Ask Slashdot: Did Baby Boomers Break America?

“Automation taking jobs is only one symptom of a larger problem,” argues an anonymous Slashdot reader, sharing a link to this excerpt from Steven Brill’s new book Tailspin, which seeks to identify “the people and forces behind America’s fifty-year fall — and those fighting to reverse it.” The excerpt has this intriguing title: “How Baby Boomers Broke America.”
As my generation of achievers graduated from elite universities and moved into the professional world, their personal successes often had serious societal consequences. They upended corporate America and Wall Street with inventions in law and finance that created an economy built on deals that moved assets around instead of building new ones. They created exotic, and risky, financial instruments, including derivatives and credit default swaps, that produced sugar highs of immediate profits but separated those taking the risk from those who would bear the consequences. They organized hedge funds that turned owning stock into a minute-by-minute bet rather than a long-term investment… Regulatory agencies were overwhelmed by battalions of lawyers who brilliantly weaponized the bedrock American value of due process so that, for example, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule protecting workers from a deadly chemical could be challenged and delayed for more than a decade and end up being hundreds of pages long. Lawyers then contested the meaning of every clause while racking up fees of hundreds of dollars per hour from clients who were saving millions of dollars on every clause they could water down…
As government was disabled from delivering on vital issues, the protected were able to protect themselves still more. For them, it was all about building their own moats. Their money, their power, their lobbyists, their lawyers, their drive overwhelmed the institutions that were supposed to hold them accountable — government agencies, Congress, the courts… That, rather than a split between Democrats and Republicans, is the real polarization that has broken America since the 1960s. It’s the protected vs. the unprotected, the common good vs. maximizing and protecting the elite winners’ winnings… [I]n a way unprecedented in history, they were able to consolidate their winnings, outsmart and co-opt the forces that might have reined them in, and pull up the ladder so more could not share in their success or challenge their primacy.
Brill argues that the unprotected need things like “a realistic shot at justice in the courts,” writing that instead “the First Amendment became a tool for the wealthy to put a thumb on the scales of democracy.” And he shares these statistics about the rest of America today:
For adults in their 30s, the chance of earning more than their parents dropped to 50% from 90% just two generations earlier.
In 2017, household debt had grown higher than the peak reached in 2008 before the crash, with student and automobile loans staking growing claims on family paychecks.

Although the U.S. remains the world’s richest country, it has the third-highest poverty rate among the 35 nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development…

Has he identified the source of a societal malaise? Leave your own thoughts in the comments.

And is Brill’s thesis correct? Did baby boomers break America?

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