29 February 2024
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Are baby boomers selfishly ripping off younger generations?

Peter Switzer
29 November 2023

Baby boomer bashing might have peaked following a thoughtful look at the intergenerational blue that has developed in recent years over the outrageous price of houses in this country. Of course, I could be wrong and the finger-pointing by Gen Y and Z would-be homeowners could escalate after academics Clive Hamilton and Myra Hamilton put the house price problem into a fair perspective. Of course, I could be wrong and the finger-pointing by Gen Y and Z would-be homeowners could escalate after academics Clive and Myra Hamilton put the house price problem into a fair perspective.
Following a piece in the SMH, which slagged baby boomers for “…hanging on to bigger family homes … while others struggle with overcrowding”, the Hamiltons thought alternative views were worthy of consideration.
As Wikipedia describes him, Clive Hamilton AM FRSA is an Australian public intellectual currently serving as Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics and the Vice-Chancellor's Chair in Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University.
Clive is neither a right-wing reactionary nor a biased guy who’s arguing for his piece of this country’s wealth. His books include Requiem For A Species; Growth Fetish and the Silent Invasion.
Myra Hamilton is an Associate Professor at Sydney University and is a Principal Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research, in Work and Organisational Studies at the University of Sydney Business School. She is a sociologist and social policy researcher, whose research focus is on gender, ageing, and care.
The pair reminded us that baby boomers have been accused of:
1. “…depriving the city of energy, creativity, and dynamism because young people can’t afford to rent apartments from the nasty ‘older property-owning classes’;
2. They received free education, lived with low house prices, and have had a nice run with employment.
3. Big spending boomers without loans are keeping inflation and interest rates high by spending too much.
4. In the 1990s, boomers were accused of creating a fiscal crisis as they aged and would demand too much of governments.
5. They were seen as bad savers, which force federal governments into huge deficits to look after them.
6. Finally, as the Hamiltons put it: “And they’re so selfish, sitting on their piles of wealth while wielding their political power to “lock out” younger people from housing, secure employment, cheap education and even, with their lock-out laws, entertainment.”
The pair are serious academics and have looked at the criticism directed at baby boomers. Here are their views on those barbs that have largely gone unchallenged:
1. “Fewer than 10 per cent of Boomers benefited from the fabled free university education,” they reveal. And these were usually “children of the privileged middle-class”.
2. HECS was introduced so that low-income people would no longer subsidise middle-class kids to get the high-paying jobs.
3. On ‘SKIing’ — spending the kid’s inheritance — “In truth, many Boomers, anxious about their children’s future, are responsible for a very large transfer of wealth through the bank of mum and dad,” they argue.
4. “Boomers will bequeath a massive $3.5 trillion in assets to their children, the same ones they have been oppressing so thoughtlessly,” they’ve calculated.

5. Then there is the grandparent’s role as unpaid ‘childcare operators’. This actually is the biggest contributor, in terms of hours, to childcare in Australia. “Many grandparents resign early, work fewer hours or change their jobs to allow their daughters and sons to avoid childcare costs, work longer hours and save more,” they explain.
6. Even on greedy landlords, this is a fact that will surprise many: “Most of them are Gen X’ers and Millennials.”

One thing I’d say for the Hamiltons is that they don’t suffer from the factual bias that often politics and even the media can suffer from. I loved a recent take on facts in Washington, where they say they have trouble identifying “true facts”.
The housing problem in Australia is a consequence of bad governments — federal, state, and local — over decades. It has been made worse by a huge surge in immigration, where numbers approaching 500,000 a year have added to residential demand, as the supply of housing has been poor, not helped by the pandemic.
Older generations might have got luckier on house prices, but they copped 17% home loan interest rates in the 1980s, 10% unemployment in the 1990s, few young baby boomers had new cars or suits because trade protection made them very expensive. And to fly overseas to go on holidays it was so expensive, it made a caravan on the Central Coast, a tent at the Gippsland Lakes or a motel at Surfers Paradise look like a great alternative!
And only the Packers and Murdochs had weddings in Puglia!
Older generations had some lucky wins in life, but younger generations (away from owning homes) have given a new meaning to old saying: “Living the life of Reilly.”
As the Hamiltons conclude: “There are rich boomers and there are poor boomers and many in between. For the generational warmongers, the rich-poor divide has been displaced onto a manufactured generational divide.”
When I was a young baby boomer, there was an old hardhead English rugby league player called Dick Huddart, who ended up playing for St. George during the era when they won 11 grand finals in a row. When referring to his contribution to life in sport, he was famous for saying in his Cumbrian accent: “You give bit, you take a bit, and you don’t grumble”.
Perhaps all generations can learn from that!

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