All Posts Tagged With: "Europe"
Fewer jobs. Lower pay. Higher taxes. Now the Screwed Generation is starting to push back.
This January, the first baby boomers turn 65. The huge post-Second World War generation—which numbers 76 million in the United States, makes up almost a third of Canada’s population, and according to one estimate, controls 80 per cent of Britain’s wealth—will continue to enter their dotage at the rate of tens of thousands per day for the next 20 years. By 2050, there will be 30 million Americans aged 75 to 85, three in 10 Europeans will be 65-plus, and more than 40 per cent of Japan’s population will be elderly. In Canada, the ratio of workers to retirees—currently five to one—will have been halved by 2036. And despite the odd dissenter, the generation that still oddly finds Paul McCartney relevant has made clear its intention to take everything it feels it has coming. It will be up to all who trail in their wake to pay for their privilege.
Common sense, not to mention decency, wouldn’t call that just. But an outsized, over-entitled, and self-obsessed demographic is awfully hard for politicians to ignore. Take Britain’s example. In last spring’s general election, the most effective ad run by David Cameron’s Conservatives was also one of the simplest: a close-up of a newborn baby, wriggling in a bassinet as a music box tinkled in the background. “Born four weeks ago, eight pounds, three ounces. With his dad’s nose, mum’s eyes, and Gordon Brown’s debt,” intoned a female voice. “Thanks to Labour’s debt crisis, every child in Britain is born owing £17,000. They deserve better.” The point was impossible to miss: the time had come to stop mortgaging the country’s future.
As his first act, the new prime minister, a 44-year-old Gen Xer, cut his and his ministers’ pay by five per cent, and froze all their salaries for five years. Tackling the U.K.’s $177.5-billion budget deﬁcit and $1.6-trillion-plus national debt—annual interest payments alone stand at $70 billion—would require everyone to sacrifice, he told Britons. But there were also expectations that the burden wouldn’t be equally shared. After all, one of Cameron’s leading wonks, David “Two Brains” Willetts, now the minister for universities and science, had published a rather pointed manifesto, The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future—and How They Can Give It Back, just before the election. After their victory, Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, applauded the coming reckoning for a generation—his own—that had “eaten through all that abundance like hungry locusts.” And even as the new government’s chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, stood before Parliament in mid-October to announce $131 billion in spending cuts over the next four years—and the elimination of as many as 500,000 public sector jobs—the protect-the-youth rhetoric continued. “Today’s the day when Britain steps back from the brink,” he said, ensuring “that we do not saddle our children with the interest on the interest on the interest of the debts we were not ourselves prepared to pay.”
The reality, however, proved to be somewhat different. The age when U.K. citizens can start drawing old-age pension would gradually increase from 65 to 66, but other entitlements like free eye tests and prescriptions for the elderly would remain untouched, as well as winter fuel allowances, and free local transit for anyone over 60. Among the biggest budget losers was the department for education, facing an overall reduction of 10.8 per cent, which according to one economic think tank will translate to funding cuts for 60 per cent of primary schools, and 87 per cent of secondary schools. And the legacy of “Two Brains” for Britain’s shafted youth? A 40 per cent cut to post-secondary teaching grants, and a doubling—or in some cases, tripling—of tuition, to as much as $14,500 a year.
On Nov. 10, more than 50,000 angry students gathered in London to rally against the cuts. A video of Nick Clegg, the Liberal-Democrat leader and deputy prime minister, promising to do away with university fees during the election campaign, was greeted with choruses of “wanker, wanker.” “They’re proposing barbaric cuts that would brutalize our colleges and universities,” said Aaron Porter, the president of the National Union of Students. “We’re in the fight of our lives. We face an unprecedented attack on our future before it has even begun.” Later on, a crowd of several thousand descended on the Conservative Party headquarters, trading punches with police, smashing windows, lighting fires, and for a time, occupying the building.
“The situation for young people is not terribly good,” Ed Howker, a 29-year-old London journalist and author, says in a classic bit of British understatement. “And there’s no sense from the government that they have the interests of the next 30 or 40 years of Britons in mind.” Of the country’s 2.45 million unemployed, close to 60 per cent are under the age of 30.The new budget has not only frozen civil service hires, it scrapped two youth jobs funds, slashed rent subsidies, and cut the money for new housing by half. Howker, who along with Shiv Malik wrote the just-released Jilted Generation: How Britain Bankrupted its Youth, says the sense of despair is becoming overwhelming. “Our generation just seems to be a lot worse off. In terms of key things like getting stable housing, or a well-paid job, or a successful career, we just don’t have it.” The boomers’ aren’t evil, he says, but they nonetheless bear much of the responsibility. The generation that relentlessly mythologizes its “peace and love” heyday became ardent consumers as they aged, and ended up moulding politics in their “me-first” image. “It’s a consumer version of democracy, where politicians realized that if they merely satisfied the short-term desires of their electorate, rather than think in the long term and make good decisions on behalf of the future of the country, they would win elections,” Howker argues. The bills become somebody else’s problem.
