Home > Boneheaded stupidity, Economics - General > The generation game and the 1 per cent

The generation game and the 1 per cent

August 6th, 2015

For a generation (fifteen years) or more I’ve been writing and rewriting the same piece about the silliness of the “generation game”, the idea that one’s year of birth matters more than class, gender or race in determining life outcomes and attitudes. But this is a zombie idea that can never be killed.

Stephen Rattner in the New York Times is the latest example, with a piece showing that US Millennials (those born after 1980) are doing much worse than previous generations at the same age, despite higher levels of education. Rattner notes the role of the recession, now nearly a decade old, but then jumps to the conclusion that it is the Baby Boomers, as a group, who are to blame. His only evidence for this is the long-discredited claim of a looming crisis in Social Security.

Rattner doesn’t present any evidence about the recent experience of non-Millennials, but his piece leaves the impression that the experience of doing worse than older cohorts at the same age is uniquely Millennial. So I thought I’d do his work for him, and dug out this graph prepared by Doug Short HouseholdIncomeByAge As can be seen, the group suffering the biggest loss, relative to older cohorts at the same age, are those households with heads aged 45-54 in 2013, a mix of late Boomers (for aficianados, this group is called Generation Jones) and early X-ers. But the main point is that median household income is falling for all groups except the 65+ cohort (mostly called Silents in the generation game). Part of this is due to declining household size, but (IIRC) household size has stabilized recently as forming a new household has become less affordable.

Rattner doesn’t mention, even once, the obvious and well-known explanation for the fact that median income is falling while mean income rises. This can only occur if the distribution of income is becoming more skewed, with the top tail (the 1 per cent) benefiting at the expense of everyone else.

If Boomers as a group have done no better than anyone else, can Rattner at least claim that it was Boomer mismanagement that brought the economy to its present pass. Not really. Here’s Time Magazine’s list of 25 people who made big contributions to bringing about the Global Financial Crisis. The top three (Angelo Mozilo, Alan Greenspan and Phil Gramm) are all Silents, as is the emblematic Ponzi figure Bernie Madoff, and, a striking omission, Robert Rubin. And that’s without even considering the financial deregulation of the 1970s, which set the whole process in motion. Inevitably, given that they constitute a large share of the adult population, there are plenty of boomers among the bit players in the list. Equally, given the preference of Wall Street firms for young hotshots, much of the actual work of designing and selling bogus securities was done by X-ers in their 20s and 30s.

The point here is not that one generation is more or less to blame than another. As I said back in 2000, most of what passes for discussion about the merits or otherwise of particular generations is little more than a repetition of unchanging formulas about different age groups. The people who caused the crisis were mostly born before 1945 because they were of the right age to hold powerful positions in the financial sector in the 1990s. But it was their membership of the 1 per cent that is what matters here.

  1. Peter Chapman
    August 6th, 2015 at 08:58 | #1

    You may classify this as “boneheaded stupidity”, and I agree, but the Baby Boomer Blame Game is also a product of lazy journalism and lazy political thinking. (Disclosure: I am a “Boomer”.) Whenever editors are short of news, it seems to me, some hack pulls out of a drawer a half-hearted “analysis” that blames Boomers for everything and anything. Typically this analysis treats generational groups as undifferentiated wholes, considering them without regard to variations within each generation such as socioeconomic status, location, etc. The statistical fallacy (focussing on medians without regard to distribution) extends to the treatment of generations X, Y and others… even “the 1%” is a gross oversimplification. Ignorance of, or avoiding analysis of, differences within each group extends to consideration of differences in power and control; it seems simply too hard to try to make sense of how wealth is produced, much less distributed, across occupational groups, regions, and industry sectors. In short, the simplistic analysis of generational change becomes a substitute for the study of economic and social history: that history is reduced to a series of catch-phrases and headlines. Good evidence of the need for better economic literacy among journalists, commentators and their editors. Even at the NYT.

  2. BilB
    August 6th, 2015 at 09:09 | #2

    I would think that the main drivers of any systemic difference between generations would be more to do with attitudes to: saving; consumption; energy and property availability; all considered against regional population and economic opportunity. As my father often said, during the great depression those who had money did very well. For those who had no money it was a perfectly miserable time.

    It would be interesting to do a study on the impact of the introduction of credit cards on the various generation bands.

  3. Uncle Milton
    August 6th, 2015 at 09:24 | #3

    the group suffering the biggest loss, relative to older cohorts at the same age, are those households with heads aged 45-54 in 2013

    They also got the biggest gains since the previous recession.

  4. John Quiggin
    August 6th, 2015 at 09:41 | #4

    @Uncle Milton

    Can you spell this out?

  5. Ikonoclast
    August 6th, 2015 at 10:08 | #5

    I agree that class matters most in forming attitudes, expectations, performance and so on. This is consistent with the idea that formative experiences count and your class plays a big role, probably the biggest role, in the type of formative experiences you are likely to have; for example what quality education you are likely to get.

