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Better at blame (sometimes wrongly) than solutions
on 1 January 2013
This book is unashamedly a polemic rather than an unemotional analysis. This provides the emotional energy to carry the topic, and no doubt resonates with many young people today. It is a rallying cry for "something must be done!" (And perhaps "heads must roll!")
But more analysis would have revealed that things are not always as stated, and seeking solutions (rather than debating problems) needs a more focused identification of underlying causes so that they can be fixed. The book is better at casting blame (sometimes wrongly) towards the past than at proposing solutions for the future.
"Jilted Generation"? "Jilted" typically means "loved then discarded". Perhaps that it how it feels. But was ANY other generation "loved but NOT discarded"? I think people in earlier generations had lower initial expectations and so didn't feel such a loss whenever it was a case of "life's a bitch and then you die". This is a problem with any assumption that each generation will be better off than the previous one; why should people think that? If the life-features of generations are a combination of trends + luck, then "regression to the mean" will typically make some life-features worse in the next generation!
"Generation" really only means much within a family. It is a poor way of talking about a set of people born over some 25 year period (or whatever). There is rarely a fully plausible definition of the generation, nor do all the identified people have much in common. The generation of this book is the one born after September 1979, because that identifies those who had to pay more to go to university. For a minority of people that matters a lot. But nearly two-thirds of this generation didn't go to university, so this distinguishing factor is irrelevant to them! This is also the generation of most Premier League footballers and their WAGS, and of most of the Olympians and Paralympians who are the British heroes feted in the recent New Year's Honours list. Lots of people are fond of SOME of the members of this generation!
This book gets the demographics of "baby boomers" wrong, like most books on this topic. There wasn't a baby boom in the UK from about 1945 to about 1965. 1965 was undoubtedly the PEAK of a baby boom, not the end of one! Unusually, the book even includes a graphic from the Office of National Statistics that shows this! (There was a "baby pop" from about 1946 to about 1948, then a more significant baby boom from about 1955 to about 1974).
But more important is unwarranted blaming of the baby boomers (whoever they are!) An example from the book: "We know that our parents didn't want it this way; we know that when they accepted the terms of their society they were only trying to do what was best for themselves and their families. But we also know that they could have done better if more of them had remembered that they weren't just individuals but citizens too".
What on Earth does "they could have done better if more of them had remembered that they weren't just individuals but citizens too" mean? Assuming that this is supposed to be about me too, (I was born in 1947), what should I have done that I didn't do? What did I do that I shouldn't have done? That statement is abstract waffle, not grounded in the real actions of real people living a real life. I suspect it is based somehow on the assumption that we had at the time at least the knowledge that the authors have with hindsight, and had our hands on the levers of power. Hardly any of us had such power, and none of us had such knowledge.
Obviously the book discusses housing and jobs and having children: All of these involve life-style choices, some of which make life harder for the people who make particular decisions. The authors set the constraints too high. Some people want to live near where they were raised. Some people want to have children and bring them up in a "family house". Some people struggle to find a suitable job. Sometimes these choices are inter-connected. The more constraints that are placed on the location and quality of houses the harder it becomes to satisfy all the constraints.
There is a theme in this book about being able to live near where people were brought up (even in the South-East!), and wanting a family but having to delay it until a "family house" can be afforded. While those are obviously desirable to those concerned, they are certainly not all necessary. I feel that the authors are setting the bar too high, and getting angry at failing to achieve "modern" expectations that some people in earlier generations never had. I accept the consensus that there are too few houses. I accept that jobs are hard to find. I accept that this makes having children harder. But my sympathy is limited where people constrain themselves in ways that I didn't.
Since the book's "generation" is based on university fees, I'll comment on education: When I went to university in 1965 only the top 5% of each year got their tuition free. That is because only the top 5% got to university! Now it is more like 35%. I think apprenticeships will prove more suitable for many people like those who currently go to university then struggle to find jobs. I'm not the only one who thinks that some university courses are a waste of valuable resources for all concerned.
I found "Politics" one of the most interesting parts of the book. It has caused me to revise a statement I have made a number of times that only 1% of us had our hands on the levers of power. That is optimistic; I now think less than 0.1% of us did!
I now see that all government is an ongoing experiment! The situations that have to be catered for have never arisen in the same way before. There is no rule-book that is known to work. Prior ideologies were probably designed (perhaps only in theory) for previous cases. Much of the time, politicians, who don't really understand one-another fully and haven't got time to negotiate with everyone concerned, make things up as they go along. Arrogance (or impatience or ignorance) prevents the running of controlled experiments.
Furthermore, things that may have been easy to give are hard to take away later. It is almost impossible to make a fresh start with a particular topic, but instead "course corrections" are made to existing policies, and then sold as new initiatives. It looks like bad management, but the media and the public are partly to blame for this. "U turns" are condemned; programmes on which money has been spent tend to continue too long (the "sunk cost fallacy").
I wondered whether to give just 2 stars, but although parts of it are inaccurate and/or irrelevant it is thought-provoking and paints a useful picture of the problems that will be faced by young people of this and future generations in an ageing population. The trick will be to focus on solving the inevitable problems rather than blaming people in history for them.