I’ve learned from my kids, and my nieces and nephews, that younger people don’t think highly of my generation. We baby boomers, in their eyes, are narcissistic, self-indulgent and too often self-righteous. When compared with the Greatest Generation – Tom Brokaw’s term for our parents, the ones who survived a Great Depression, won World War II, enacted civil rights legislation and created the most prosperous country in history – we can look small by comparison. We’ve had our moments – great music, environmentalism, feminism and greater equality for all. But we’ve also run up huge debts, private and public, and most of us would admit that it looks as though we’ll leave the world in worse shape than we received it.
Now comes Michael Kinsley with a thought about how we might shore up our legacy. Writing in this month’s issue of The Atlantic, he proposes that we step up and pay off the national debt. As you’ll see from the counter above, we’re talking about a hefty sum. The national debt stands at nearly $14 trillion – about $44,000 for each man, woman and child in America, so Kinsley is laying no small task before us. In fact, it sounds impossible.
Kinsley, however, argues that an estimated $41 trillion will pass from parents to children and grandchildren between 1998 and 2052. He suggests that we volunteer for an inheritance tax that touches far more people than the one that will be reinstated next year but at a far lower level. While we’re at it, we could decide now to forgo the last couple of months of health care and head for our graves a bit early. That’s not such a big sacrifice when you consider that most of us will live into our 80s or 90s. Many in the Greatest Generation died in their teens or 20s while fighting World War II.
His proposals are more complex than I can detail here. Look at his article, and let me know what you think. Have boomers thoroughly messed up this world? Do we have an obligation to make it better? And how might we go about it?