Baby boomers didn't rebuild the country after WW2
In recent news articles, the argument has been made for the baby boomer generation to do more to help the young, the millennial generation.
The replying argument from baby boomers is nicely summed up by Dennis Leech, the Emeritus professor of economics, in the Guardian. He stated that:
“The baby boomer generation inherited one of the highest levels of public debt in British history: 240 per cent of GDP, following the war. They got that down to under 32 per cent by the 1990s…they paid higher taxes than today during most of their working lives probably had something to do with it, as well as economic growth and the full-employment policy of successive governments before 1979.”
In other words, we should be thanking the baby boomer generation for curing the post-war ills, rather than condemning their current perceived lack of empathy for the young.
There is a fundamental problem with this argument, and it is centred on when the changes to the economy, housing, social reform and education occurred:
The baby boomer generation is defined as those born from 1946 to 1964, although some extend it to 1974 in the UK. A result of the baby boom that occurred after the end of the second world war when soldiers came back and started families.
Now, relate that to the public debt argument given above Dennis Leech, the Emeritus professor of economics. The debt of the 240 per cent was the rate straight after the second world war (see chart), before a single baby from generation baby boomer had reached their first birthday; even the most optimistic economist could not call this generation at the time ‘economic active’.
By the time the first baby boomer was economically active at eighteen years old the debt to GDP ratio had reduced from 240 per cent to 85 per cent — cut by the third. By the time the last baby boomer had reached eighteen, it was down to 43 per cent: It was the parents of baby boomers who had done the hard work in reducing public debt by growing the economy, not the baby boomer generation.
This applies to the economy generally; by the time the last baby boomer had reached the ages of being economically active, the post-war economic miracle had come and gone. Rather than being the creators of that economic revolution, they were, by being in their formative years while it occurred, the principal beneficiaries of the economic growth.
The same rule applies for social and economic policies. From 1946 to the early 1970s, the period baby boomers were still dependents, the structures of the post-war society had been put firmly into place: The core structures of the NHS were put into place immediately post-war.
The mass building of the new universities were in place for the lucky baby boomers to attend. And in an unprecedented cross-party movement, hundreds of thousands of houses were created by both the Labour and Conservative Governments (see chart), meaning that the baby boomers would be raised in the modern homes of today, rather than the widespread slums of pre-war Britain.
The same, again, applies regarding the employment and pension law, be it the Wages Councils Act 1945 or the Wages Councils Act 1948, the Wages Councils Act 1959 or the Terms and Conditions of Employment Act 1959, or the post-war pension reform, the baby boomers were the benefactors of the society so powerfully instigated by Sir William Beveridge in his report:
“The scheme proposed here is in some ways a revolution, but in more important ways it is a natural development from the past. It is a British revolution.”
To be clear, it was the house building, healthcare services, education services, working hours legislation and pension law, that was put into place by the parents of the baby boomers that allowed the baby boomers to get educated, buy their homes, have generous pensions and live longer than any generation before.
It is a debt to their altruistic parent’s generation, baby boomers should be grateful.
For the baby-boomers, it is not until the 1980s that the last baby-boomer reaches eighteen. It is the decades of the eighties to the noughties that the baby-boomers should be expounding as the ones where their influence grew strong.
And it is in this very period that saw the slow dismantling of all the post-war reforms that their parents had put in place. In a paradigmatical shift, the housing wasn’t built, working and pension legislation weakened, the list goes on. After gaining the access to a better world from the action of their parents, baby boomers drew up the drawbridge.
It is essential that we understand that we create the framework in our society for the success of future generations, the idea that the baby boomers worked harder than their parent’s post-war generation, and therefore deserved greater pensions and earnings than their parents is blatantly crass and evidentially wrong.
No, the baby boomers enjoyed a better work/life balance, housing, pension schemes and health care provision because it had been instilled into the structure of society by their parent’s generation.
In slowly dismantling that hard earned structure it is their parents’ dream of creating a fairer, more equal world that the baby boomers have ultimately let down.
Ranjit Sidhu is is the founder of SiD, Statistics into Decisions. Follow him on Twitter.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.
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