Generation Less, by Jennifer Rayner

Generation-Less_0 I really expected and WANTED to like this book. I agreed with its general message: that younger generations were being disadvantaged in today’s world. With jobs hard to get and housing, both rental and purchased, priced well beyond their means, they faced far greater difficulties than I did at their age.

Jennifer Rayner attributes this to an older more privileged generation (mine) not willing to give up advantages and effectively denying opportunities to a younger generation (hers). And in taking that narrow focus I believe she sets off on the wrong path.

It’s not far into the book that she started to lose my empathy, when I read:

In earlier years, our parents’ generation moved steadily through pay rises and promotions as people filed out of work at 55 and freed up the ranks above them. But having got old themselves, they’re not giving up on those great careers. That leaves me and my peers butting up against a grey ceiling that compresses our potential and frustrates our ambitions. (p35)

And later in the book:

“…wealth is a form of power. If we don’t change tack now, if we allow it to become ever-more concentrated in the hands of the aged, this is going to dramatically redraw Auastralia’s social contract.” (p138)

I, and I’m sure many of my generation would be more than happy to “file out of work at 55” to make way for the next generation. In fact something like that is exactly what my generation were led to believe WOULD happen by the time we reached our mid-50s: that retirement ages would lower and we could look forward to a middle/old age of recreation and ease, not having to work until we dropped dead or became too sick to continue.
But instead the retirement age in Australia has been raised from 65 to 67, because we apparently have an aging population that needs to continue working to support itself for longer.

I’ve just turned 58 and I would have LOVED to be three years into my retirement, but I had no choice, and according to current legislation I’ll be working for another nine years, dependent on the continuing availability of work for people of my age, which is questionable considering the difficulties faced by “seniors” when they need to find a new job.

As for the idea of wealth/power becoming “ever-more concentrated in the hands of the aged”, I have to say I know few “aged” people who have any degree of wealth that could give them “power”. But maybe I move in totally different circles to Rayner.

Most of those I know merely have sufficient to keep themselves living non-lavish lifestyles, with food and housing but little room for luxuries. And I can only wonder about my own future. There’s no accumulated wealth for me to fall back on in 9 years when I’m able to retire.
The things I DO have (eg. a basic but comfortable house, furniture and a car) were accumulated and obtained over many years, and in my younger days required restraint and discipline: no phone, no TV, no credit card for the first couple of years, making do with hand-me-down furniture, then moving away from the city where houses were unaffordable to a country town where property was (and is) a fraction of the cost.

I could go on…

The blurb of Rayner’s book states that hers is “the first generation since the Great Depression to be worse off than their parents”.
If that IS true – how significant is it?

Let’s look at how many generations there have been during that period.

In my own family there would be:
1) my grandparents’ who grew up during the Depression.
2) My parents’, who grew up during WW2
3) my own, the one apparently disadvantaging the next, and
4) my daughters’, the generation Rayner is writing about who are being disadvantaged.

So in all, by my assessment, there have only been two generations that have been better off than their predecessors according to the claims of Rayner’s book.

One of those could hardly have been worse off than their Depression era parents, and the next (mine) could hardly have been worse off than my parents’ generation, emerging from six years of a devastating World War. Clearly there isn’t a long standing tradition of constant economic improvement from one generation to the next.

So pushing aside the weak argument of an historical precedent of ongoing betterment from generation to generation; what would it be that gives rise to the idea that we SHOULD always be better off than our parents?
I suspect it’s related to the belief that economies SHOULD continually grow.
Clearly (though many deny it), within a finite world there’s a limit to possible growth and continual increase can’t be sustained; but how soon can we expect that the limit to viable growth be reached?

Maybe it can’t go on beyond a generation or two and is already approaching its limit?
Possibly the present day difficulties have nothing to do with generational inequity but a lot to do with misplaced expectations and Ponzi scheme economics.

There is so much more in this book to address (I’ve only touched the surface), so maybe I’ll add another post or two later to deal with some of the other issues.