Want a scary number? How about $1.5 trillion, the amount the C.D. Howe Institute estimates Canada’s rapidly aging boomers are going to cost Ottawa and the provinces in extra health and pension expenses over the next 50 years. Or perhaps 2,500, the number of new long-term care facilities the Canadian Medical Association says will be needed to accommodate the doubling of Canada’s 65-plus population in two decades. Sixty thousand is how many RNs the Canadian Nurses Association predicts we will be short by 2022. Or maybe just one per cent, the expected annual amount of real per-capita GDP growth in Canada over the next 30 years as boomers leave the work force—less than half of what we’ve experienced over the past four decades.
Combine a demographic bulge with a falling birth rate and ever-increasing life expectancy (now 80.7 years at birth in Canada), and pretty much all the figures start looking ugly. “We have a significant challenge ahead of us,” says Chris Ragan, a professor of macroeconomics and economic policy at McGill. “The tax base will slow down, and spending will speed up. We can’t just do nothing.”
Canadians are the only nationality who, en masse, wear folk music festival T-shirts
It’s folk fest weekend here in Calgary.
I know that music festivals are a source of some excitement in many cities – particularly ones where the summer is made up of one month (July), in which you serve as a roaming buffet for all sorts of insect life, enthusiastically encase your pale, fleshy legs in very small shorts, and get a very bad sunburn. August, it goes without saying, is spent peeling off burnt skin, and glumly emoting that the whole month feels like a Tuesday in September.
So, for this one weekend, it’s no surprise that Calgary gets all astir. My friends in Ottawa tell me that Bluesfest feeds much the same excitement, and a friend from Guelph speaks enthusiastically of Hillside all year. It seems that folk music festivals (and their ilk) are very much a Canadian enthusiasm, and evidence of this can be seen all over the world.
We discovered this through a popular Dunn-family game while travelling. Not the one where we make up rude translations for the French news using bad accents, or the one where we add inappropriate embellishment to the cricket commentary on the radio. The one where we stereotype families and try to guess their nationality!
While visiting tourist-ridden central Italy last summer, this game became especially entertaining. After large, sleep-inducing pizzas, too tired to brave the sun, we would sit on the corner of a piazza and look out at the crowds. After spending so much time around the Italians, we had no difficulties spotting them – often wearing small white shorts, tan, and enormously fond of gold sequins, they positively glittered in the afternoon sun. The French were noticeable, I claimed, because they wore very stylish shoes, tossed their sweaters over their shoulders, and had precocious, tidy looking children. The Germans and Scandinavians both looked very blonde, their attire extremely practical, and the Brits were vigorously freckled.
My father often travels to the states, especially Texas, so he had a keen eye for spotting the Americans. He would immediately point out a gentleman – wearing a pastel coloured polo shirt, tucked into khaki shorts, with a belt. The belt, he said, was key – without this feature, the fellow could just as well be Dutch. My sister and I had no trouble spotting their daughters, for our part. In 35 degree heat, they were the only girls wearing a mini skirts and tank tops – with Ugg boots and wool Burberry scarves.
Now, a European eye might assume that there is little to distinguish the Canadian and the American families based on attire alone. However, my father never wears a belt with shorts, and our summer is much too short for us to wear wool in July. And, as we looked, our theory was proven correct. A Canadian family suddenly came into view, looking. . . very much like us.
Ministers pledge to remove all barriers to study, and create “appropriate economic conditions for students”
European ministers with responsibility for post-secondary education in the 46 countries involved in the Bologna Process recently met at the University of Louvain in Belgium to set priorities for the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) for the next decade. The statement released following the meeting highlighted the importance of equitable student access to post-secondary education as follows:
“The student body within higher education should reflect the diversity of Europe’s populations. We therefore emphasize the social characteristics of higher education and aim to provide equal opportunities to quality education. Access into higher education should be widened by fostering the potential of students from underrepresented groups and by providing adequate conditions for the completion of their studies. This involves improving the learning environment, removing all barriers to study, and creating the appropriate economic conditions for students to be able to benefit from the study opportunities at all levels. Each participating country will set measurable targets for widening overall participation and increasing participation of underrepresented groups in higher education, to be reached by the end of the next decade. Efforts to achieve equity in higher education should be complemented by actions in other parts of the educational system.”