It is fashionable to say that baby boomers – people born from 1945 to the early 1960s – were the lucky generation. They got free places at university, had final salary pension schemes from well heeled jobs, and became rich just by buying and living in a house. Their parents fought a war and were poorer. Their children are also poorer, and are alleged to live in a much more difficult world than the baby boomers enjoyed in their younger years.
I don’t buy all of that. Lots of baby boomers did not enjoy all those goodies. Baby boomers had to be very competitive to get to university. For every one who made it to academe nine did not. Today the odds are much better. It is true some of us got a full grant to pay their expenses at university, but when they left they had to pay 83% tax on part of the income , which more than paid back the student fees they received. A student loan would have been a much better deal for successful students than Labour’s confiscatory taxes of the 1970s. The first job I got in the City almost disappeared under me when the department I worked in was halved owing to the chronic instability of UK financial and economic policy in the 1970s. City remuneration in those days was a fraction of what it is in state subsidised banks today.
Buying and owning a house did allow many baby boomers to participate in the huge house price inflation. It did not , however, make most rich, as they still needed the house to live in. In most cases the only people it is likely to make rich are the children of the baby boomers, as the value can only be released on death. If the children stay friends with their parents they will harvest the windfall, therwise we are going to have very well funded cat and dog homes. There was no income to stay on at school for poorer children, no array of income top up benefits. The economy of the 1960s and 1970s was much poorer, with fewer good job offers and far less foreign capital and talent in London creating more wealth and enterprise.
Today we have changing of the guard. A younger generation is capturing control of some of the large institutions of government, the public sector and the larger private corporations. Many baby boomers are still full of energy and ideas, so they are being driven to be more entrepreneurial. They will earn their money, and will contribute to the economic revival we need.
The baby boomers have stayed out of conscription for a large war, which is indeed fortunate and sensible. So too have their children, so it is not a unique good fortune to one generation. There is much about the modern world that is richer, fuller of opportunity and better than the world of the 1960s and 70s. The digital revolution has made sweeping changes to the way we live. The new generations have been living on debt and off the hard work of Asian exporters. The noughties were a decade when dreams for many came true. The next decade may be tougher, as the bills fall due.