There’s a new Boomer vs. Millennial piece over at Esquire making its way across the intertubes. If you hadn’t noticed, wringing one’s hands about Baby Boomers gorging themselves on the syrupy sweet hopes and dreams of the young’ns is the newest game in town. And though I’ve had my say on the topic, you just know shit’s getting real when the cologne-scented glossies chime in.
But Stephen Marche’s Esquire essay, “The War Against Youth,” left me feeling queasy, and by the end of it, I was ready to commit seppuku over a dog-eared copy of Das Kapital. So please excuse me while I indulge in a little Maoist self-criticism.
Marche’s essay hit all the same notes I hit. He even used the same David Frum quote. (Hi, Stephen!) And yes, he wants you to know that he stands firmly with the young and righteous Millennials. So how is it that his conclusions are straight out of a Wall Street Journal editorial? It was like being forced to watch my doppelgänger hack up an innocent: I didn’t do it, but jesus—except for the whole fiendish-grin and no-pupils thing, that looks a hell of a lot like me swinging that axe.
I hate to say it because after all Boomer-hatin’ really is fun and slightly cheerier than regular down-in-the-mouth anti-capitalism, but Marche’s “The War Against Youth” validates every single hostility the no-bullshit Left holds towards anything that smacks of generational politics. And it shows you just why you gotta be careful before you take aim at the gray-hairs.
Not because of any squeamishness about youthful Red terrors or blood trails across the suburban sunbelt. Actually, the wealthy are more than happy to root for us. They’re eager to sick the Millennials on the Boomers. But not because they want us to have any of the Boomers’ goodies: welfare state, living wages, pensions, health insurance, etc. Instead, they wanna engender the same kind of puritanical, reactionary mindset in Millennials that the ruling class used to quash the young radicals nearly a half century ago.
Just as the Nixonites resented the radicals for their free love and refusal to maim and be maimed on the Mekong, the capitalist class in 2012 wants us to hate the Boomers for their Social Security checks. That’s right: the ruling class wants to mold Millennials into their very own Silent Majority.
Let’s get back to Marche’s “The War Against Youth.” It starts off fine. If you weren’t paying attention, you might even miss it. He hits all the basics. Big mean Boomers sucking up all the cash, leaving the kiddies with scraps. We’ve seen it all before: college debt, slave-labor internships, foregoing a mortgage in the ‘burbs, etc.
Stephen Marche: Millennial hackburglar
But you won’t find a word about mass incarceration, food insecurity, or military enlistment. That’s your first clue. Because none of those miseries apply to the progeny of the ruling classes. Hey, the wealthy worry about their pups too. Isn’t that the whole point of Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow’s new show: the indignities of a 21st century economy under which even the rich kids suffer?
But here’s where Marche really tears off the mask:
“[I]t’s clear that the American system is a bipartisan fusion of economic models broken down along generational lines: unaffordable Greek-style socialism for the old, virulently purified capitalism for the young.”
“Greek-style?” He really tipped his hand there. Here’s some advice: if you hear someone utter the phrase “Greek-style socialism,” take a swing. Preferably with some aluminum in your grip. You’ll be doing us all a favor. And “socialism for the old”? You mean living wages and meagre retirement pensions? Those lazy, back-haired bastards! I guess the post-austerity sport of dumpster-diving for rats or Athens moms giving handjobs for sandwiches really is just the New Frugality–lessons in good ol’ Protestant thriftiness that’ll knock some sense back into those swarthy Mediterraneans.
It’s the kind of bloodthirsty terminology that’s been burbling up out of the Wall Street Journal editorial pages for decades. And it’s the same exact strategy employed by The Economist over a century and a half ago during the Irish Potato famine, when limeys marched all the food right off the island, spitting on all the skeletal bodies in the way for being undisciplined in the ways of the free market.
The message from the Anglo-American Lords of Finance then and now is clear: Greeks and Irishmen are just a tad too “other” to be spared. Wealth trickles through their slack and careless hands. Might as well send the P.I.G.S. off to the slaughterhouse. They’re western, maybe, but not quite white enough. I mean, they’re some kind of Papists, right?
Iceland, though—man, those elves got a raw deal!
And of course, no piece of austerity propaganda is complete without a bald-faced lie about the pittance known as Social Security. Marche calls the program “the biggest boondoggle of all” and says “the fund will run out in 2036.” A lie. A lie best taken apart by economist Dean Baker, who was all over Marche’s bullshit numbers just a couple of days after “The War Against Youth” went live. Needless to say Marche also fails to mention that the Social Security tax is capped after the first $110,100 of income, which means that a billionaire shitstain like Peter Thiel pays the same amount of cash into the system as a Nurse Practitioner.
Marche shows his true colors again a little later when he starts wringing his hands about “crony capitalism.” Crony capitalism! A term endlessly test-marketed and trotted out by Sarah Palin and the rest of the GOP all in order to spare the good name of our virginal free market. It’s the “union thug” of the 21st century. But I don’t think it’s gonna work. “Crony capitalism” sounds too appealing. Who needs “cold, impersonal” capitalism, when you can split a six-pack with your crony? How about “wingman capitalism”? Cronies for life, bro.
I’m not saying Marche is some kind of a deep-cover right-winger. Last summer, Esquire published his bootlicking study of the president entitled–I shit you not–”How Can We Not Love Obama?” Here’s a sampling:
“Reagan was able to call upon the classic American mythology of frontiersmen and astronauts and movie stars; Obama has accessed a much wider narrative matrix: He’s mixed and matched Jay-Z with geek with Hawaiian with Kansan with product of Middle America with product of a broken home with local Chicago churchgoer with internationally renowned memoirist with assassin…We can finally see who he is, we can finally understand the reality: In 2011, it is possible to be a levelheaded, warmhearted, cold-blooded killer who can crack a joke and write a book for his daughters…Barack Obama is developing into what Hegel called a ‘world-historical soul,’ an embodiment of the spirit of the times. He is what we hope we can be. We love Obama — even those who claim to despise him — because deep in our hearts and all over our lives, we’re the same way.”
