How Baby Boomers Inherited a Prosperous Country and Bankrupted It
By far my favorite book of 2017 and the only thing that’s helped me contextualize our administration is A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America, which argues that Baby Boomers’ influence in American politics (their hold on all three branches of the government peaked in the mid-2000s but started in the early 90s) led to an economic system that consistently delivered benefits (primarily via policy reform) exclusively to Boomers. The Boomers’ goal, author Bruce Gibney argues, was/is to wring out every dollar from the system while avoiding any investment in the country that wouldn’t be realized in their lifetime— such as infrastructure, state-sponsored research, higher education and regulation to long-term threats such as climate change and artificial intelligence.
Gibney does an impressive job of outlining the enormous inheritance Boomers were handed in their lifetime following widespread government subsidies in post-war housing and education. The generation before them, The Silent Generation, taxed themselves relentlessly to set the U.S. up for long-term prosperity, which was squandered by Boomers through excess consumerism– at the expense of investments in the country’s long-term growth.
Generation of Sociopaths ruthlessly (and convincingly) contends in no hyperbolic terms that Boomers– the first generation to think of themselves as special and the first to tell subsequent generations that they are not– are textbook sociopaths. That is to say that their participation in U.S. politics exhibits common traits and behaviors of sociopaths such as manipulation of systems to benefit themselves, grandiose entitlement, pathological lying, and lack of remorse, shame or guilt.
On a personal note, my conversations this past year with Baby Boomers have reflected these ideas and have weighed on my mind considerably– especially discussions on issues created or worsened by Trump, whom Boomers elected and, I presume, assembled in a lab. I’ve found it remarkable how quickly (and disturbingly) Boomers are able to dismiss the systemic issues the nation faces by reframing them only in terms of how these issues affect them or by denying the facts. Here are some paraphrases of exchanges I’ve had with Boomers this past year:
It doesn’t matter that the new tax plan will increase the federal deficit by over $1 trillion, because my stocks are up.
It doesn’t matter that our infrastructure is crumbling, because I’ll be tucked away in my gated retirement community when it does.
Police brutality isn’t a problem, because I’m not their target.
I don’t care about climate change, because I’ll be dead when you’re living in Mad Max anarchy.
Social issues are inconsequential, because the wage gap is a myth, immigrants are criminals, trans people aren’t real, etc.
It doesn’t matter that artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to humanity, because it helps Amazon deliver my packages faster.
It don’t care that the $1.3 trillion student loan debt that churns out debt slaves to a jobless economy, because I already got my degree for $10k (adjusted for inflation).
Of course, Gibney’s assertions are nothing new. The behaviors of the folks Gibney described as “the generation of unchecked self-interest” have long been documented. “Never before has there been a generation blessed with such abundant opportunity, who demanded so much more, and been seemingly more unwilling to share with future generations,” wrote author Jake MiMare.
“Boomers have been a miserable failure. At nearly every critical juncture, they have preferred the present to the future; they’ve put themselves ahead of their parents, ahead of their country, ahead of their children,” stated political consultant, adviser to Bill Clinton, and Baby Boomer Paul Begala, who has also notably drawn attention to the fact that Boomers famously protested the Vietnam War when they were at risk of being enlisted, but have since supported military presence in other countries without justification.
The book ends appropriately with an analysis of how the generation that has borrowed, ate, spent and divorced more than any other still firmly maintains their “smug pretense of virtue,” as Gibney puts it. The same group who repeatedly publish op-ed pieces and proclaim on television that the real issues the country faces stems from selfies and rap music are the same ones who are profiting from the country’s downward spiral. Behind every major crisis America is currently facing, this book argues, are Baby Boomers filling their bank accounts without remorse.
Generation of Sociopaths is by far the most compelling book I’ve read in recent memory. If you’re having we arrived at our current state of hyper-partisanship, growing income inequality, collapsing Social Security system, student loan crisis, social injustice, rampant damage to the environment, expanding federal deficit, broken tax code, rejection of facts in favor of feelings, and discriminatory healthcare system, read this book. It’ll all make sense.