    However, cohort placement also plays a role in what formative experiences you are likely to have. A cohort which experienced the depression or a world war is also going to be formed by these experiences albeit in a class-conditioned way.

    Whilst class-conditioning (and class accession) is very important and almost certainly most important in all this, one cannot wave away cohort-conditioning (historical-era conditioning) as non-existent.

    However (again with the however), when it comes to neoliberalism if one wants to play the cohort blame game then one probably has to blame every cohort which has not experienced a depression. In that case is it “blame” or simply explanation? As in “They know not what they do.”

    The 1% only have the power they have because we let them take it. If we democratically voted for parties with express policies to tax wealth properly, reverse privatisation, re-regulate finance, make changes to the ownership of production and so on and IF those parties honoured their election promises then we would have the power to order the economy not the 1%.

  6. paul walter
    August 6th, 2015 at 11:00 | #6

    The scapegoating of Boomers has only ever about developing a pretext for the dismantling of a Civil Society that diverts monies from looting to state investment in education and other forms of social infrastructure.

    Eventually, there is weak, gutted government and ultimately therefore, no constraints on looting

  7. Uncle Milton
    August 6th, 2015 at 11:30 | #7

    @John Quiggin

    I should have said two recessions previously.

    At the 1991 trough, income for the 45-54s was $72,000, peaking at $80,000 in 1999. No other group’s income went up this much from 1990 to its peak. The 45-54s did particularly well in the second half of the 90s, though so did the 35-44s.

    It’s true that the 45-54s have suffered a big loss of income but this began well before the GFC. In fact it began before the tech wreck. Maybe this is the group that’s been most displaced by computers and robots.

  8. Ivor
    August 6th, 2015 at 11:33 | #8

    I would prefer to see relative losses expressed as a percentages – not absolute amounts.

    In other words this chart needs a logarithmic vertical axis.

    The rise in 65+ is a desirable social welfare function.

    The main workers are in the top 4 plots – so must suffer decreasing shares.

    Its capitalism after all.

  9. John Quiggin
    August 6th, 2015 at 11:45 | #9

    @Uncle Milton

    You’re confusing age-groups with cohorts. People 45-54 in 1991 were 67-76 in 2013. This cohort (the last of the Silents) has consistently done better than earlier cohorts at the same age. They are the last cohort to do so in the US data.

  10. Jay
    August 6th, 2015 at 12:54 | #10

    I’m an ageist and will remain so. why?

    Wealth more so then income should be the focus. Baby Boomers are twice as wealthy as the Silent generation at the same age. This is not necessarily from them being better savers, but due to the fact that they have benefited from innovation leading to higher productivity growth, the higher workforce participation as more women entered the workforce and their sheer size

    Yet the fact remains they are a cohort of people that governments target, they exist as a cohort, they vote as a cohort. As John Daly highlight http://www.cota.org.au/lib/pdf/cota_australia/events/npf2014/JohnDaly-SustainablebudgetsandsecurityforolderAustralians.ppsx as a cohort we spend more on them per person then any other age group, noting though that this does include Silents. due to circumstance the BB have benefited from the transition from relying primarily on a government pension to part pension with their Super. Yet Pension rules have continually changed in the last decade to reinforce this wealth gap, through higher indexation rates, larger one off increases, changes to tax treatments. Anecdotally I have heard many are upgrading their primary residence to maintain qualification for the pension.

    Yet despite all this public policy supporting them as a cohort polling shows that they deny the existence of Climate Change, they support cuts to university funding and they are more likely to vote Liberal despite the fact that the Liberals primarily serve the interests of the1%.

  11. John Quiggin
    August 6th, 2015 at 13:09 | #11

    “they vote as a cohort”

    Can you spell out this claim? Are, for example, Green voters of a given age somehow responsible for the voting choices of other people of the same age?

  12. John Quiggin
    August 6th, 2015 at 13:14 | #12


    I checked the Daley piece and it shows the exact opposite of what you claim. As of 2011-12, Boomers were aged 45-65. This age group (unsurprisingly) gets less direct public expenditure per person than either the old, or the young.

    But the key point, which you resolutely ignore, is that the benefits of concessions on super overwhelming go to high income earners at all ages.

  13. conrad
    August 6th, 2015 at 18:04 | #13

    If you read the Daley piece from the Grattan Institute rather than just the .ppt, then their conclusion is that younger generations are really getting screwed: http://grattan.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/820-wealth-of-generations1.pdf .

    Personally, I think the two things are really somewhat independent — of course there are poor people in every cohort and if you solved this you would obviously solve the generational wealth problem, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have overall differences between cohorts, including some that are probably unfair. Of course, if you get past money and things some people find rather important (e.g., housing), then there are lot of benefits to being younger now compared to 50 years a go (health and so on).

