Megalogenis messes up the generation game

George Megalogenis is a smart and insightful writer, so I opened his new book The Australian Moment with anticipation. Alas, the very first sentence is the most tiresome of generation game cliches

Every rich nation reveals its character in its most selfish generation – the baby boomers

Showing that invoking the word “generation” instantly reduces your IQ by about 50 points, Megalogenis goes on to support his claim by a discussion of the results of a poll of voters taken in 1972, the year Gough Whitlam was elected, and the year before his government lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

The baby boom began in 1946, when returning members of the armed services started having big families. The end is usually placed somewhere between 1960 and 1963.

Whichever end date you choose, even the many boomers who were still in primary school ought to have been capable of doing the subtraction that would inform George that anyone born after 1951 (that is, the vast majority of boomers) was not a voter in 1972.

23 thoughts on “Megalogenis messes up the generation game

  1. I’m rather tired (as a baby boomer) of being blamed for all the ills of the world. I thought Big George had more sense than, say, Bernard Salt.

  2. You got me there, the term voter was used loosely. Will fix in reprint, thanks.

  3. Not having read the book I can’t judge it but I suspect the author is right on some issues. Within a decade I’d expect boomers to be derided. They’ve used up most of the cheap oil and taken the best real estate. They will seek concessions on rates and taxes on their million dollar homes the same time first home buyers struggle. After 2025 or so I think few young people will even own cars. When the grandparents get out the happy snaps of the Birdsville Track or whatever it will be resented if the young have little prospect of emulating it.

  4. Strange to blame a “generation” when the people consuming all those resources were multinational corporates ransacking the earth for cheap profits (see Confessions of an Economic Hitman for more).

  5. so what else is new.abused by old people when young ,abused by young people when old.

    it’s gratifying in a jaundiced sort of way that all that “alternative,hippy-dippy stuff” like low energy housing and low energy transport and contraception availability and non-fossil fuel source availability and how fresh organic food availability is not such a bad idea( notice how the higher socio-economic bracket will demand and pay sometimes outrageous prices for food that has been grown in friable soils and not tampered,adjusted and/or sprayed with gawd knows what?(finding it is a bit of a problem,the only outlet producers seem to have is the sunday market.NO supermarket platform for yoou,small style producer.)
    that is,unless you grow it gardens seem to be popping up all over the place.
    all this is normal,ordinary and ho hum.
    people with gardening knowlege are finding themselves in demand and simultaneously appalled at the loss of general knowlege in just one generation.
    the school programs seem to be just in time.
    a friend came across a nineteen year old recently,who didn’t know fruit and vegetables were seasonal.
    poor old George will be a bit nonplussed when he realises that blaming the previous generation for everything that has gone wrong is par for the generational course.
    some things have been saved but so much has been lost and i never thought the rapacity of the industrial process perpetrated by each and every ideology could do so much damage.

    the last thirty years have definitely paid off for me as far as general health and well being go– compared to the high fat high,sucrose/corn fructose,fast food,really high body weight cohort.
    with the charge on the public health system made by preventable conditions i have not and expect not to cost the public purse very much at all.

    so the jaundice experienced is metaphoric and nothing wrong with my liver at all.

  6. Pr Q quotes and criticises George Megalagenis:

    Every rich nation reveals its character in its most selfish generation – the baby boomers

    Megalogenis goes on to support his claim by a discussion of the results of a poll of voters taken in 1972, the year Gough Whitlam was elected, and the year before his government lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

    even the many boomers who were still in primary school ought to have been capable of doing the subtraction that would inform George that anyone born after 1951 (that is, the vast majority of boomers) was not a voter in 1972.

    There is something to the “blame-it-on-the-Baby-Boomers” thesis but it is not what GM or Pr Q would have us believe. GM is wrong to identify Baby Boomers with Gough Whitlam, but he is dead right when he labels them “the most selfish generation”.

