When I first heard the phrase “OK, Boomer” I have to admit that I was not quite sure what it meant. As many do today, rather than go to a dictionary, I went on the internet and found this definition: “A viral internet slang phrase used, often in a humorous or ironic manner, to call out or dismiss out-of-touch or close-minded opinions associated with the baby boomer generation and older people more generally.” I would call this a lighthearted definition, but the more I read about this phrase as to who is using it — along with how it is being used — the more I realized that it indicated a real generational divide that I did not know existed.
The main complaint is that Boomers have been living beyond their means for too long. They are doing this by using credit cards and borrowing money. Their homes have government-backed mortgages, and they are leasing their cars. They are drawing defined benefit pensions (among the last to do so), Social Security and are on Medicare. At the same time, tax rates are falling, which means that government has to borrow the money to pay for all of this.
The final complaint is that the Boomers don’t seem to care. As long as they have the funds necessary to maintain their lifestyle, they don’t care that it will be their children and grandchildren who will have to pay the bills.
Another complaint is that Boomers ignored the environment for decades. They ran companies that buried toxic chemicals, polluted the rivers and streams and destroyed the health of their employees. This was all done, not to save a plant or industry, but to increase shareholder value.
These are serious charges, but is it right to condemn an entire generation for the actions of a relatively small number of its members? My answer to that is no.
I cannot deny that Boomers have been less than careful in managing their finances and the numbers show it. Less than half of Americans over 65 have $25,000 in savings and one in four has less than $1,000. One has to ask “Where did it all go?” I think most of us know.
It has been said that hindsight is a great thing because you are never wrong. Mistakes were made, and we are now living with the results of those mistakes. However, this is not a time for finger pointing, it is a time for problem solving.
One of the first things we can do is get rid of the idea that lowering taxes will stimulate the economy to the point that tax revenue will actually increase. That has been tried several times and always fails. The trick is to have a tax rate that will pay for the services that the public wants and needs but is low enough that businesses will be profitable and remain open.
We also must control our medical costs. Currently the United States is paying double what any other industrialized country is paying for health care, and we are getting less benefit for the money. As with taxes, we need to find that “sweet spot” where we get maximum benefit for the money spent.
The pollution that is generated in this country is, frankly, embarrassing. It seems that the best solution we can come up with is to bury it in large mounds in sparsely populated parts of the country. I refuse to accept that this is the best we can do.
We did not get into this state of affairs suddenly, nor will we get out of it quickly. It will take years and it will not be easy. A beginning would be for the Boomers to acknowledge their culpability and realize that they can still be part of the solution.