  14. shea mcduff
    August 6th, 2015 at 20:47 | #14

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    For years I have been trying tell friends and rellies that Gen X et al journo fluff is just that -journo fluff.
    And now you have provided both a concise statement of reality;
    “For a generation (fifteen years) or more I’ve been writing and rewriting the same piece about the silliness of the “generation game”, the idea that one’s year of birth matters more than class, gender or race in determining life outcomes and attitudes. But this is a zombie idea that can never be killed.”
    and some facts to go with it.

  15. paul walter
    August 6th, 2015 at 20:49 | #15

    Yes Conrad, but not by your average boomer.

    The offence for me comes of Tories operating on behalf of big capital via the tabloids, for no better reason than to further weaken societies defences against exploitation. People of my generation are not responsible for globalisng financialised capitalism and its consequences.

    Many of us have protested against it for decade after decade and its time the young, who’s instincts are correct about being scrwed over, discovered who is really responsible, but they wont find the info they need in the Tele.

  16. Ikonoclast
    August 7th, 2015 at 07:08 | #16

    I don’t think the young watch the Tele or read the Tele (not sure which medium you mean).

    They stream videos and use mobile phones. Of course, they won’t find the info they need there either.

    I am a bit of an amateur student of literature and cinema. One aspect I am interested in is the conversion of novels to movies – what changes, what gets lost and so on. The interesting thing to me is that good novels are far more “ideas-dense” than even good movies made from them. The word, the book is the realm of ideas. Movies being so based on sound and image can be good at conveying mood but are very poor at conveying ideas. Of course the same is true of factual content. A history book, science book or book of philosophy conveys far more than a mainstream TV documentary on the same subject. With these, if you subtract the largely irrelevant images and the usually ludicrous musical soundtrack, you are left with 1/5th of 1/8th of bugger all as the saying goes.

    What am I saying here? In a nutshell, people brought up mostly on images rather than words scarcely know how to think at all.

  17. Luke
    August 7th, 2015 at 09:51 | #17

    It seems to me, from the occasions when I have encountered this analysis, that it largely abstracts from intra-cohort disadvantage; it is usually a case of someone at the top of the socioeconomic distribution for their cohort assuming that the relative homogeneity of their own social circle reflects the broader social reality of that cohort.

    This would, of course, make it more a manifestation of the removal of the socioeconomic elite from the mass of the people (a function of the disconnect between mean and median incomes) than of anything else.

    Prof Quiggin – I have enjoyed reading your blog over the years, it’s always thought-provoking!

  18. conrad
    August 7th, 2015 at 18:49 | #18

    @paul walter
    I don’t see the average boomer as willing to give up part of their pension, even when they have huge assets in terms of their houses, so it really is in part a problem caused by the average boomer.

  19. paul walter
    August 7th, 2015 at 20:48 | #19

    (sighs) Conrad, I said the average boomer, not the better off liberal ones.

    Come on, mate, I know you are better than that, you know it and I know it, or was that last just a troll?

    As for housing, that is at least partly a cultural problem as well an economic and pol-economic one.

    If you want to adhominem culprits, try bank executives and politicians, not ordinary working people.

  20. conrad
    August 7th, 2015 at 21:21 | #20

    Try looking it up rather than just blathering Paul.

    The data is here: http://www.ausstats.abs.gov.au/ausstats/subscriber.nsf/0/FB162A8CBB41033DCA257BCD001A5725/$File/65540_2011_12.pdf . As you will find out, in 2011-2012 the mean boom household (55-64) has over 1.26 million and the median 906K. I think we can safely assume that by 2015 this is now over a million for the median.

    Daley clearly has a point. Boomers are a rich group.

  21. paul walter
    August 8th, 2015 at 16:25 | #21

    Not the ones I know, Show me a rich boomer within my circle and I’ll show you a rarity. And dont talk to me of blathering, get out from your ivory tower into the real world and see what YOU find.

  22. Zucchini
    August 8th, 2015 at 19:42 | #22

    The Liberals also serve the interests of the over 65s, particularly those with an expensive house.

  23. Garis Alexander
    August 9th, 2015 at 06:51 | #23

    And the decline in median incomes for many groups has occurred whilst housing prices has roared ahead, even though the idee fix is apparent, although the implementation would take courage.

    ie rezoning for more medium density so there is a generous supply of well planned zones – ahead of demand – coupled with land tax offset by an elimination of “bad” taxes and reduction of some other taxes. This would improve urban efficiency in capital and operating costs, with reduced environmental impact and improved social and health outcomes and simplified interest rate management leading to improved business conditions.

