Kurt Anderson and The Economist Out Generation Greed


The situation no one wants to talk about is being whispered about here and there. Looking for something else I recently came upon this NY Times essay by Kurt Anderson from a few months back. “Why had the revolution dreamed up in the late 1960s mostly been won on the social and cultural fronts — women’s rights, gay rights, black president, ecology, sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll — but lost in the economic realm, with old-school free-market ideas gaining traction all the time? There was a long pause. People shrugged and sighed. I had an epiphany, which I offered, bumming out everybody in the room. What has happened politically, economically, culturally and socially since the sea change of the late ’60s isn’t contradictory or incongruous. It’s all of a piece. For hippies and bohemians as for businesspeople and investors, extreme individualism has been triumphant. Selfishness won.”

So, do I agree? In part.

How Then Shall We Live: “Retirement” in the Wake of Generation Greed


There is a commercial on the airwaves right now that I just can’t stand: an investment company provides some quotes from a series of people on the first day of their retirement – the first of an average of 6,000 days, they say. That’s an average of 16.4 years. For most of human history, however, “retirement” has meant a brief period of leisure after a full life of working, generally a period when working was no longer possible. According to the Historical Statistics of the United States, the 1890 the decennial Census found 68.3% of American men age 65 and over to be in the labor force, working or looking for work, even though back then “work” usually meant physical labor. The figure drifted down to 54.0% in 1930, before the passage of Social Security, and may have hit bottom around 1985, when just 16.8% of married men 65 and over were in the labor force. The large-scale entry of married women into the labor force obscures other trends, but the percentage of single women age 65 who were in the labor force fell from 19.7% in 1970 to 9.7% in 1998.

For a fortunate generation or two, some workers were allowed to spend decades in retirement, often having as many non-working years supported by others as they had previously worked. That was possible because younger generations were richer, larger, better educated and more productive, and could easily carry the smaller number of modestly living retirees from prior generations. It was also possible because those older generations had saved for retirement. Today, younger generations of Americans are no larger, no better educated, and lower paid than the retirees they are expected to carry. The generations now in or near retirement have been more affluent during their working years, and expect to live similarly well in retirement, and yet most of them have borrowed rather than saved. Those younger, for the most part, will not get pensions, and may not get much Social Security. But encouraged by Wall Street firms seeking fees, the myth of decades of high consumption leisure lives on. Something that is only really possible at other people’s expense.

The Leadership I Want President Obama To Show on Gas Prices


He we go again. Thanks to the unwillingness of most Americans to arrange their lives, and/or pay extra for alternative technologies, to reduce our dependence on imported oil during the 39 years since the Arab Oil boycott of 1973, the U.S. once again faces a potential economic and foreign policy crisis. Iran is threatening to close the Straight of Hormuz, gas prices are rising, and the U.S. is facing the possibility of yet another recession caused by oil prices and yet another war to keep its economic drug coming. It is a political crisis too, because many Americans seem to believe it is the federal government’s job to keep gasoline cheap, and blame the President when the price goes up. A recent poll referenced in this article said that Americans considered gas prices the third most important issue. So what do I want President Obama to do about it? Show leadership, as I define it, for perhaps the first time in his administration.

As I noted in my review of Mayor Bloomberg’s first two terms, the job of a public executive is in reality three jobs. Management, as CEO of a large multi-function enterprise. Policy, because in combination with the legislative branch the executive helps to determine the direction of the government. And Leadership, because the President is a leader (one of many leaders in both the public and private sectors) of Americans, with an ability to influence how they live and what they believe, above and beyond the role of government and its ability to compel people to do or not do things. What I want the President to do about gas prices is help Americans, not all of them just those willing, to organize themselves to use less gasoline. Right now, independently of government policy or programs. Those unwilling, the whiners, would benefit from lower prices as well.

© Room Eight