Leonhardt on the national age divide

I’d better turn out to be really good at this thing.

As anyone who saw me gallivanting around Missoula with my mother will tell you, many Americans are much older than us. Some might argue that age is a continuum, with several Americans in fact younger than even we are, but that seems far-fetched. It ignores the monolithic concentration that is the Baby Boomers—those people who invented rock and roll, who ride around the farmer’s market on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, who can be found at the post office screaming that Social Security is unconstitutional. Sorry—everything but Social Security is unconstitutional. The increased conservatism of the Boomers accounts for much of the country’s rightward shift over the last few years, as David Leonhardt suggests in his excellent Sunday Times column.

If you were wondering whether old people are an enormous bloc in this country, consider that Leonhardt offers to draw the line between old and young at “65, 50 or 40.” Mitt Romney is killing it among white people over age 65, who respond at a deep level to his plan to cut taxes on retirement income and ignore environmental problems of the future. They also love his not-being-black policy. Scroll down in that article to see how hilariously unsuccessful Romney has been in courting nonwhites, and also note that support for the other guy increases as respondents get younger.

It’s almost as if the policies of one party—to keep taxes as low as possible regardless of deficits, to cut Pell Grants and school funding, to start wars, to ignore scientists who say the ocean might swallow us up in 50 years—are the platform of the old. Historically, of course, old people are not usually such dicks. It is worth considering how the Baby Boomers have interacted with the nation for most of their lives, though. When I was a child, I assumed that network television had always alternated between miniseries about the sixties and dramas about being thirty-five. It turns out people have known for quite some time that there’s money in catering to Boomers, and also that a five-decade diet of Pepsi commercials telling you your generation changed America will warp your brain.

That’s conjecture, of course. Read Leonhardt’s data about the gaps in wealth, homeownership and opinion between people over 65 and those under 35, though, and tell me this country does not serve two masters. Also, next time some senior in a tri-cornered hat berates you about the welfare state, consider the fun fact that 50% of federal benefits go to people over 65. That’s good. We should help those people. We should also mind that, in our demographically attuned democracy, we do not plan for a future that stops in 2035.

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  1. “Duplicate comment, it looks like you already said that!”

    Well, my essay isn’t appearing on the website, nor did I submit it, but now that its finished I am unable to post it.

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