Marche is merely the perfect example of how eager American liberals are to accommodate the ideology of the ruling class, “austerity” being all the rage these days. It’s nothing new. Liberals have always been useful servants. And they’ve been following their spiritual masters in the Democratic Party over the free market cliff for decades, even now as they squeeze out a few about inequality. Hey, they’ll always have a pet project.
But liberals aren’t just surrendering to all this debt-mongering bullshit, they’re chipping in like the good little poodles they are. They’re more than happy to cheer on the Millennials. Not for anything like socialism but for more austerity.
Let’s not forget that it was two card-carrying liberals—investment banker and temporary dictator of New York City Felix G. Rohatyn and class-warrior emeritus Paul Volcker—who helped launch the neoliberal revolution that gutted wages and sent corporate profits soaring. But Occupy Wall Street and generational politics gives these balanced-budget liberals the perfect narrative to try and squeeze in their austerity-love while ostensibly remaining on the side of the cosmopolitan, the young and the attractive.
If you were to ask them straight up, they’d tell you they were on your side. And in a fucked-up way, they’re telling you the truth. They’ll say they’re in this thing for the future–the youth of America. To them, it’s the old folks that are suckin’ the socialist teat and bankrupting the country.
Generational politics allows the ruling class to dress up our economic catastrophe as simply an ‘imbalance’ between two generations of wage-earners. And once they’ve spun that tale, then they can go in and clean everyone out in the name of fiscal and intergenerational harmony.
And it’s not just the liberals. Even the GOP indulges in Millennial concern-trolling, though you won’t see them shed a crocodile tear for Occupy—unlike their Democratic peers they never made it with a hippie. But most every week, turn on C-SPAN and you can hear some House Republican screeching about how “entitlements” shackle our grandchildren with debt. So they, too, are “on our side.”
This is where our era’s brand of puritanical liberalism–with all its moralism about consumer culture and finger-waving about greed and excess–clears a path for this con. Just another variation on the same Protestant theme. So you can understand why overlords like Pete Peterson want you to see the Boomers as living the life on your dime. Not so that you’ll demand the same and more, but to convince you that healthcare on-demand and a decent retirement are luxuries no one should have–except for the wealthy, of course.
That’s why we need to take a stand against the hairshirt left, the Chris Hedges of the country that try to veer us off course with all their self-flagellation about consumerism. Fuck asceticism. iPads and flat-screens for all! Hell, Marx would agree.
As readers of The eXile know, there’s nothing more American than hating others for enjoying themselves. It’s just more of that Protestant backwash that’s soaked this country into a marsh of petit-bourgeois wannabes. Along the coasts or in between, you’ll hear all that guff about freeloaders, decadence and indulgence on both the Right (“Welfare queens”) and the Left (the anti-consumerism crusades).
Hey, I’m glad these folks were around back in the 1850s. We gotta hand it to the Protestant penny pinchers: they knew how to carve up Confederates like no one else. And of course that whole industrial revolution thing. Let’s give credit where credit’s due. Public schools, R&D, libraries, trains, electrification: all good things. But that crew wore out their welcome a hundred years ago.
Just open up any page in Eric Foner’s classic on the origins of GOP ideology and cringe: back then, the good guys sounded just like Paul Ryan, preaching the glories of private property and fretting about “class warfare” brewing in the cities. It’s no wonder it’s Karl Rove’s favorite book. Drop him in an 1850s Massachusetts mill town and the little piggy’s a progressive. The only difference between now and then is, well, everything. Everything except the rhetoric.
As James Livingston’s work has revealed, saving and private investment hasn’t done shit for this economy since 1919. Its consumption and government spending that’s been doing the trick for nearly a hundred years. And yet we’re still shoveling pig iron for Andrew Carnegie and begging for scraps.
This is the 21st century. With just a few keystrokes, millions of us could finally go see a doctor, buy groceries, or enroll at the local university. But no, we’re told, it’s not that simple. Thing is, it is that simple. If it weren’t for the “honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work” crowd, we could’ve long ago whittled down the workweek to twenty-hours. The only thing left standing in the way is a religion that’s long since fled the chapel and settled into the cubicle.
Even the Swedes–equal parts social democratic and Lutheran–based their welfare state on everyone working. Anything to avoid the dreaded welfare queen. This called for the creation of a vast bureaucracy–”active labor market programs”– that ended up costing them more than if they’d just mailed out unemployment checks.
Look, I know it’s hard. South Park and the Daily Show have convinced a good number of Millennials that doing something as declarative as talking about Big Bushy Bearded shit like, say, “labor and capital” is to invite ridicule. After all, zealotry is for losers, right? Sorry. There’s no getting around it. Buy a Cliffs Notes or something.
As much fun as it is to kick around the Boomers, we gotta move past it. Generational politics is a dead-end. Fuck it, someone slap the shit out of me if I ever say the word “Millennial’ after this. Because once we’ve set up this economic collapse as nothing more than generational warfare, we’re already lost–we’ve created a narrative which the wealthy can easily co-opt and spin for their own fiendish ends.
So keep your eyes on the prize, Millennials: it’s capitalism that’s the problem. Not the grey-hairs.
Would you like to know more? Read “Thirty More Years Of Hell” and “Conscience of a Radical: Corey Robin’s ‘The Reactionary Mind’” by Connor Kilpatrick.
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