The Corner

The Coming of Age Wars

Samuel, like you I was struck by that Pew survey on the widening gap between young and old. Here’s how AP summarizes it:

The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday.

While people typically accumulate assets as they age, this gap is now more than double what it was in 2005 and nearly five times the 10-to-1 disparity a quarter-century ago, after adjusting for inflation.

Indeed, it’s the widest disparity ever – and it will widen further, as the scale of the biggest generational wealth transfer in history perpetrated by late-20th century Americans becomes clearer.

Samuel notes “the disproportionate sway exerted by older folks on politics”. But there’s more to life than five minutes in the voting booth every other November, and in the two years in between younger, fitter types enjoy certain advantages. As I wrote a couple of months back:

Taxing young people ever more onerously to prop up entitlements for older generations who enjoyed all the benefits of a prosperous America their grandchildren will never know is a great way to sever what little is left of the social compact. Think Wisconsin State Fair writ large: Mobs of the able-bodied preying on the more walker-intense quartiers of Florida. Seniors with terrific government checks but terrified to venture out for Parcheesi Night at the Lodge, because the parking lot isn’t as well lit as you might like. You better hope your gated community is seriously gated.

I have no idea whether the Occupy DC crowd intentionally targeted the 78-year old woman they pushed down the stairs, but, either way, it’s a useful reminder of who’s most at risk when social tranquility starts to fade. In parts of the map that have undergone huge demographic transformation, there’s likely to be even less social solidarity: It’s asking a lot of a fraying societal fabric to expect young Hispanics to shoulder the ever greater entitlement costs of elderly whites and blacks (as in the American southwest) or young Muslims of elderly French and Germans (as in Europe). In the face-off between a beleaguered private sector and the public unions whose lavish benefits they pay for, Big Labor’s muscle holds certain advantages. That doesn’t apply in the looming showdown between youth and geezers.

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.

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