  24. Ikonoclast
    August 9th, 2015 at 08:54 | #24


    I assume you are referring to the net worth of boomer households? In that case $1.25 million is not rich. It is middle class but it is not rich. The reasons are simple;

    (1) Inflation means a million dollars ain’t what it used to be;
    (2) House price inflation has skewed matters further;
    (The average house now costs about $600,000)
    (3) Many boomers have superannuation (and have paid off the house);

    It would be common for the standard boomer household, the two parents, to have $600,000 in super between them.

    That amount of super of $600,000 for the couple would be lucky to provide $25,000 p.a. combined in super in retirement for the couple. Is a couple with an income of $25,000 (before any pension, if any pension) rich???

    It is ludicrous to claim such people are rich. They are middle of the middle class maybe; not even upper middle class. You would need about ten times the above to be rich. I would concede that a couple with $10 million in net assets (or more) AND $200,000 or more in annual income is a kind of “basic” rich. And of course even these levels are not rich compared to persons with $100 million net worth or $1 billion met worth.

    Having said the above, I agree that the young (like my 21 year old twins) are getting or are about to get a very raw deal from late stage neoliberalism (unless their parents help them… a lot.)

    Assume they are students about to graduate. They will have HECs debts, jobs are hard to get even for graduates, they can forget about buying houses (far too expensive) and will face really steep rents if they want to escape the “wrinklies”.

    On the other hand, my generation (boomer) was plain lucky. Jobs were still reasonably plentiful when we entered the workforce. Real wages were still rising. Houses were cheap compared to house prices today AND compared to the average annual wage at the time. We then got all the house price appreciation on houses which we had payed off or substantially paid off. We did face some high interest rates for a while but if we had loans at the Commonwealth Bank in those days our mortgage interest rates were capped and we paid less than commercial rates. We got good super deals if in the government service (meaning defined benefit schemes).

    So if Boomers, like me, are honest we will admit “We are the luckiest generation to have ever lived. We weren’t any smarter or harder-working, just lucky. By our extended political supineness we have allowed neoliberalism to take over. We have allowed our young to get screwed over, we have allowed the environment and the climate to be pushed over safe limits. We are to blame.”

  25. conrad
    August 9th, 2015 at 09:51 | #25

    @paul walter
    Clearly, your friends must be a better sample than the ABS statistics, and this clearly means regressive subsidies which transfer money from the poor to the rich must be a good idea. The Libs would be proud of you.

  26. conrad
    August 9th, 2015 at 09:59 | #26

    “It is ludicrous to claim such people are rich. They are middle of the middle class maybe; not even upper middle class.”

    I don’t suppose it matters so much since it’s clearly just a definition, but if your wealth (and earnings for that matter in that group) put you into the top percentiles, you are clearly comparatively rich in a very rich country. It reminds of surveys looking at people’s perceived versus actual comparative wealth, where quite well off people think they are poorly off.

    I’m more worried about the younger generation not getting anywhere due to regressive subsidies, especially since it appears we are in for a tougher few decades going forward so they won’t get the same thing when they are old.

  27. Ikonoclast
    August 9th, 2015 at 11:55 | #27


    Look, I agree that the current younger generation are getting screwed and they are getting screwed by the politics of neoliberalism. I also agree that there is a sense in which the boomer generation is very complicit in neoliberalism; in its development and its continuance. I am a boomer and unusual because instead of being self-rightous and self-justifying like most boomers are I am actually critical of my cohort and by implication of myself.

    You said “boomers are a rich group”. In a sense, they are, even the average ones. My own family highlights this whole dilemma. I am a boomer and my wife a late boomer. We benefited from all the growth from about 1970 to the GFC. We also benefited from the asset inflation housing boom. However, my kids now 21 (twins) face HECs debts, graduate unemployment dangers, impossible house prices and rents and so on.

    The boomer generation are extremely selfish, stupid and short-sighted and they are screwing their kids’ futures. The boomer generation does appear to have a cohort character in addition to class structure. They have been bought off in a sense by getting all the benefits shoveled onto themselves and all the future costs, poverty and climate change shovelled on to their kids. They have acquiesced to neoliberalism and voted for the neoliberal major parties, namely LNP and ALP. They (and I) are culpable.

  28. August 9th, 2015 at 12:02 | #28

    I think the confusion about Baby boomers and political positions might be because baby boomers so far are only a minority of the 65+ cohort. The first baby boomers were born in 1946, which means they will turn 70 next year. As baby boomers progressively occupy more of the cohort, we may see a change in voting patterns. It will be interesting to see.

    While I agree with a lot of what Prof Q says, there are observed differences in voting patterns in age cohorts, and my own small amount of qualitative research on women who had children in the 1970s and 80s did suggest to me that those born during the Second World War were in some ways more conservative than those born after.

