The Boomers’ Last Dance

There is something beautifully melancholic watching the old folks dance under the Moonlit sky; the whisper of the waves adding a second beat.  A ray of light shows faces, and we see they are familiar, Bernie, Joe, Elizabeth, Mike, Amy. Of course, we say to ourselves, these boomers would never leave the dance floor without a nostalgic and sad set of last dances. And a dance contest it is, too.  The tired bones seek the honour of the ultimate square off with their contemporary from the opposing group, the reigning champion. They all condemned Pete as a greenhorn interloper not worthy of the contest, although Pete, in fact, is a crypto-boomer. Not for boomers to leave the dance floor to others, though, and now he is gone. (I know, I know, I am being kind to Bernie, Joe and Mike. Technically they do not even qualify as boomers, although their mind-set does).

It is hardly news that the boomer generation is egotistical through and through. From the time its denizens could throw their first paving stones the generation has been setting society’s agenda. Many years ago someone said that when boomers become old designer cemeteries will become the new craze. We are not far from that.

The songs the boomers dance to are pre-boom ‘As time goes by’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ – all forgotten is ‘I hope I die before I get old’ although the refrain ‘talkin’ ‘bout my generation’ still goes straight to boomer hearts! Boomers celebrated their youth, and continue doing so, and, of course, the youth of succeeding generations is of miniscule interest in comparison. The accusation of ageism is a beautifully self-serving boomer invention designed to neutralise any suggestion that their time is up.

But up it is! What we experience is last gasp boomerism, and it could thus be ventured that we should not worry too much about the next election, because it is, after all, only about the next four years. Yet, four years is a long time in politics and the danger is that the destruction that has taken place apace over the last few years will continue and will lay waste to the foundation of the society that following generations will want to build – not to speak of the possibility of incompetent or negligent triggering of the apocalypse. As the boomers slow dance into the dark it must be made sure that they do not take the future with them, although it would be so boomer to go out with an ‘après nous, le déluge’!

Reasonable Equality – A Human Right?

 

The communists certainly went too far when demanding that everybody should be treated absolutely equally, regardless of innate or acquired ability. Yet, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction when the average CEO remuneration in the United States is more than 300 times that of the average salary of employees. Great inequality is bad for proper governance, the rule of law, and long-term economic growth. Great inequality tears apart the fabric of society, and is ultimately in nobody’s interest, not even in that of the most privileged. Having been blessed by a long period of relatively broad based wealth in the West, we are now seeing the devil’s hoof of inequality in the increased elite influence on the political process, challenges to the rule of law, and increasingly demotivated and frustrated middle and working classes.

All this is well-known and half-hearted attempts are made to remedy the situation. Half-hearted perhaps because the heart of elites is not truly in it! Occupy Wall Street was on to something, but was mistaken in believing the problem lies in Wall Street, when it lies with the legislature, and ultimately with us, the electorate. The anti-globalisation movement believes that the enemy is globalisation, when it really is our lack of global solidarity and lack of global mobilisation of the middle and working classes. Workers of the World Unite! is as relevant a slogan now as in the nineteenth century but has been overtaken by national parochialism.

A main problem in addressing inequality is perhaps that we have been addressing it only in political terms rather than in rights terms! We are saying that it is bad that we have inequality, that it is destructive to have inequality, but we tend not to say that we have a human right to live in a society of reasonable equality!

As soon as we accept the existence of a human right to live in a society of reasonable equality, we elevate the debate to a different plane. We start to concentrate on the ‘how’, rather than the ‘why’. A human right to a society of reasonable equality is not an easy or unambiguous thing, of course, but few human rights are. Yet, some things flow easily from such a human right. The right of employee representation on corporate boards, for instance. Germany has shown how exactly this curbs the excesses of management compensation, how it helps build a fairer society. Speculative and short-term profits must be taxed much more, shareholder influence strengthened, minimum wages raised significantly, high quality education made available to all, youth employment fostered through salary subsidies and a prohibition of unpaid internships. This is not socialism by any measure, but life support for a capitalist system run amok.

We should have little problem accepting that Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are allowed to be phenomenally rich, because they have created immense value for society. But we should have a problem with the 10 leading hedge fund earners each making more than 400 million dollars in 2014. To avoid excesses like that we must invoke our human right to a society of reasonable equality. It is a right – not a political bargaining chip!