The Times, they are a-crazy

by False Economy

Anatole Kaletsky, Editor-at-large of The Times, today turns the table on those who believes the fiscal crisis has been caused by the banking bailout. It is not greedy bankers, but rather greedy old people. Citing the upcoming retirement of the first wave of baby boomers, and David Willet’s book on the subject, he argues that “[t]he credit crunch and recession did not create the present pressures on public borrowing and spending. They merely brought forward an age-related fiscal crisis that would have become inevitable, as by 2020 the majority of the baby-boomers will be retired.”

There is something to be said for Kaletsky’s argument. An ageing population is a challenge to society on many fronts: cultural, economic, and certainly fiscal. But is it a bad thing that people are living longer? Of course not. While they were constructing a welfare state safety net and accruing decent pensions, the baby boomers were also responsible for creating a sustained period of unprecedented economic growth, ushering in age of prosperity which has benefited society in countless ways. What is the point of economic growth if not to help fund more comfortable lifestyles at the end of our working life? Kaletsky also makes the classic mistake of not considering public spending growth per capita. Older people cost the taxpayer more, but will today’s retirees actually get more than their predecessors, or are there just more of them? The latter is far closer to the truth than Kaletsky lets on.

There is also the bizarre claim that “pensions, health, and long-term care” are protected and even “ring-fenced” entitlements. On the first two, Kaletsky may have a point. But long-term care? Ring-fenced? I must have missed something, because as far as I can tell, all of the main political parties have been scratching their heads for years trying to work out how we will pay for long-term care in the future. Despite the immense political power exercised by old people, as Kaletsky seems to think, nobody wants to stump up the money to fund a sustainable solution to the care crisis.

Kaletsky ends his article with the “modest proposal” that when people reach the age of 75 or 80, they should no longer be able to vote. If depriving UK citizens of their most basic right as members of a democratic society is “modest”, I dread to think what “radical” looks like.

If there is a “war between the generations”, as Kaletsky claims, then it is a war declared not by the baby boomers, but by the neoliberal elite desperate for somebody other than themselves to blame for the mess they have made. An ageing population is a problem, as well as an opportunity, but it is one that will be solved by forging sound inter-generational relations rather than the kind of childish nonsense being peddled by The Times.

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