amount of support information and services. Books, seminars, consultancies – the trend to Boomer entrepreneurship has fueled an entire mini-industry of people (with real or self-proclaimed expertise) ready to help.

This is just the beginning. And it’s another nail in the coffin of “retirement at 65.”

Gallup Poll: The percentage of Boomers who will not retire at 65 climbs to…

A new Gallup poll, conducted last month, confirms – yet again – that more and more Baby Boomers are not planning to stop working at the “traditional” retirement age of 65.

According to this poll, 39 percent said they expect to retire at age 66 or older, and a further 10 percent said they expect to retire…um, never. Add the two together, and you get 49% – just under half.

Of the others, 24% expect to retire on schedule at 65, and 27% said they’ll retire at 64 or younger.

The trend to working longer is, as we’ve seen, driven by three  factors coming together at the same time: increased longevity (and therefore, the need to have cash for more years), Boomer underfunding (a shockingly high number have saved up less than $50,000), and the lifelong Boomer attitude to work (we like it). I expect the percentage who don’t retire at 65 to keep on climbing.