  29. conrad
    August 9th, 2015 at 14:25 | #29

    I think you are too hard Ikonoclast — I just see the current situation with wealth distributions as caused mainly by greed, and which groups arn’t greedy? Boomers were just smart/lucky enough to capitalize on it. It’s just the (hard) matter of redistributing stuff, so things like housing ownership doesn’t end up like a hereditary peers system, even if people don’t like what that means.

    For example, in terms of positive things, the boomers laid the foundations for (or at least let happen) a lot of good things too — it’s clearly better in any number of ways to be female, gay, and more or less any non-white group these days than back then. This is the majority of the population. In addition, whilst people might worry about inequality and wealth distributions, those previously oppressed groups are more or less free to do what they want now, including make money and get good jobs. So even if inequality indices are worse these days, some groups have moved from always being unable to participate in society in many ways to being able to participate and this is clearly a big achievement.

  30. Ikonoclast
    August 9th, 2015 at 14:46 | #30


    Fair enough. The one final issue to me is an economic system (which of course entails an ownership system) which needs major redistribution via taxes and welfare. If the system is imbalanced or biased in its primary allocation of wealth and income before redistribution then that primary bias needs correction. It is always better to take the bias out of an engineered complex system rather than leave the bias in and have to steer against it. That is inefficient. The economy is in essence an “engineered” complex system meaning designed and built by humans. We can use central command mechanisms (state directions) or distributed command mechanisms (markets) or any hybrid thereof. What we should stop doing is pretending we can’t control it. We could control it with the correct political will and political economic theory.

    We can’t control this system because we have let or aided a mixed central command-distributed command system (the mixed economy) turn into another form of distributed command, namely corporate-oligarchic command in the main with badly impaired governmental and democratic command.

  31. Collin Street
    August 10th, 2015 at 07:19 | #31

    It is always better to take the bias out of an engineered complex system rather than leave the bias in and have to steer against it.

    This is simply not true. Yachts are designed with a steering bias to windward because steering against this bias makes them faster.

  32. J-D
    August 10th, 2015 at 07:25 | #32


    I am a boomer and unusual because instead of being self-rightous and self-justifying like most boomers are I am actually critical of my cohort and by implication of myself.

    Quoting Michael Flanders: ‘… and clever and modest and misunderstood.’

  33. Julie Thomas
    August 10th, 2015 at 08:06 | #33

    Who is Michael Flanders?

    I think Ned Flanders has better quotes and indeed The Simpsons provides us with so many wonderful vignettes of the variety of relationships that baby boomers have with their millenial children.

    Homer quote:

    “Son, if you really want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now quiet! They’re about to announce the lottery numbers.”

    There is a 14 year gap between my oldest child a generation xer – he’s over 40 – and the youngest, a millenial in his mid 20’s.

    The gen xer has done very well, climbed the ladder to a 6 figure salary, overseas travel as part of his work, pic on the front of the company brochures etc, while youngest son has a dead end part time job and is studying psych part time and just drifting drifting waiting for the world to turn and make room for him.

    There was an exchange between these two that was interesting. Number one son says to youngest son, when are you going to get a good job and earn some money? Youngest son says probably never, I’m going to learn how to do things for myself so I don’t ever need a real job.

  34. Ikonoclast
    August 10th, 2015 at 08:23 | #34

    @Collin Street

    What is your source for this claim ? A consideration of the physical forces involved suggests you are incorrect. If you have a steering bias this indicates the rudder will not be set parallel to your direction of travel and will be generating extra drag. This extra drag must reduce speed.

    This article on striking balanced helm indicates that dinghy racers balance the boat for speed including using balanced helm.


    Quote: (In referring to a photo.)

    “1. Sail trim: The boat is balanced by easing and trimming the sails.
    2. Rudder Angle: With everything in balance (crew, sail trim, and heel angle), the rudder should trail freely behind the boat without drag; note the straight tiller and even exit of the wake.
    3. Crew Position: The crew is at maximum hike.
    4. Heel Angle: The boat is flat, and the sails are powered up, a perfect setup for the flat water and wind strength.”

    On large, high speed yachts the forces and effects might be a little different. I can imagine that it might be possible that at the margins a slight rudder angle might create turbulent flow which reduces drag: as I say, “slight” and “at the margins”. However, one would need to see reputable sources about this.

    What I am referring to is gross bias in the system which requires gross “steering” effort or gross corrective effort of some kind. A system cannot be efficient when it requires gross corrective effort as capitalism does for the gross income and wealth inequalities it creates.

  35. Ikonoclast
    August 10th, 2015 at 08:31 | #35


    Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble
    When you’re perfect in every way…

    Mac Davis – It’s Hard To Be Humble Lyrics.

  36. Ikonoclast
    August 10th, 2015 at 08:43 | #36


    More seriously, if something happens on your watch through negligence, inaction or mistakes of judgement then you must bear some of the responsibility. Neoliberalism happened on the baby boomers’ watch. The baby boomers’ cannot claim “no responsibility”. Nor can they be sheeted with all the responsibility. There are many other deep-seated factors at work.

