Book Review: Boomergeddon
The trouble began in the early 1980s, when we baby boomers entered our 30s and began molding the world in our own image. You can graph the spreading darkness from that point, as US debt, the number of government employees, the trade deficit and virtually every other measure of societal pathology inflected upward. Our generation, says James Bacon, a Virginia writer and magazine publisher, will go down in history as the one that ended the American empire -- along with the retirement dreams of pretty much everyone everywhere.
Full disclosure: I've known Jim Bacon ever since I wrote for one of his magazines back in the 1980s. He was one of my favorite editors, both because he had a light touch and because he almost always saw the real story behind the noise and opinion. So I expected his new book, Boomergeddon to be both easy to read and incisive, and he's succeed on both counts. Here's a representative excerpt from the intro:
When you wake up 20 years from now, shaking your head of thinning white hair (those of you who have hair), groping for your bifocals, and feeling all out of sorts because your "golden" years have become as shopworn as cheap costume jewelry, you'll know whom to blame. Just look in the mirror and take a long hard look at the miscreant who failed to save enough money, despite abundant warnings that retirement would be very, very expensive. Then head to East Capital Street, N.E./ Washington, D.C., where you can accost any member of the 535 members of Congress who, through successive decisions more short-sighted than your own rheumy eyeballs, racked up mountains of debt, presided over the disintegration of the United States retirement safety net, and ruined whatever shot you had at living an old age where the words "happy," "carefree" and "solvent" applied.
Bacon's main point early on is that the system has devolved to the point where it no longer matters who's in charge. Each major party is run by a ruling class of lobbyists, bureaucrats and professional politicians who are beholden to a set of interest groups that demand higher spending and increased money printing. Each side blames the other for the mounting problems. So elections tend to be alternating landslides, as opposition candidates demonize incumbents, are given a chance to fix things, and then proceed to reward their constituents with even higher spending. Notes Bacon, "The illusion of a significant divide between the two [parties] is maintained by the close attention given to minor differences within a narrow band of public policy options."
In other words, the political class pretends to argue about immigration, abortion, and marginal tax rates while a demographic tsunami of retiring boomers bankrupts the social safety net. The guys in charge will retire rich while the people depending on government help will get stiffed.
The first half of the book sets this scene, with chapters on the health care system's financial implosion, the demographic disaster of an aging population, and US dependence on foreign creditors. A lot of this won't be new to sound money folks, but it's well-organized and up-to-date, so it's interesting nonetheless. And readers new to the subject will be suitably shocked.
The result of all these intersecting trends will be Boomergeddon, the end of the world as we boomers know it. With the US unable to finance its global military presence, regional tyrants will make the world less safe. The safety net will fray and the dollar will be inflated away, ending the retirement dreams of most seniors. Where being born in America was once like winning the lottery, retiring there will be -- literally -- like going bankrupt.
So, what to do? Towards the end of the book, Bacon offers some strategies for minimizing the risk of life in hard times. There are sections on material possessions, debt, living arrangements, etc. This is Dave Ramsey territory, where cash is king and the paid-off mortgage has replaced the BMW as the status symbol of choice. And it's right-on. If boomers had been living this way for the past 30 years we'd be in pretty good shape as a society. But we made other choices and are now reaping what we've sown. It's too late for the system, and for most boomers, but some still have a chance to salvage a secure retirement, and this book is a useful guide. Here's the Amazon link.