I am struck by the convergence of two posts that I read recently. The first is by Tim of Angle (he says it’s his real name), the proprietor of Dyspepsia Generation (a blog deserving of a vast readership). This is from Tim’s “The Spoiled Children of Capitalism“:
The rot set after World War II. The Taylorist techniques of industrial production put in place to win the war generated, after it was won, an explosion of prosperity that provided every literate American the opportunity for a good-paying job and entry into the middle class. Young couples who had grown up during the Depression, suddenly flush (compared to their parents), were determined that their kids would never know the similar hardships.
As a result, the Baby Boomers turned into a bunch of spoiled slackers, no longer turned out to earn a living at 16, no longer satisfied with just a high school education, and ready to sell their votes to a political class who had access to a cornucopia of tax dollars and no doubt at all about how they wanted to spend it. And, sadly, they passed their principles, if one may use the term so loosely, down the generations to the point where young people today are scarcely worth using for fertilizer.
In 1919, or 1929, or especially 1939, the adolescents of 1969 would have had neither the leisure nor the money to create the Woodstock Nation. But mommy and daddy shelled out because they didn’t want their little darlings to be caught short, and consequently their little darlings became the worthless whiners who voted for people like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama [and who were people like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama: ED.], with results as you see them. Now that history is catching up to them, a third generation of losers can think of nothing better to do than camp out on Wall Street in hopes that the Cargo will suddenly begin to arrive again.
Good luck with that.
I have long shared Tim’s assessment of the Boomer generation. Among the corroborating data are my sister and my wife’s sister and brother — Boomers all.
It is less clear that all Boomers passed along their generally deplorable traits. Contradictory data include my sister’s three children, my wife’s sister’s child, and one of my wife’s brother’s children. As members of Generation X — a Reactive generation, in Strauss and Howe’s theory of generations — they “tend to be pragmatic and perceptive, savvy but amoral, more focused on money than on art.” (The other of my wife’s brother’s children is of Generation Y, discussed next.)
Gen X’s successors are found in Generation Y. It is they who seem to dominate the ranks of “Occupiers,” and they are, in the main, children of Boomers. But Gen Yers are of a different character than their older siblings. To the extent that they are late children of Boomers, it is likely that they resemble Boomers in having been spoiled. And it shows in the “Occupy” movement, the underlying theme of which is that the world owes them — the “Occupiers” — a living.
So, despite my quibbles about Gen X, I subscribe to Tim’s view that the rot set in after World War II. That rot, in the form of slackerism, is more prevalent now than it ever was. It is not for nothing that Gen Y is also known as the Boomerang Generation.
Which brings me to Bryan Caplan’s post, “Poverty, Conscientiousness, and Broken Families.” Caplan — who is all wet when it comes to pacifism and libertarianism — usually makes sense when he describes the world as it is rather than as he would like it to be. He writes:
[W]hen leftist social scientists actually talk to and observe the poor, they confirm the stereotypes of the harshest Victorian. Poverty isn’t about money; it’s a state of mind. That state of mind is low conscientiousness.
Case in point: Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas‘ Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage. The authors spent years interviewing poor single moms. Edin actually moved into their neighborhood to get closer to her subjects. One big conclusion:
Most social scientists who study poor families assume financial troubles are the cause of these breakups [between cohabitating parents]… Lack of money is certainly a contributing cause, as we will see, but rarely the only factor. It is usually the young father’s criminal behavior, the spells of incarceration that so often follow, a pattern of intimate violence, his chronic infidelity, and an inability to leave drugs and alcohol alone that cause relationships to falter and die.
Conflicts over money do not usually erupt simply because the man cannot find a job or because he doesn’t earn as much as someone with better skills or education. Money usually becomes an issue because he seems unwilling to keep at a job for any length of time, usually because of issues related to respect. Some of the jobs he can get don’t pay enough to give him the self-respect he feels he needs, and others require him to get along with unpleasant customers and coworkers, and to maintain a submissive attitude toward the boss.
These passages focus on low male conscientiousness, but the rest of the book shows it’s a two-way street. And even when Edin and Kefalas are talking about men, low female conscientiousness is implicit. After all, conscientious women wouldn’t associate with habitually unemployed men in the first place – not to mention alcoholics, addicts, or criminals.
Low conscientiousness was the bane of those Boomers who, in the 1960s and 1970s, chose to “drop out” and “do drugs.” It will be the bane of the Gen Yers who do the same thing. But, as usual, “society” will be expected to pick up the tab, with food stamps, subsidized housing, drug rehab programs, Medicaid, and so on.
Before the onset of the welfare state in the 1930s, there were two ways to survive: work hard or accept whatever charity came your way. And there was only one way for most persons to thrive: work hard. That all changed after World War II, when power-lusting politicians sold an all-too-willing-to-believe electorate a false and dangerous bill of goods, namely, that government is the source of prosperity. It is not, and never has been.
Whether that truth will become apparent before America goes the way of Greece is anyone’s guess. I am pessimistic because conscientiousness — which seemed to be on the rise with Gen X — is once again on the decline.
The Residue of Choice
The People’s Romance
The Causes of Economic Growth
A Short Course in Economics
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
In the Long Run We Are All Poorer
Economic Growth since WWII
The Price of Government
The Commandeered Economy
The Price of Government Redux
As Goes Greece
The State of the Union: 2010
The Shape of Things to Come
The Real Burden of Government
Toward a Risk-Free Economy
The Rahn Curve at Work
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Society and the State
I Want My Country Back
The “Forthcoming Financial Collapse”
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
The Deficit Commission’s Deficit of Understanding
Undermining the Free Society
The Bowles-Simpson Report
The Bowles-Simpson Band-Aid
Government vs. Community
The Stagnation Thesis
Government Failure: An Example
The Evil That Is Done with Good Intentions
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
PolitiFact Whiffs on Social Security
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
The Social Security Trust Fund Is Not a “Get out of Jail Free Card”
Say’s Law, Government, and Unemployment
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion
Religion on the Left