This is not an attack on the baby-boomer generation; it is instead an appeal to the better nature of the boomers – an appeal to Edmund Burke’s understanding that a nation is “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born”
One of the highlights of my political career was when Boris Johnson put me on his list of ideal dinner party companions (a great opportunity to meet Aristotle and Scarlett Johansson), so I recognise that behind his brilliantly effervescent articles there is often a deep wisdom too. I paid careful attention, therefore, when on Monday he challenged the argument in my new book, The Pinch. My book argues that the baby boomers have ended up doing very well for ourselves but that we are dumping too heavy a burden on the generations after us.
Boris is ideally positioned to make the case for the baby boomers, roughly those born between 1945 and 1965. Our baby boom had two peaks. The first came in 1947 – those were the teenagers who shrieked for the Beatles and promenaded up Carnaby Street in their bellbottoms. The second peak, when we had more than a million born in one year, came in 1964 – those are the boomers whose formative years were framed by punk rock and the poll tax protests. Somehow I do not quite see Boris participating in those social movements but demographically he is at their epicentre. He was born in summer 1964, the very quarter when we had more babies born than in any other three months in the past 60 years.
Boris celebrates the extraordinary technological advances of the baby boomers. I do not deny this achievement and indeed recognise in the book that human creativity and enterprise can continue to raise living standards. But that leaves open a host of questions. Take his example of perhaps the greatest single benefit of this advance: the improvement in life expectancy. That is marvellous. But it has very different effects on different generations because of, for example, contracts to pay people pensions after a fixed chronological age. It makes those promises far more valuable than expected for those people who already have them and makes employers very reluctant to be caught out making such promises again. I estimate therefore that over half the nation’s pensions wealth belongs to the baby boomers. They are doing much better than those generations coming before or after.