"Kids These Days…"

More than once in the past year and a half, I’ve felt myself biting back on a strong but irrational negative emotional sensation. It wells up in the back of the throat and steams behind the eyes, fomenting in the upper chest and manifesting in clenched fingers that coalesce into fists. Various primal (and unproductive) responses assert themselves, and I have to say to them “calm down.” In a few moments, it goes.

This incipient rage? Near hatred of the Baby Boomer generation. In particular, any Boomers tilting their heads and gazing in wonderment at the plight of people in their twenties and thirties. I found that much talked about piece in the New York Times earlier this year to be utterly infuriating. More recently, though, the Oregonian ran a story asking if Portland was the new Neverland, (as opposed to the old one?) and the proceeded to mock young-ish people for not yet having “real” jobs and wasting time with bikes and comic books.
Whenever I see this sort of thing, I’m dumbstruck by how Boomers (yes, I’m generalizing) try to assign blame and point fingers at younger generations for presumably not doing anything, being layabouts and slackers. I have two responses to this:
1: Older generations have always complained about “kids these days.” Here’s a famous quote you’ve probably heard before:

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

Ladies and gentlemen, that was Socrates. Hearing the older generation bitch about the next is literally as old as Western Civilization itself.

2: The issue of people in their twenties and thirties isn’t really an issue about what’s wrong with them, or the culture, or anything else. It’s an economic issue, and trying to dodge that reality is, I think, intellectually cowardly.

We are still reeling from the effects of a gigantic recession, and are only slowly recovering. The cause of all recessions, broadly speaking, is a failure of demand. When people don’t want, don’t need, or can’t afford various goods and services, we all suffer.

Right now, there is a below-average demand for labor. Experienced workers (older workers) are going to receive preference over people who have just gotten out of degree programs or have only a few years of experience (i.e., less than a decade) and it stands to reason that younger workers will suffer.

In the meantime, why not get on a bike? (It’s cheaper than owning a car!) And why not make comics? (If you’ve got a lot of free time, you might as well do something creative in order to use your brain.) The issue that gets decried as being some kind of generational anomaly actually has everything to do with the disappearing middle class.

And so, when it is framed in generational terms, my instinct is to snap back at the Boomers and tell them that the Rolling Stones are overrated. I bite it back, though, talking myself down with a nice little internal economics lecture.

Wish they’d do the same thing…

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