  37. David Irving (no relation)
    August 10th, 2015 at 10:56 | #37

    Julie Thomas #33

    Here you go: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vh-wEXvdW8

  38. Ikonoclast
    August 10th, 2015 at 11:06 | #38

    Ian Verrender’s article on the ABC sums up the current position very well;


    Now from my point of view the key question is this. Is this class war or generation war? My answer is that it is both. It is class war by the 1% against the rest. It is also generation war by the middle class and upper class baby boomers against the young (those under 30).

    The system is clearly being run in favour of established upper 1% wealth. It is also being run in favour of the late middle-aged (baby boomer) middle class. There is labour arbitrage and also what one might at a stretch call “conditions arbitrage” and “subsidy arbitrage” being practiced against the young under 30s and in favour of the baby boomer generation.

    As always neoliberalism works by wedge politics, differential treatment and selective compensation as a form of vote-buying. The young are at the pointy end of copping this wedgie. New measures are introduced which affect the young and are not applied to the mature (or were not applied when they were young). In this way, neoliberalism favours and cushions older cohorts to retain their vote while implementing the tough new measures for the young.

    The long game here is that the changes applied to the young lower class and young middle class will roll through society as they mature and the retained privileges for the mature and old lower class and middle class will die out as those generations die out. In this way, neoliberalism rolls new harsh measures through society. The young lower classes and middle classes are inexperienced, poor (or poor on their own account), vulnerable and malleable. They are the easy target. They can be molded (neoliberalism thinks) to have lower expectations, to comply meekly with neoliberal demands and remain the obedient disadvantaged for life once trained into that role.

    Middle class baby boomers who can’t see this phenomenon happening can’t see they are selling out their children for their own temporary advantage.

  39. Julie Thomas
    August 10th, 2015 at 12:54 | #39

    David Irving

    Thank you. That is funny and clever and yes the “clever and modest and misunderstood” was there.

    I have never before seen this person but I have met, in the past an old bloke who would say odd things like this Flanders does, and I could never tell when they were serious or not. 🙁

    and OMG did he really say about the Welsh people?

    “Middle class baby boomers who can’t see this phenomenon happening can’t see they are selling out their children for their own temporary advantage.”

    The ones I know are seeing, not that they are selling out their kids by their support for capitalism, but they are seeing that things are not working the way they were told they would. Several families I know of have gone without stuff to send their kids to private schools and it has not worked the way Howard told them it would; the old boys network does not extend to those who really don’t belong in that class and they are not getting ahead the way they should be.

    George Monbiot makes a case for the idea that it might be good for us and our kids if we stop aspiring for our kids to be rich and climb that ladder. He says;

    “We know that our conditions of life are deteriorating. Most young people have little prospect of owning a home, or even of renting a decent one. Interesting jobs are sliced up, through digital Taylorism, into portions of meaningless drudgery. The natural world, whose wonders enhance our lives, and upon which our survival depends, is being rubbed out with horrible speed. Those to whom we look for guardianship, in government and among the economic elite, do not arrest this decline, they accelerate it.

    The political system that delivers these outcomes is sustained by aspiration: the faith that if we try hard enough we could join the elite, even as living standards decline and social immobility becomes set almost in stone. But to what are we aspiring? A life that is better than our own, or worse?


  40. David Irving (no relation)
    August 10th, 2015 at 15:16 | #40

    @Julie Thomas
    I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s a long time since I’ve listened to Flanders and Swann, but they were part of my childhood, along with Tom Lehrer.

  41. Collin Street
    August 10th, 2015 at 15:45 | #41

    > A consideration of the physical forces involved suggests you are incorrect.

    I mean, you can’t credit people, can you. You obviously know nothing about the topic: someone tells you something that doesn’t gel with the nothing you do know, and immediately you conclude that they must be wrong and your knowledge — which you know to be zero — must be more reliable than what they’re telling you.

    This isn’t in the books they give to newbies, because the explanation — see below — is kind of technical and requires a decent knowledge of the theory and practice of sailing. You could try Frank Bethwaite’s High Performance Sailing.

    [sailboats develop lift from the flow of water over the underwater parts of the hull. They need this to counteract the lift from the wind: you need the flow discontinuity between the water and the air to get forward or sideways motion, which is why balloons don’t have sails. We can divide the boat into three sections for the purposes of generating lift: the bulk-of-the-hull, the keel/centreboard, and the rudder. All parts of the boat are symmetrical left-right, which means they can’t develop lift from camber, they have to have a non-zero angle of attack. The hull and the centreboard/keel are fixed relative to each other, which means that for the keel/centreboard to develop lift the boat needs to be moving slightly sideways through the water. This gets you your lift, from both the hull and the keel, but the hull has a very low aspect ratio and lift from the hull means a lot of induced drag. The _rudder_, on the other hand, can pivot, and it can take a much better angle of attack: if you generate more lift from the rudder you reduce the lift the keel needs to generate, reduce the angle the boat needs to point [“leeway angle”] and reduce the induced drag from the hull. But “bigger angle of attack” on the rudder means “pointing the steering away from the wind”: systems are systems and rarely do elements solely have one effect.]

