One of the big hot-button topics in political news coverage for the last few years has been “Class Warfare”, but something’s been nagging at the back of my mind for some time whenever I hear that term. I mean, obviously there’ s a divide between the rich, poor and middle classes in our society, but is there something deeper behind it all? The narrative all along has been about the rich getting richer on the backs of the poor and middle classes, using media and corporate powers to repress dissent and turn people into cattle, but I’m not convinced that this is the whole story. Looking at who the rich, poor and middle classes are, what they look like demographically, it seems that there is more to it than the standard story. When most people think about the rich, there’s a standard picture that pops right into their heads, and it pops right into yours when you think about it too, doesn’t it? That’s right, the grey-haired man in his mid-50’s, maybe 60’s. This is the standard picture most of us have, like a real-life version of the Monopoly guy, in a top hat and suit, living just to pass Go and collect another two million dollars, and with good reason. The standard picture is standard because that’s what most rich people actually look like, old and mostly white, but primarily old. They have spent a lifetime accumulating what they have (or at least what they’ve added to what they inherited from their parents), and they are not about to hand it over to some 30-something still paying off his student loans, and they sure as hell are not going to give it to some punk 20-year-old 2nd generation immigrant kid trying to scrape her way through school on two part-time jobs and whatever her parents managed to put aside.
This isn’t about class, not entirely at least; it is about a generation that grew up when the notion of a “generation gap” was still a new concept, and the Boomers have made the shift in their intergenerational war with their parents to open up a new front against their children and grandchildren’s generations. They were the first generation to really get into the idea of deficit spending for things other than world wars, and they took to it like ducks to water. The great thing about it all, at least for them? Their kids and grandkids get to pay for the whole thing! Now that they hold the reins of power firmly in their hands, they are doing everything they can to see to it that the bills for their decades-long spending spree never fall on them. Hell, they’ve even let lenders get into the business of reverse mortgages so they can spend the equity in their homes and leave their kids with nothing at all when they finally kick off. It’s as if they took the old saying, “You can’t take it with you,” to heart like no generation before and as a cohort decided they were going to use up everything they could in having a good time while they’re still around, and screw anyone who wants to hold them back, even if it’s their own offspring. There is a very good reason the Boomers are often called the “Me Generation”, because it was their demographic group that opened the floodgates on personal fulfillment like few in history. I mean, their grandparents took a crack at it back in the 1920’s, but 1929’s Black Tuesday ground that party to a halt in a big way that 2008 doesn’t quite measure up to.
Also, unlike what happened in 1929 and the following years, the dominant force among today’s politicians seem hell-bent on repeating the mistakes of the very recent past instead of correcting them with responsible regulation of the financial sector. There is no modern equivalent to the Trustbusters of the Gilded Age today, no politician of standing who could pull off what was done in the past when corporations grew out of control. Can you imagine any court in the west doing to the banking or oil industries what happened to Standard Oil in 1911? Today any politician who even floated the idea of splitting a huge, monopolistic corporation into a dozen smaller companies would all but guarantee that he’d never get elected dog catcher, and for some reason that’s not on our radar at all. I think most of us have come to the conclusion that it’s not an accident that every gas station in town sets their price within a penny of every other gas station in the same afternoon, but it’s something no mainstream politician will touch with a ten foot pole, because they all know what would happen if they dared to open that particular can of worms. (Side note: have any of you ever actually seen a can of worms? Who would put worms in a can, and why?)
The point here is that it isn’t just the old rich people voting for policies that will poison the environment, use up natural resources, block the development of renewable energy, and concentrate wealth into fewer and fewer hands, it’s old people in general. They spent their youth fighting against the Man, and now that they are the man, the real motives shine through. It was never about freedom, peace and love for everybody, it was about freedom to do what they wanted, peace in their homes, and love for them, not anybody else. What’s even worse, they’ve raised Generation X to have no real ambitions or goals of our own, and the Millenials are the result of my generation’s perpetual adolescence. Our two generations are the result of latchkey kids, two parents (for those of us who had two parents) working full-time out of the house to pay for all life’s “necessities”, and an underlying philosophy that teaches everybody to look out for #1 above all.
What it all boils down to in the end is the realization that a lot of the big problems we are currently facing in our society and our economy is not about class warfare, it’s about one generation hoarding everything they can get their hands on and leaving the rest of us out in the cold. What’s the answer to this problem? Under-50’s, start voting, for crying out loud. The only reason our elders are holding such power over our heads is because politicians know you don’t vote and the Boomers (and their parents) do, in droves. If we could get the younger half of our population to open their eyes, get out there and exercise their voices in government, we wouldn’t be seeing the absurd imbalance in our socio-economic stratification. Now, I’m not saying you need to hate your parents, I’m sure they’re lovely people, it’s just that they and their generation have our culture in a choke-hold and they need to relax their grip before they end up strangling their descendants.