The Undeclared War

Today, the socially liberal but economically conservative Daily Dish quotes the penultimate paragraph of Robert Samuelson’s piece, The Withering of the Affluent Society, and one phrase caught my eye:

As it is, the generations are in an undeclared war. Americans in their late forties, fifties, and sixties believe that the contract made with them should be kept. They want their Social Security and Medicare benefits. They are angry when what they thought were career jobs are unexpectedly terminated; corporate buyouts and firings weren’t part of the bargain. Meanwhile, their children and grandchildren are befuddled and frustrated. Their unemployment rates are high, and their wage levels—compared to those of the past—are low. Yet they feel guilty advocating trims to Social Security and Medicare, even when the transfers go from the struggling young to the comfortable old.

For the last few years, Sharon Astyk has predicted that there will be some sort of conflict between older and younger Americans. I respect Astyk, but so far, I see no sign of that myself. I see far more of a tribal response where, “real Americans,” blame other subgroups for all our troubles rather than younger Americans blaming Grammy and Pappy for just getting by on Social Security and Medicare. Samuelson’s piece merely asserts such an undeclared war.

To be fair, the piece is very well-written and informative. Older people and younger people alike are perplexed by the obvious decline in the prospects of the middle class. According to Samuelson, the middle class incorrectly feels “entitled” to what was a temporary boom in the economy. He asserts that, now that the boom is faltering, higher taxes and maintaining “entitlements” are a real burden on the young. I also believe that the era of growth is ending, but I believe it is a symptom of energy depletion, not of overspending on entitlements.

Getting back to the undeclared war, let’s take a cursory look at what has really happened in the last few years. First, the Tea Party (before it was coopted) formed to protest a Republican-led government that had allowed massive corporate excess and fraud to almost wreck the nation’s economy. On average the Tea Party appeared to be an older demographic, but it was not exclusively made up of the elder generation. And they were not attacking the young, they were worried about prospects for their young.

Then, inspired by the Arab Spring, unemployed young people joined the anarchist-led Occupy movement to protest a government that was still allowing massive corporate fraud, so that the “One Percent” could exploit the “Ninety-Nine Percent.” On average Occupy was very young, though there were always some old Marxists hanging around. And they were not attacking the old, they were attacking Wall Street Banksters, some of whom aren’t very old at all. It was Occupy Wall Street, not Occupy Entitlements.

The Undeclared War, if any, is actually between the wealthy and the middle class that they are exploiting. Samuelson, the mainstream media, and politicians from both parties are trying mightily to keep it undeclared.

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