Who’s really squeezing the under-45 generation?

Donald Gutstein, adjunct professor in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University and co-director of NewsWatch Canada, a media-monitoring project
Vancouver Sun

I wrote a column in The Tyee, “Stoking the false war between generations,” which University of B.C. professor Paul Kershaw alludes to negatively but does not name (“Surrey Board of Trade befriends ‘Gen Squeeze,” Issues & Ideas, April 12). You can find it at http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2012/02/11/False-Generational-War

I was responding to Kershaw’s claim that the generation with young families – he calls it Generation Squeeze – is not doing as well as their parents’ generation, the Boomers, because of Boomer greed. This message seems to be appearing frequently in the United States. American blogger Michelle Malkin, keynote speaker at the first Tea Party rally, coined the term “generational theft” to frame the Obama administration’s fiscal stimulus plan. House Republican leader John Boehner, Arizona Senator John McCain and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin all used it…

I believe Kershaw’s work diverts our attention away from the real issue – the growing income and wealth gap – and focuses on a largely fictitious one, intergenerational tension.

As a result we may end up trying to solve the wrong problems…..

Their roots lie in the 1970s, when the income gap between the rich and the rest was at its lowest level in a century thanks to a vibrant union movement, unemployment insurance, social welfare, a progressive tax system, medicare, environmental regulation, government enterprise and inexpensive post-secondary education.

That’s when the business elite decided to end its three-decades-long truce with labour, reassert its control over the economy, and restore its historical fraction of income and wealth. And that’s what it has largely achieved 40 years later. The agenda is well-known: Undermine union rights, cut regulation and taxation (at least for the rich), reduce government’s role in the economy, cut social spending, impose free-trade deals, move good-paying industrial jobs offshore, and offload costs onto the environment.

I commend the Surrey Board of Trade, as Kershaw does, as well as other business groups that realize day-care, decent wages and working conditions make for a more stable workforce. And actions such as Vancity’s Living Wage for Families for all its employees are needed, as is a taxation base to provide daycare for working families.

But equating the Surrey Board of Trade with the one per cent, as Kershaw does, is a fallacy. …

Joe Brewer, director of Seattle-based Cognitive Policy Works, warns that creating a generational conflict frame shifts the blame from “the real culprits – the reckless bankers and their enablers who have infiltrated our government.”

Unless we pay attention to his message, we face the prospect of the 99 per cent continuing to scramble for our shrinking share of the pie.

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