Tuesday, March 15, 2016

We're No Longer In Charge


With all of the sound and fury taking place south of the border, it's easy to have missed what was really significant about Justin Trudeau's meeting with Barack Obama. Glen Pearson writes that what the meeting represented was a power shift from baby boomers to millennials:

When the two leaders summited in Washington D.C. last week, there was the unmistakable sense that something new was brewing and that the brief moment in the sun between Obama’s retirement and Trudeau’s arrival was a kind of passing of the torch.  But behind each of these men emerged a new social and political force that will make our tomorrow, for better or worse, unlike our present age of democratic underperformance.

For the first time, the abiding and somewhat lackluster political imagination of the Baby Boomers is formidably matched by the Millennial generation – those born from the mid-1980s onwards.  We should have noted by now that the key trait of this new political reality is decidedly progressive.  Like Trudeau and Obama they view the public estate through a centre to centre-left lens.  How else can we explain the massive success of Bernie Sanders with young voters in the American primaries, or Trudeau’s enlistment of over two million new or re-engaged voters in the past federal election?  Things are not only changing in both countries, but are transformational in their effect.

That's not to say that the forces of neo-liberalism have been routed. The Saudi arms deal is a reminder that the military-industrial complex is alive and well. And, certainly, the Trans Pacific Partnership is far from dead. But the neo-liberal agenda is being viewed through a different lense:

This new force demands transparency over backroom deals, authenticity over authority, social inclusion over historic stereotypes and practices.  And unlike their predecessors, who systematically tolerated, even promoted, the shrinking and paucity of the public estate, the Millennials envision a strategic place for government in their collective future.  In their own way they are angry, frustrated that nations that produce more wealth than at any other time in their history would permit so much of it to be frittered away in the pursuit and practice of a narrowing capitalism.

And, Pearson writes, that attitude is entirely understandable:

What else should we expect?  They face stiffer unemployment than their predecessors, are saddled with unacceptably high student loans, and have watched their wages either stagnate or shrink.  They largely played by the rules, went to university or colleges in record numbers in order to secure well-paying jobs to secure their future – the same pattern their parents had employed and enjoyed.  Except it didn’t work out for them, or for their respective countries.

How this will affect the future is still unclear. But one thing is clear: We baby boomers are no longer in charge.


Dana said...

Or more accurately we will soon no longer be in charge.

The evidence that we still are in charge is that we're still strangling our children's future.

Owen Gray said...

True, Dana. But Hillary is the last of the baby boomers.

The Mound of Sound said...

Wishful thinking, Owen, may it come to pass. Neoliberalism isn't going anywhere without something to replace it. With every trade deal we adopt, the sovereign power needed to break the shackles of neoliberalism's economic arm, free market fundamentalism, is sapped.

Ralston Saul, Hedges, Galbraith, Mirowski and so many others argue that only a post-globalist order will vanquish neoliberalism and I don't see that anywhere on the horizon yet. Absent that sort of movement I see no compelling evidence that the millennials will not succumb to the velvet glove of neoliberalism.

Anonymous said...

Us Baby boomers never were in charge, despite thinking we were. I mean, the last 50 years seem like a lost opportunity to change the world for good, but all we've done is consume the vast majority of the world's resources within a very small window of time. We haven't even planned for a proper spike in retirement issues, even though we've known it's coming since the 1940s.

Maybe all of those 'disruptive', 'no property owning' Millennials will finally pull us out of the mess we've made for ourselves.

Owen Gray said...

We said we were going to change the world for the better, Anon. Perhaps the millennials will do what we didn't.

Owen Gray said...

Knowing that my generation bought the Kool-Aide, Mound, I understand your cynicism. Still, I wish them well.

rumleyfips said...

Good. We haven't done a very good job.

Owen Gray said...

Soon the ball will be in their court, rumley. Let's hope they can do a better job.