Boomers risk fray­ing so­cial con­tract be­tween gen­er­a­tions

The London Free Press - - COMMENT - LARRY CORNIES Larry Cornies is a Lon­don-based journalist.

Hav­ing given thanks on Mon­day for their many bless­ings, the good folks at CARP (for­merly the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion for Re­tired Per­sons) launched a me­dia blitz Tues­day morn­ing, out­lin­ing a series of pro­pos­als with which it will lobby po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the 2019 fed­eral elec­tion.

It’s not a short list, nor is it cheap.

Ad­vo­cat­ing on be­half of Canada’s six mil­lion se­niors, the or­ga­ni­za­tion said its aim is “mak­ing Canada the best place to age.” How? Sim­ple: 19 ways.

The 19 mea­sures CARP is de­mand­ing from our par­lia­men­tar­i­ans fall into the broad cat­e­gories of fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity, abuse pre­ven­tion, care­giv­ing and hous­ing sup­ports, health care and so­cial in­clu­sion.

Some of them are ad­min­is­tra­tive and less con­tro­ver­sial: pro­tect­ing pen­sion­ers in de­fined ben­e­fit plans with “su­per­pri­or­ity” sta­tus in the event of the bank­ruptcy or in­sol­vency of their for­mer em­ploy­ers. Or en­abling fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions to re­port more eas­ily the fi­nan­cial abuse of se­niors. Or re­duc­ing ageism through ed­u­ca­tion.

Oth­ers are big projects and po­ten­tially ex­pen­sive: a na­tional “con­ver­sa­tion” on el­der abuse, fi­nan­cial sup­ports and respite ser­vices for care­givers, a na­tional de­men­tia strat­egy, a na­tional phar­ma­care pro­gram and more affordable long-term care, to name a few.

For some­one like me, whose retirement is no longer a dis­tant mi­rage but rather a near­ing prospect, the an­swer to CARP’s pro­pos­als is in­stinc­tively quite sim­ple: Yes, please.

That kind of re­sponse comes eas­ily to those of us in the mid­dle of the baby boom gen­er­a­tion. We’ve im­posed our­selves on so­ci­ety and on pol­i­tics, at all lev­els, since be­fore we were born.

Gov­ern­ments built schools, col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties to ac­com­mo­date our needs, plus our par­ents’ post­war as­pi­ra­tions for us, are the best ex­am­ples. Our ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties, soar­ing lit­er­acy rates com­pared to our par­ents, and the sheer mus­cle of our de­mo­graphic bulk meant most of us could re­main em­ployed, with en­vi­able em­ployee ben­e­fits, for most of our ca­reers.

Pre­car­i­ous em­ploy­ment, de­fined con­tri­bu­tion pen­sions, the gig econ­omy? For many of us, those things went main­stream in our wake, as we sailed through to the lat­ter phases of our ca­reers.

Even the eco­nomic cir­cum­stances that sur­rounded our work­ing lives — high wages, low com­pe­ti­tion for jobs (though the com­pe­ti­tion was high for those a gen­er­a­tion younger) and years of in­fla­tion — helped boomers ac­cu­mu­late as­sets and hang onto a re­spectable amount of it into retirement. Within the next 20 to 30 years, Canada could well see the big­gest trans­fer of wealth, from one gen­er­a­tion to the next, in its his­tory.

As I sat at our din­ing room ta­ble at Thanks­giv­ing din­ner on Mon­day, I was thank­ful, cer­tainly. But for all of my gen­er­a­tion’s suc­cesses and good for­tune, I don’t know that we’ve han­dled our wealth, our op­por­tu­ni­ties or our place in his­tory very well.

We’ve be­come ad­dicted to gov­ern­ments that bor­row money, both provin­cially and na­tion­ally. We’ve been dis­mis­sive or will­ingly lazy about our im­pact on the planet and the ef­fects of cli­mate change. We’ve been too smug about our en­ti­tle­ments, the shock­ing dis­par­i­ties in wealth dis­tri­bu­tion be­tween our poor­est and rich­est neigh­bours, and the sky­rock­et­ing cost of homes, from which many of us, as home­own­ers, ben­e­fit. All that, plus we pos­sess a com­par­a­tively di­min­ished set of as­pi­ra­tions for our own chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.

We spend their in­her­i­tance, not only in terms of na­tional and sub-na­tional bor­row­ing, but cer­tainly in terms of the en­vi­ron­ment and the planet we are leav­ing for them.

Eight years ago, Bri­tish politi­cian David Wil­letts wrote The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Chil­dren’s Fu­ture And Why They Should Give It Back. In it, Wil­letts sums up the way my gen­er­a­tion is fray­ing the so­cial con­tract be­tween gen­er­a­tions, the kind of glue, com­prised of grat­i­tude and trust, that links us to­gether.

Aus­tralian econ­o­mist Jeremy Bray has noted that “once re­tired, and no mat­ter their ac­cu­mu­lated wealth, baby boomers will only be able to eat the bread that the younger gen­er­a­tion bake for them.” And in the face of a bro­ken so­cial con­tract, “one thing is cer­tain: With­out a so­lu­tion, younger gen­er­a­tions are more and more likely to be­come dis­il­lu­sioned with the deal be­ing of­fered them and re­act ac­cord­ingly, with un­pleas­ant con­se­quences for us all.”

We baby boomers? No Great­est Gen­er­a­tion, at least not by the cri­te­ria that journalist Tom Brokaw used in his book about our par­ents and grand­par­ents. Ours is more likely to be re­mem­bered as the En­ti­tled Gen­er­a­tion.

Our sheer de­mo­graphic bulk will mean the ca­pac­ity of Cana­dian so­ci­ety for ad­e­quate health care and se­nior liv­ing sup­ports will be stretched as never be­fore.

So, sure, bring on those hopes for which CARP elo­quently pleaded this week: more fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity, bet­ter health care, na­tional phar­ma­care and other mea­sures that will com­fort us in our se­nior years.

But we’ve been ask­ing the gen­er­a­tions be­hind us to bake our bread for a long time now. And at some point, our gen­er­a­tion’s ex­pec­ta­tion, even as we die, that the rest of Cana­dian so­ci­ety should take no­tice and up its game feels like an ex­er­cise in gen­er­a­tional ex­cep­tion­al­ism.

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