    The baby boom was the issue of the “We Generation”, who came of age during the Depression and War when team work and mateship were needed to get people through the hard times. Their reproductive period lasted from 1946 (military demobilisation) though 1965 (female emancipation). Gough Whitlam’s election election was their last hurrah, his defeat (especially the “fistfull of dollars” 1977 election) the first whiff of the Baby Boomer’s “Me Generation”.

    Once the Baby Boomers started to come of age in the early seventies they immediately set about opposing anything that smacked of self-sacrifice for the common good, whether it be religion, military service, child bearing or paying their fair share of tax. Of course this form of self-serving individualism would be heartily endorsed by a post-modern liberal like Megalagenis. (best of a bad bunch if you ask me)

    Its no accident that the Baby Boomers started to reach their peak political influence in 1983, just as the last of their cohort turned 18 and became eligible to vote. Since then the savvier Baby Boomers (which would be most of them given the prevalence of university education) have relentlessly shaped the political system to suit their self-interest, particularly as regards superannuation and property investment (I am as guilty here as the next man.)

    So much so that nowadays home ownership is a vanishing dream for most young people seeking to form a family. The DT reports on a housing affordability survey which has grim conclusions for the post-Baby Boomer cohort of young people:

    “Seventy per cent of 35-year-olds and younger cannot afford to buy any kind of home at this point in time, on average,” Dr Williams told AAP.

    “At the same time we find 22 per cent of Australians own 55 per cent of residential development.”

    This housing affordability problem is the single biggest cause of heart ache for most young Australians. Yet most Baby Boomers, especially in the media-academia complex, could not care less. In fact they cheerlead the forces that are destroying the prospects for young families, namely astronomical rates of immigration and the privileged tax status of property investment.

    The biggest beneficiaries of these economic policies and demographic trends are the Baby Boomers whom the media-academia complex tend to unthinkingly identify with. About the only person in public life who has mounted an effective protest against this slow motion Darwinian car wreck of Australia’s national future has been Dick Smith.

    Everyone else is making out like bandits or been cowered into submission by political correctness.

  7. venison here
    i’m a “generation jones“. i’ve never felt like a boomer; boomers always “got there first”, throughout my life – before there were yuppies, there were trendies.

    central in my coming of age was the 1973 opec oil embargo; the vietnam war & civil unrest were, to me & my school mates, something that had happened on tv, to americans, mostly. we were “not of age” during the sixties. we experienced the sixties as children, in various grades of school & high school; uni & the vote began in the seventies. we comprehensively missed the summer of love, &c. our coming of age then passed fleetingly through the end of of the best of trudeau & jimmy carter’s one term, and ran straight into reagan, thatcher & post vietnam stagflation, &c. we did not cause this, or wish for it, or benefit from it. we are the jones generation.

    for me (just saying) periodic banging on with “boomer generation” generalisations & stereotypes to explain the present is usually imprecise & often annoying. guilt by lazy metonymy, for the supposed crimes & misdemeanours of another, earlier cohort, because someone always seems to think it makes a more impressive case to use an imprecisely labelled “longer” sample set. bah, humbug, says this joneser !
    p.s. – generation jones, key characteristics (from wiki):- “less optimistic, distrust of government, general cynicism”. fits me like a glove.

  8. dear may
    I read you & i hear you. and i share your metaphorical jaundice. nicely put.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  9. Agreed m0nty #5, I would be interested in a more thoughtful review from JQ. I enjoyed this book immensely, found the first half very educational as I didn’t live through it, and had only a loose idea of events. I thought the second half could be accused of partisanship, but overall a well rounded read.

  10. @George Megalogenis
    Great response from Megalogenis. Simply admit the error and undertake to correct it. It’s a clear mistake, but not a hanging offence, and I suspect it will have little bearing on the strength of the arguments. (Incidentally I’m with John in his scepticism of generational cliches and generalisations, but that’s a criticism that can only properly be based on closer reading of Megalogenis’s argument, not a factual slip up.)

