The gift of sex, debating drugs and a farewell to Goldman Sachs

Of all the arguments I have with my parents - both retired and in their sixties - the most intractable is whether they are the luckiest generation who ever lived. Having raised four children, they don't feel rich. Yet they live in a mortgage-free house and receive pensions from their former employers. They both grew up in houses with no TV or indoor loo, yet are currently in New Zealand, visiting their grandchildren.

I can't imagine my retirement will be anything like that. For a start, I remain stubbornly off the housing ladder and it will stay that way while London prices average £406,424 and lenders ask for a 25 per cent deposit. Lord knows what state the NHS will be in by the time I really need it. In the next few decades, the bill for Labour's assorted PFI follies will land on my generation's doormat. Pension? Ha!

This divide has been highlighted before - notably in Shiv Malik's and Ed Howker's book Jilted Generation - but it's becoming more stark as the coalition's economic policies hit the young hard. While graduates get saddled with thousands of pounds of debt and turfed out into a contracted jobs market, pensioners have winter fuel allowances and bus passes doled out to them without means-testing. As Daniel Knowles wrote in the Telegraph on 12 March: "It is a painful irony that the youngest government in history seems to be engineering such a spectacular flow of money towards the oldest."

All this is my way of saying that the mansion tax sounds like a sensible idea, even if it will affect the older generation disproportionately. When I read about Joan Bakewell, who bought a house for £12,000 that is now worth up to £4m, I struggle to empathise with her pain at the thought of being forced to downsize. I wish I knew what it's like to be sentimentally attached to a home but I've just moved into my fourth flat in five years.

Don't cry any tears for me - my twenties involve more skinny lattes and foreign holidays than my parents' ever did - but don't cry for the "asset-rich, cash-poor" baby boomers, either.

High and mighty
“Should we end the war on drugs?" asked the latest Intelligence Squared debate - a question to which both sides ended up saying yes, agreeing that the metaphor was unhelpful. (Even the US drugs tsar, Gil Kerlikowske, thinks so.)

As is inevitable with any public debate on the subject, we heard a lot of the F-word - "former" - because serving politicians and police chiefs voice a liberal opinion on drug policy at their peril. Perhaps the most surprising thing I heard all night was the Mail on Sunday's Peter Hitchens offering the stark opinion that "taking drugs is wrong". Now, you might say this is an inevitable consequence of holding the debate in King's Cross (in a building shared with the Guardian offices, no less!) but it felt as if he were an emissary from another planet. His fellow prohibitionists had made their arguments squarely on the harms to children and the violence of cartels, rather than the idea that getting high is a moral failing. It's a measure of how far the debate has already shifted.

No horseplay
There are three interesting aspects of the latest News International (NI) arrests. The first is that these were "dawn raids", rather than arrests by appointment (as Rebekah Brooks's previous one was). The second is that the six were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to pervert the course of justice, rather than alleged hacking, and one of those held worked in NI's security department. The third is that the arrests of Rebekah and Charlie Brooks took place while their horse-riding buddy David Cameron was safely on a plane to the US to glad-hand Barack Obama.

Mo' money blues
Goldman Sachs will never live down being ­described as a "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money" by Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi. And now comes an op-ed in the New York Times by its departing executive director, Greg Smith. In his resignation letter, he calls the environment there "toxic and destructive", revealing that: "I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It's purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them."

Although I admire Smith's bravery (and am prepared to overlook an odd CV-burnishing paragraph about his pride at "being selected as a Rhodes Scholar national finalist [and] winning a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics"), does anyone find the content of his criticisms surprising? As for the clients, how could they possibly have foreseen such treatment when they invested with the kindly, avuncular Goldman Sachs?

Giving it away
Writing in the Mail, Sandra Parsons offered the opinion that the increasing availability of internet porn was leading to a rise in rape. There doesn't seem to be much empirical evidence for this, but what caught my eye was this delightfully old-fashioned line: "Sex used to be the most powerful gift a woman could bestow." Or, as Marty Crane put it in Frasier: “Sex is between you and the person you're doing it to."

What's in a name?
It's been a vintage week for the puerile. First, the Seychellois tree surgeon Gaylord Silly set a new national record in the 800m at the World Indoor Athletics Championships; then, Cam­eron's visit to Washington was reported to come under the auspices of Obama's assistant protocol chief, Randy Bumgardner. I've subsequently discovered that the US and the Netherlands have elected politicians rejoicing in the names of Dick Swett and Tiny Kox, respectively. Britain can't really compete with that.

Next week: Peter Wilby

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 19 March 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The end of socialism