Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Britain's Baby Boomers beware David Willetts : Part 2

Just a reminder that David has said : Big bang: baby boomers are blowing the future for us all
A reckless post-war generation is not only crippling its children with debt but is the force driving broken Britain.

In Part 2, I shall examine how he supports his argument by developing an extended 'hunter-gatherer' society metaphor, which goes something like this :
* This is a society in balance. The young and old are fed by the able bodied just as the old once fed the young and old and the young will feed the young and old.
'Over the course of each life everyone is both a contributor and a beneficiary, so the food you catch and the food you consume roughly net out to a balance'.

* But, oh dear : 'Our tribe is stable until some mild winters mean more babies survive infancy. It has a baby boom. What happens?'

* For a start,everything is 'hunky-dory' : 'more hunters means they can hunt more mammoths. There is a greater feeling of prosperity as each has to distribute less to other members of the tribe.
David gets quite poetic here : 'They can devote more time to cave painting. They can cut back on the frequency of hunting and gather exotic berries that make them feel good at their tribal festivals. It is an age of plenty and of experiment'.

* Oh dear, trouble round the corner : 'Then this big generation of hunters starts to grow old and hands on its spears to the younger generation. There is no avoiding the fact that there are more old ex-hunters to be maintained. So the next generation of hunters finds that more of what it catches needs to be taken for other members of the tribe. Life seems tougher.'

* And oh dear again, they have democracy : 'There is a final, crucial twist. The clan is run by a democratic tribal council. That big generation therefore has the most votes and power and uses this to protect itself.'

* 'Younger hunters face a double squeeze — with more retired hunters to support and more expected from each one of them. They have to spend more time hunting. They want to raise their kids in the same generous way that their parents raised them but it seems harder and as a result they don’t have so many of them.'

* David isn't modest and says that : 'Our thought experiment shows a society that worked until a big generation came along that took more of what it produced during its prime and then tried to take more from later generations when it was in need.' Hold on a minute it's not 'our 'thought experiment' but 'his', whatever you want to call it.

* He is philosophical : 'Maybe the problem was size. Maybe it was the way it used the power that came with its size. But, whatever the reason, the principle of fairness across the generations was broken. And it threatened to break that society'.

Part Three to follow.

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