  11. Jeez I’m glad I escaped being a boomer. Had I been born 4 months later I would have been a really bad person. Those precious 4 months mean I know the true meaning of team work and mateship, unlike the Me generation who were born in the next calendar year. BTW Jack, I would have thought you were a boomer.

    And what may said.

  12. The point Misha is that the book is in print now after editing and future editing doesn’t solve the problem of the premise or that it is the starting point. Like all generations there is a wide range of individuals but because there is the bulge of boomers they have put various pressures on a range of goods and services as they have aged. However they do not appear to have a common political position or to wield great influence except as has occurred in every generation-as they age they gain power which has now been largely ceded to Gen X as the BB’s retire or are retired early.

    As May has pointed out while there are BBs who have been entrenched in visible consumerism there are many others who have tried to lead others into a less damaging lifestyle.

  13. Showing that invoking the word “generation” instantly reduces your IQ by about 50 points,

    Thank you! I’m glad somebody else has noticed! Thank you!

  14. ROFL

    I’ve only read page 1 so far!

    Just perhaps, you should read a little more before condeming.

    Being from what was then consider the end of the baby boomers (1954) and just missing out on my marbles going into the barrel at 18, because Whitlam came into power, I think your comments on an inability to perform maths is a little out of line.

    By 1972 a fair swag of us were voting, but more importantly, a very large swag were politically active, one could say that being forced to face death for very questionable reasons does focus one’s mind.

    Rest assured that most of those that marched in the anti Vietnam marches (reminder: it was over 100 thousand in Melbourne ) were born after the war.

    We may be the selfish generation, but to date we have only sent those that volunteer off to fight pointless wars.

  15. Went and found the statistics, it’s actually quite interesting. If table tags are allowed in comments the data will come out nicely.

    The boom actually started 43, increased to 47, fell back, recovered in 50. Since then then the birth rate has never fellen back to the 50’s level and still hasn’t. All the old folks homes that now have to be built are not for a bulge, they are for an increase that has to be maintained.

    The boom sarted in 43, thats why schools were well and truly in trouble by the time our year went through, I could never work out why planners didn’t train the teachers before they were needed, it’s not as if birth statistics aren’t collected.

    Before the war

    1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946

    122891 126347 134525 136708 149295 153344 160560 176379

    Period in question

    1947 1948 1949 1950 1951 19521953 1954

    182384 177976 181261 190591 193298 201650 202235 202256

    1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960

    207677 212133 220358 222504 226976 230326

    After the period in question

    1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966(c) 1967

    239986 237081 235689 229149 222854 223731 229296

  16. @charles

    Data should always be presented with a source and definitions. A birth “rate” is usually the number of births OVER the population.

    Also, if you convert your data into percentage change over previous year – the picture changes.

    Growth in births was well under the 1950’s in the 1960’s.

    However, on this data, it is hard to justify a baby boom after the 1940’s.

  17. Yeah, the baby boom is a bit of a myth in Australia. I was really surprised when I looked up the actual charts. In fact the 30 to 50 year olds are the largest age co-hort here (1960-1980 birth years). As usual Australians can’t be bothered to look up their own stats and just parrot whatever American nonsense they hear.

    So do we get to blame the Howard years on GenX if Boomers are to blame for Whitlam?

  18. I wrote a review of George’s book over at my blog The Failed Estate. In retrospect, I regret not taking him to task for his generational analysis, which seemed a little forced.

    The baby boom-gen x-gen y thing always seemed to me to be a marketing construct and an easy hook for lifestyle stories in weekend newspaper supplements.

    I’m a baby boomer by the common definition (1958) and a contemporary (or thereabouts) of Rudd, Abbott, Gillard and Obama – along with Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Paul Weller, Neil Finn and Thurston Moore.

    We were too young to be hippies and too old to be punks. We were at primary school when Woodstock happened and The Beatles broke up. We were definitely too young to be Whitlamites.

    So these generational definitions seem not to hold up to any scrutiny.

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