Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama and the Post-Baby Boomer World

Look at the tears of the cold-hearted Jessie Jackson.

We all know that Obama’s inauguration marks a new age of race relations in the US. I was even tempted to vote for him solely because of his skin color (this coming from a Caucasian). The political race card isn’t superficial: Imagine if every black person in the US felt just a bit more “welcome” here with a black president. Just think about the economic implications.

Obama’s presidency comes at a time when America’s demographics are changing. America is becoming less white. It’s no coincidence that our first black president was elected when he was: The baby boomers are moving on. The passing of the baby boomers, I suspect, will mark Obama’s presidency more than anything else in the US, even more than race relations. The baby boomers are the largest age cohort in the US. It’s not just that they’re more white. They’re also wealthier. And older.

In 1969, Nixon claimed that he appealed to a silent majority of constituents – hard-working older Americans who didn’t protest the war and who had real American values. That silent majority was in fact the baby boomer generation. And they’ve been skewing politics ever since. Young liberal protesters – some even the children of baby boomers – have been dumbfounded by them, ever since protesting the Vietnam War.
How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child
(King Lear, Act I, Scene IV)
But you have to hand it to the baby boomers. They were born right after one of the scariest times in history, and America’s post-World War II growth in opulence is mostly attributable to them. In their time our economy has shifted even further from being based on physical labor to skills. This shift allows individuals to have longer careers. It gives women a larger role in the workplace. It puts a premium on education. Most of all, it puts a premium on experiential knowledge. Unlike previous generations, it allows the older to be wealthier. The baby boomers’ passing – both literally and figuratively – will be like the loss of a father or a mother to society.

The economic effects are just being realized, and barring any major changes in immigration policy, it will likely extend far beyond weighing down an inefficient health care system. Competent older workers are the most valuable people in our economy. Think about how their loss will have idiosyncratic effects in every industry in the economy.

I can’t help but suspect that the world will have a new feel to it. Maybe this is just because I’m in my mid-20’s and I’ll be experiencing that world in the fullest. But I suspect that the election of Obama is merely our first taste of the world after baby boomers. I suspect that there have been cultural shifts and movements that have been stifled because society has disproportionally more older people, who carry much more economic weight. I wonder whether our economic growth in previous decades was fueled by the disproportional size of the baby boomer generation. I wonder whether we’ll still be one of the wealthiest countries in the world. I suspect that the we’ll become even more technology and internet-oriented.

I think part of it might be a little like the shift from Microsoft to Apple. See, a few years ago my mom bought an iPod, and she still can’t figure it out, this following multiple lengthy lessons from myself. But that’s understandable, because iTunes originally made the most sense for people with large CD or digital music collections. Nonetheless, Apple has become one of the world's largest tech companies in spite of all the people like my mom who aren’t attracted to it. Just imagine what the world will look like when everyone can use an iPod.

Maybe we were all so amazed that we elected a black president that we didn’t catch onto this. But in retrospect it’s obvious: Barack Obama is the first president to be elected by primarily non baby-boomers. It’s not just that lots of young people supported him – young people have always leaned liberal – it’s that those people finally outweighed enough other people. Looming large is the question: what will the post-baby boomer world look like?.


Media (in order of appearance)

Photo: (1) Rev. Jesse Jackson in tears, 11/05/2008, by Andrew Mager; (2) Richard Nixon in the Oval Office, 1972; (3) BlackAppleLogo, 07/25/2008, Ken Fager; (4) Crowds on 18th Street - 2009 Presidential Inauguration, 01/20/2009, by Agnostic Preachers Kid; (5) Obama Poster Painted on Brick..., 05/03/2008, by Hattie Page.

Video: (1) Music video, 05/28/2008, Penguuinz, of the song "The Long Day is Over", by Norah Jones, from her 2002 album Come Away with Me.
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  1. Well-written piece. Relevantly, as many nationally influential voices have repeatedly noted, Obama is part of Generation Jones, born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X. Google Generation Jones, and you'll see it’s gotten a lot of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (New York Times, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) are specifically referring to Obama, born in 1961, as part of Generation Jones.

  2. Thanks for the comment. Incidentally I hadn't heard of that term, but it makes sense and I'll keep my eye out for future references to it. In addition to Obama's age, however, you have to look at the age of his supporters. Say, for instance, we'd elected a Republican candidate who was born in the same year as Obama, but most of his supporters happened to be baby boomers. I think that the candidate would still be defined by the older generation that supported him. To a degree this is an artificial distinction - younger candidates often appeal to younger voters - but that's why the concept of a silent majority transformed politics (eg, just because it looks like a candidate has lots of support doesn't mean that he actually does).

  3. hair-splitting nonsense, all that 'gen jones' bs refers to are the youngest babyboomers n oldest members of gen x, its needlessly contrarian in regards to tha typical understanding/organizations of generations.
    also lmao readin this make me feel nostalgic n p sad haha, this was back when obama was riding on all that "hope" n "change" crap, back befo it was obvious to most ppl that hes like any statistic-inventing, drone-using, ISIS-sponsoring politician lol


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