Padraic P. McGuinness, The Weekend Australian, February 5-6, 1994, p. 2.

The ageing of the Australian population is a problem that is attracting increasing attention as we look forward to the next century. What has now become quite clear is that the baby-boomer generation has created a burden that will blight their children’s lives.

The problem has most recently been summarised in a paper issued by the Economic Planning and Advisory Council, Australia’s Ageing Society, published a few days ago. In brief, it is that as a result of the fall in birthrate (immigration complicates but does not alter the picture) that followed the boom in births after World War II, the average age of the Australian population is rising. Due both to pension and superannuation benefits and to the rising costs, medical and institutional, as well as rising life expectancy, the cost of caring for the aged is rising at a disproportionate rate.

Thus, over the working lives of the young now entering adulthood, and the generation yet to be born, there will be a growing burden of supporting the old.

However, there has been some confusion as to just what this means for the present generation of old people — that is, those over 65 now. It is not this generation of old people who are the problem — on the contrary, it is their children who are the problem. Those Australians born here or elsewhere before 1929 have not created the problem. They lived through the Great Depression and the war (the overseas-born had an even worse time of it); those now old are those who postponed family formation and having children through the 30s (when there was mass unemployment) and the war.

They did not cease having children altogether, of course; but the baby boom began (here and elsewhere in the world) at the end of the war. The generation who were the parents of the baby-boomers were the initial creators of the welfare State; they were strongly family-oriented; they saved and invested; they spent social funds heavily on expansion of the health and education system especially when their children began to come of age in the 50s. That is, they invested heavily in the next generation; they did not leave them a huge mountain of debt or of future tax liabilities.

They began to erect a welfare system based on the principle of “community rating”. That is, they assumed that their children would have an attitude to the family much like their own, and would have enough kids to ensure that the population kept growing at a fairly steady rate. When this is the case there is no difficulty with a community rating principle — there are always many more young people than old.

The problem which is emerging now is in now way the fault of the over-65s, or if it is, it is so only insofar as they were excessively generous and indulgent to their children, the baby-boomers. They raised a generation that was spoiled and greedy, contemptuous of their elders and totally self-centred, believers in a welfare State that would ensure they would never need to save, resistant to social welfare contributions and taxes. Above all, the baby-boomers cared more for themselves than for family formation and the production of the next generation. (Appropriately, they have also been christened “the me generation”.)

They accepted the convenient assumptions of the community rating system and blithely consigned the future costs of their old age to their children, while being too selfish to have enough of them to make the system work. In the younger days they wore T-shirts warning against trusting anyone over 30; in the 60s there was the convulsion of self-indulgence and silly idealistic protest that led, in the 70s, to the conviction that they had the right to grab as much as they could, while telling their children how wonderful and idealistic they were. Tertiary education was made totally free, with allowances for all; government handouts to the idle children of the middle-class multiplied.

The bills started to come in in the 80s, of course, and financial stringency made it necessary to start cutting back on the gravy train. The children of the baby-boomers do not get free tertiary education (they do not get much education at all, often enough, thanks to the baby-boomers in the teaching profession who did not even bother to study) and all the things the baby-boomers assumed would come free for ever are proving to have a cost.

Above all, as life expectancy rises (thanks to the discoveries of the pharmaceutical companies, the biologists and other scientists rather than to the medical profession) and old age looms ahead for the baby-boomers they are beginning to become obsessed with personal health, diet, longevity and the removal of the retiring age. They have, belatedly, discovered that not everybody over the age of 65 is useless — after all, the first of the baby-boomers will turn 65 in about 16 years. Some of them (mostly in the Public Service) are contemplating retirement before the end of the century.

It is therefore now in the self-interest of the baby-boomers to concern themselves with the welfare of the aged, to insist on greater expenditure on geriatric medicine and facilities, and even to legislate to abolish the retirement age and forbid discrimination against the aged. So the present generation of aged and those about the enter the ranks of the aged will do quite well out of the self-interestedness of the baby-boomers. Those currently 65 and above have little to worry about — there will be a growing pretence of caring for the old by the baby-boomers as they prepare soft berths for their own generation.

Indeed, those parents of an age to have had to put up with the abuse, ranting, demonstrating and phony political idealism of the 60s will at last be getting some kind of return from their children. There will be increasing demands for better and better nursing-home, hostel and home-care facilities for the aged, and for unlimited expenditure on expensive life-prolonging medical procedures and diagnostics.

The exception to this is of course treatment for those who are, in the self-righteous glow of the new health fascism, considered to be offenders. Thus, some doctors in Britain have recently taken it upon themselves to deny treatment to smokers. As the new puritanism of the baby-boomers becomes ever more obsessive, with campaigns being mounted against smokers, drinkers, people who like food rich in sugar, starch and fats, people who have refused to rush around in sneakers or pedal bikes furiously, there will be an attempt to discriminate against some of the aged on the grounds of their present or previous lifestyles.

But the catch in all this is that the baby-boomers are trying to pass the burden on to the next generation rather than bear it themselves. This is what the superannuation guarantee charge, the Higher Education Contribution Scheme and most “user pays” charges are really about. In fact, smokers particularly have already contributed far more by way of taxes than they will ever take out in medical and hospital treatment.

The conflict in general will, therefore, not be between the decision-makers of the next decade (who are mainly baby-boomers) and the already aged, but between the baby-boomers and their own children and grandchildren who are going to be handed the bill for the baby-boomers’ profligacy, irresponsibility, selfishness and determination to prolong their own lives. It is the aged of the next thirty and forty years who have cause to fear a new revolt of the young.

(in order of appearance on
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  2. The Economic Guerrillas: A lecture in honour of Maxwell Newton
  3. The Libertarian Alternative
  4. Libel laws block insider's revelations of Australia's industrial mess
  5. But perhaps the merchants of doom have a point
  6. The Origins of Paddy McGuinness
  7. The Itch for Influence
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  9. Aunty should hang up her boots in face of premature senility
  10. Warning: health is a budget hazard
  11. New ABC Tory chief won't rock the boat
  12. Time to sell the ABC
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  14. Paddy McGuinness on class sizes (1991)
  15. More teachers won't solve the problems in our schools
  16. Paddy McGuinness on Catholics and wealth distribution
  17. Paddy McGuinness proposes inheritance tax equal to handouts received by deceased
  18. Let them swim nude
  19. Time to legalise heroin
  20. State-sponsored sports rorts
  21. The blight of the baby-boomers
  22. To reduce the problems of crime and corruption, legalise heroin
  23. We should ban Olympics
  24. Evidence shows heroin policy is not working
  25. Wowsers deny society while killing children
  26. Will Australia compete?
  27. Canberra's social revolution
  28. Paddy McGuinness in 1994 on the 2012 class size debate
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  30. Paddy McGuinness on David Stove
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  35. Hyde, McGuinness and Sturgess on Chaining/Changing Australia
  36. Paddy McGuinness defends comparing IQ of races
  37. Do-gooders should glorify smokers
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