Lost generation | Andrew Hankinson | Money | The Observer.
Andrew Hankinson's article blends common sense, fantasy and bitterness. His central point is one I have often made myself; that the two post-war generations in Britain have been guilty - via an underfunded "national insurance" system - of time travel theft.
Baby boomers had free education, affordable houses, fat pensions, early
retirement and second homes (150,000 at the last census), but when we
got to the buffet table – oh look, a couple of manhandled sandwiches.
We've been left with education on the never-never and a property ladder
with rotten rungs. Our work ethic is slurred (sic) and our salaries are
stagnant. Any hope of promotion is paralysed by the comatose grey
ceiling clogging every hierarchy. Overtime is unpaid and pensions are
miserly. And the financial system which made our parents rich has left
us choosing between crap job or no job. It's like we've been handed the
keys to the family castle only to discover the family sold it to
Starbucks. And we're going to have to work there.
He has a point, but his feudal analogy is telling. He's been cheated of his inheritance and he's too gutted (or too proud) to build another. He certainly has no plan to prove to his own heirs that he's a better man. In his mind, his predecessors owed him a living; not just - as I would argue - a duty of care to restrict their public spending to what they raised in taxes. He bemoans what they did, not because it was morally wrong, but because - by being too greedy - they have denied him the chance to do likewise.
Britain's Welfare State has been a Ponzi Scheme since the start. For all the prudent language of "national insurance" and "stamps", it was always to be paid for by succeeding generations. There is a famous picture of the first beneficiary waving his pension book. He had paid just one weekly national insurance "stamp", and got the greatest deal in pensions history, but there were tens of millions like him, if not on quite that scale.
When the 1946 Labour Government came to power on promises of "cradle to grave" welfare, it found the Treasury bare. Britain had just fought a global war against fascism. There were factories to rebuild, industries to reconstruct. So did they delay the scheme? No. They sent (tellingly) that charlatan Maynard Keynes as their emissary to the despised capitalists of the United States. He negotiated huge loans to fund it all. So the man waving that first pension book would live not on Socialist prudence, but Yankee dollars. His grandchildren would service that debt for him, all unknowing. Everyone who proudly said "I paid my stamp" when drawing their benefits was both deceiving and deceived.
This being the Guardian however, while Hankinson makes the same lament, he puts a rather different spin on it;
A university-educated man shouldn't experience this.
Quite so, old fruit. But then you are not exactly a rarity now are you? The "universities" of modern Britain churn out so many graduates that they command no premium. Dashed irritating, what?
I chased that job I wanted: working on Arena magazine (now defunct) in the dazzling capital.
Right. Not just "a magazine", but a specific and rather glamorous one. You spent your academic life dreaming of one job out of how many? What was Arena's total full-time staff? Its peak circulation was only 30,000. I am guessing maybe 20 writers, if that. While its founders were slowly going broke learning that it was doomed in the digital age, you never modified your plans? Why not go the whole hog and sign on as an unemployed airship captain?
Faced with the prospect of delivering pizzas, his snobbery resurfaces. You would think he was the son of a Duke;
I would have to work nights. My boss would
be… not a graduate. I'd have to chat with other deliverers – is that
the job title? – who stack deodorants and empty beer cans on their
bookshelves rather than books. Who probably don't even have
bookshelves. Who probably think a digestif is a biscuit. And then
there's (sic) my friends: they'd show interest initially, but after four
weeks, three months… What if they ordered pizza? And what if I were
unable to claw my way back out of the social quicksand?
I feel so sorry for his dad, pictured alongside him on the Guardian website. His life seems also to have been no picnic, but as his son acknowledges incredulously, his instinct was always to work his way out of trouble;
I remember when his building business folded
in the 1990s. He didn't sign on. He knew he was going to end up in a
flat above a shop, but he stacked Thomson directories in the front
garden and asked for help delivering them. I said no, because friends
might see us schlepping up those long driveways.
There are many in "the lost generation" to pity, but this snobbish little toad is not amongst them. His dad may forgive him that long-ago hubris, but the fates never will. Of course, he came to the right newspaper to sing his plaintive hymn to entitlements lost, but surely any potential employers reading this junk have mentally blacklisted him?
Still, his education need not be wasted. Neither the honest work available nor an idle life on benefits will much occupy his university-educated brain. Perhaps he can try thinking about, not only what got him into this mess, but how to dig the next generation out of it. It fell to the 1946 voters to risk their lives and lose their loved ones fighting one form of statism. That wasn't fair either, but they found an admittedly defective way forward. Maybe he can do better?