  42. Ikonoclast
    August 10th, 2015 at 16:00 | #42

    The data shown, Doug Short’s data, is US data, which is fair enough since Prof. J.Q. was criticising a US article – Stephen Rattner in the New York Times.

    However, I would ask do the data as sliced and diced disguise or hide some trends?

    For example, Doug Short at his site says “The data we’re analyzing is the median household income the age brackets for the heads of household.” (sic).

    This would mean that the delay in forming households by the 15-24 age bracket and 25-34 age brackets caused by high youth unemployment, student debt and high house prices (this last in Australia at least) would affect the data. This would be true if household formation is being so delayed. We will come back to that.

    Now, if first job is being delayed (high youth unemployment) and young adult household formation is being delayed, where do these young adults go? Answer, many still remain at their parent’s home not bringing in any earned income to improve household income. (Do these stats count welfare income I wonder?) The relative few that get good jobs early AND manage to form households early are somewhat atypical for the age group being income earners AND heads of households: or if not atypical, their household chart plot still excludes many non-earners of their age group. These excluded young people are hidden in a sense in the household graph plots of their parents as householders. Their increased occurrence and poverty is not reveaked or measured by this way of slicing and dicing the data.

    I hope people can see what I mean. I have explained it as best as I can.

    There are plenty of data around to show that an increasing percentage of the young adult cohorts are staying living with parents.


  43. Ikonoclast
    August 10th, 2015 at 16:46 | #43

    @Collin Street

    This is a pedantic argument at the margins compared to my original and clear implication of a system which requires excessive correcting because of a severe design imbalance.

    In your case, on a steady heading, on a well-designed and well-trimmed yacht, the rudder is being used for trim for underwater lift and not for excess steering input to correct an undue, overall design imbalance.

    In argument as in sailing, one can always change tack if one is heading for the rocks. 😉

    My argument is that capitalism has a severe design imbalance which excessively biases it towards generating large inequalities. Any system which generates such large imbalances will not operate as nearly as efficiently as might otherwise be possible. It will take undue effort and create undue drag (to extend the analogy) to correct large built-in biases which come from bad design. I am talking about grossly inefficient biases outside the trim envelope.

  44. Collin Street
    August 10th, 2015 at 21:14 | #44

    In your case, on a steady heading, on a well-designed and well-trimmed yacht, the rudder is being used for trim for underwater lift and not for excess steering input to correct an undue, overall design imbalance.

    If you’ve made a statement, “X is bad”, and you’re getting questioned, it’s very, very tempting to swap out “X is bad” and swap in “undue X is bad”.

    Tempting, but it’s a mistake: “undue X is bad” is a tautology, because the word “undue” explicitly and precisely means “enough of it that it’s a Bad Thing”. “[enough X that it’s bad] is bad” is certainly a true statement — tautologies always are — but it’s not a useful one. If you were talking about X, and suddenly you start talking about undue X, it’s very, very likely that your statements thereby become filleted of all meaning and utility.

    Here’s your initial statement:

    It is always better to take the bias out of an engineered complex system rather than leave the bias in and have to steer against it.

    It’s pretty absolute. Uses “always”, talks about “biases” without any indication that they’re large [to me, and I’d argue to you until you got caught, a “bias” can be quite, even vanishingly small]. You’ve walked away from it quite a way, in a way that leaves what you are talking about practically devoid of denotative meaning.

    People can see this, Ikon, even if you can’t. The man who runs away from every battle is certainly unconquered, but it’s not an achievement worth boasting over.

  45. J-D
    August 10th, 2015 at 23:41 | #45


    ‘On your watch’ does not mean ‘while you are alive’ — that’s true of the original literal meaning of the expression, and it’s ludicrous to extend the figurative meaning in the way you appear to be doing. You don’t bear part of the responsibility for an event solely because it happened during your lifetime.

  46. J-D
    August 10th, 2015 at 23:50 | #46

    @David Irving (no relation)

    Mine too: when my parents died I inherited both a boxed set of the complete Flanders and Swann on CD and a boxed set of the complete Tom Lehrer on CD.

    It’s only more recently that I learned that Michael Flanders was also an early disability rights activist (although it’s consistent with his introduction to the Gnu Song).

  47. Ikonoclast
    August 11th, 2015 at 09:59 | #47

    @Collin Street

    Okay, let’s take my original statement without qualification. Let us take it entirely literally.

