Our federal government isn’t financially sound. It currently carries a debt of $31.5 trillion, give or take a few billion. When baby boomers took control of Congress it was just under $5.0 trillion. That’s a 530% increase.
Having lived through this I can tell you just where Congress went wrong, but first I thought I’d tell you what a successful member of my generation has to say about baby boomers. He’s a venture capitalist who saw the value in PayPal, invested in it, and impressed its founder, Peter Thiel, so much he was brought in to manage his hedge fund “Clarium”. He had the foresight to invest in Palantir Technologies and DeepMind, which was later sold to Google for nearly $450 million. From there he moved on to Thiel’s venture capital company “Founders Fund”, which was an early investor in Facebook, SpaceX, and Palantir. Through Palantir he made investments in AirBnB, Lyft, Spotify, and Stemcentrx, which was later sold for $10 billion.
The young man who had the foresight to make these profitable investments, while Congress continued to make costly ones, is venture capitalist, lawyer, and author Bruce Gibney. He seems to have given considerable thought to what Congress got wrong with its investments in ‘A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America’, which he wrote in 2017.
In ‘A Generation of Sociopaths’ Gibney links American stagnation to a generation he says is unusually prone to anti-social behaviour. As evidence he cites the unravelling of pro-social and pro-growth policies of mid-20th century America. Pulitzer Prize winning novelist and baby boomer, Jane Smiley, in her review of the book for the Guardian, says Gibney “is at his best analysing the financial details of the various forms of national and environmental debt that our children and grandchildren will eventually have to pay.” And, Financial Times writer and baby boomer Merryn Somerset Webb calls it “convincing stuff” encouraging readers to “look around you in the UK and you will see hints of the same thing: our own boomers aren’t rushing to give up any of their goodies for the young. Anyone in any doubt need only ask a dinner party of them how they feel about capital gains tax on primary residences or worse, asking pensioners to help finance their own medical care by paying national insurance”.
Now, this blames the baby boomer for the choices placed before them, so I don’t entirely agree with it, but there’s some merit to the argument. Politicians who poo poo cautions popular with previous generations of Americans are extremely popular with baby boomers. This is how they come to power after all. As a Marine I watched the silent generation slowly lose every argument that urged caution around questions of defense and economy. I watched them pretend to know more than military strategists who warned we could be drawn into the same type of influence leeching conflict the Soviets were drawn into in Afghanistan if we allowed the masterminds of those operations to move us after the Cold War. And I watched them ignore every warning the Congressional Budget Office brought forward in an attempt to warn them off countless financial decisions that contributed to a rapid increase in debt. Of this Gibney would say, “Time after time, when facts collided with feelings, the boomers chose feelings.”
The boomers would say of themselves that every generation must as some point distinguish themselves from past generations. They argued this throughout the civil rights era and into the 80’s as collective bargaining came under attack and our manufacturing base was slowly outsourced. They argued it through the 90’s as war earned the humanitarian spin that would convince them to send us to war and leave us in it for decades despite diminishing returns on that investment that have since evaporated entirely. I think it’s time we distinguish ourselves from them. To be clear, I don’t think boomers are sociopaths, but I don’t think they’re likely to surrender power either. We’ll have to take it.
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