The Lost World of the Solvent American

9 thoughts on “The Lost World of the Solvent American”

  1. Not for nothing boomers dubbed the “Me Generation”. And they haven’t acquitted themselves well. No question the earlier generation was more frugal and forward thinking. The astounding debt increase since the 1980’s show how much prosperity was borrowed from the future; even at the time much of it had a phony tinge. As a late Boomer myself, the antics of the earlier boomers frequently irritate. And advertising has always been manipulative, why couldn’t the Boomers resist like those before or after?

  2. Look back further and you’ll find the “Roaring 20s” mindset, which is like the Boomer mindset you describe, but on amphetamines. (Often literally.) That led to one *hell* of a crash. We honestly won’t see a crash quite so severe this time because the partying this time was *never* as extreme it was in the 1920s.

  3. Being obstensibly from GenX I love to rag on boomers, but at my core I don’t think it is a generational “kids these days” thing, and is 90 percent blame the victims BS. I believe that there are political and economic dynamics that push the zeitgeist this way and that, almost like an oscillating pendulum. What I see as different through the time frame the author is looking at is the defeat of any notion of collective action and decision making in favor of individual freemarket enthusiasm and the conception of government as bankrupt of utility. Also it is not as if the baby boom created the consumer society into which they were born, there is and was a great deal of selling and psychological manipulation that surely pushes people to behave the way they do.

    What was the crash of 97?

  4. I also wonder if the specific Boomer behaviors- huge cars, huge houses, in general a taste for space- reflect childhoods in those bunk beds or fighting for space in the back seat of the car. (They’ll regret all that in ten years when they can’t drive and badly built tract mansions are unsaleable). In which case, a lot of people born after the 1970s are rebelling against the specific boring suburban gigantism of their childhoods and seeking a physical scale that has 1950/60s walkability, but with fewer people per square foot. I sure remember how boring it was to walk for half an hour through cul-de-sacs to get to, um, a McDonalds. That’s probably as unpleasant a memory for me as fighting over a bathroom every morning was for a lot of Boomers.

  5. My boomer dad somehow inherited a Depression-era mindset. His idea of good time was going to the dump and finding some old lawn mower he could fix. As a teenager, I wasn’t too thrilled with hand me downs while my friends’ had all the goodies. But reality came home to roost and a lot of my parents’ friends ended up in trouble in 90s. Meanwhile, my parents quietly sold their modest (mortgage-free since the 80s) California home for a mint and retired comfortably in Oregon.

    On the other hand, a lot of my Gen X siblings and friends discovered the credit card lifestyle and ended up in trouble. I got in on the action with some unnecessary student loans, but the painful repayment of those put me straight. When I actually had a career sufficient to buy a house, I seriously under bought compared to what I was qualified for.

    But all this is anecdotal. We know our grandparents were thrifty, but I’m not sure if there’s some actual data about Boomer, Gen X and Gen Y and their relation to debt relative to their stage in life. Seems like the credit card lifestyle cuts across all those generations.

  6. I really dislike generalizations of enormous groups of people, and generational breakdowns especially so. After all, how generations are defined is not scientific in the least, and you can find GenX age ranges that go anywhere from 12 to 18 years depending on the source. Also, the definitions tend to always reveal the bias of the particular author. Just one quick example – GenX is always characterized as a tiny group of people, but if you look at actual census numbers you’ll find there are as many people today in their 40’s as in their 20’s. And, that over any 10 year period in the 60 years, the number of live births has never varied by more than 10%.
    That all aside…. your larger narrative is something I tend to agree with. I’d simply characterize it as – this is what happens when a society gets wealthy very quickly. The first group creates the wealth, the second group carries some forward but risks it, and the 3rd spends it all. It seems like a natural cycle of human beings – we get a lot of money and power, and then we proceed to destroy that which put us there to begin with. Greed, gluttony, laziness – call it whatever you like. The US for some time has clearly been in the “let’s have a big party and spend it all” phase, and the big wake-up call was 2008. Whether we can course-correct remains to be seen, but I do think blogs like yours and others that are popping up make me encouraged.

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