    “It is always better to take the bias out of an engineered complex system rather than leave the bias in and have to steer against it.”

    Yes, it would have been better if I had added some caveats or qualifications. In context, it was clear I was talking about contemporary capitalism’s (neoliberalism’s) generation of large scale inequalities; a large scale bias.

    To examine what I said more carefully, remember I referred to a bias which one would “have to steer against”. By possible implication, I had excluded biases which one does not have to steer against.

    If there is a bias which does not have to be steered against then this is a bias which (presumably) is designed into a well-engineered system because it counters (a) another existing bias in the system, (b) a counter-force or bias in the environment around the system or (c) it serves another purpose in the system (and is subject to cost/benefit trade-offs).

    In the case of (a) and (b), if the bias precisely counters another bias or force, in the system or in the environment then the bias does not have to be “steered against”. It is already balanced in essence as self-steering.

    In the case of (c), I can think of an example of designed bias which has to be steered against in some situations though not in others. The example is toe-in. (Of course, toe-in interacts with camber and a number of other variables but we can ignore this for now.) Toe-in assists straight-line stability (at the cost of other factors like slightly increased tire wear). When going in a straight line or very near straight line (arguably more than 50% of the time), toe-in assists steering and reduces steering effort. It will marginally increase the steering effort for making turns.

    In these above examples of (a),(b) and (c) , these biases do not “have to be steered against” at all or at least not for the majority of the time.

    My literal statement is left looking good in this context. By implication only biases which have to be effort-fully and inefficiently steered against (without other worthwhile benefit) are included in my statement. Also biases which require a relatively small effort to steer against but which confer stability or other performance bonuses are also by implication (to any sensible person) not included in my statement.

    Summing Up.

    Sure it would have been better to add caveats to my original statement. But in context, I think my thought was clear and supportable overall. But you took umbrage to my reply and made it personal. I said “A consideration of the physical forces involved suggests you are incorrect.” This was a fairly mild statement albeit strictly incorrect without caveats. “Suggests” is not a particularly strong word. It even leaves open the possibility that one’s suggestion is incorrect. It was not an insulting statement as such. You immediately progressed to insults after that point.

  48. Collin Street
    August 12th, 2015 at 00:02 | #48

    But in context, I think my thought was clear and supportable overall.

    a: why do you think that your thoughts are clear when it is abundantly obvious that, in context, I did not interpret your words that way? I mean, unless you’re telling me that my confusion must be faked and that I’m posting in bad faith.

    b: it’s supportable because it’s tautologous and thus automatically correct. That’s what “extreme examples of X are” becomes, pretty . Also utterly devoid of any content worth communicating [a signal that cannot change cannot convey any message: a tautology is always correct and thus ipso-facto devoid of meaning].

    I could unpack this further, but I’ve wasted enough time already. I do have to apologise: I had assumed that you had observations about the world that you wished to communicate, and that there was a purpose to your interactions beyond your self-gratification. For this clearly-false assumption I apologise, and I assure you I will take every step that occurs to me to avoid making this mistake again.

  49. Ikonoclast
    August 12th, 2015 at 08:43 | #49

    @Collin Street

    I need to be much more careful with my rhetoric, my analogies and the need for caveats on my statements. I certainly concede that.

    The substantive point to my mind is whether one considers capitalism an efficient and fair system or not.

  50. Ikonoclast
    August 12th, 2015 at 09:22 | #50

    This is an interesting article if perhaps too long and unfocused. I don’t say I agree or disagree with the article. I don’t say I endorse it or dis-endorse it.


    The point of view is roughly that;

    “Without us noticing, we are entering the postcapitalist era. At the heart of further change to come is information technology, new ways of working and the sharing economy.”

    The advent of Ethereum would seem to be a key development if the thesis of the above article has any legs at all.

    “Ethereum is a blockchain-based cryptocurrency that includes a virtual machine featuring stateful user-created smart contracts and a Turing-complete contract language. Ethereum uses its currency unit, Ether, as payment to incentivise a network of peers to provide computational services defined by the smart contracts deployed on the blockchain.” – Wikipedia.

    Ethereum is not just a crypto-currency as the quote above illustrates. J.Q. has (correctly in my opinion) negatively criticised the pure crypto-currency phenomenon in previous posts. However, does Ethereum represent something qualitatively different because it goes beyond the mere crypto-currency phenomenon?

    I put all the above as questions seeking answers or views. I make no claims. Perhaps, Prof. J.Q. could address Ethereum and related issues in a post. He has certainly posted before on issues related to the networked economy, the information economy and a new commons or shared economy (if I have got that summary right).

    Footnote: This doesn’t refer to generations but it does refer to the 1% and developments which might affect wealth accumulation (or otherwise) by the 1%. There is no topic currently running on this issue. I hope J.Q. might post on it soon.

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