Leader: The new young fogeys

Twenty-two years after Oasis sang, “All I need are cigarettes and alcohol,” the young are abandoning both.

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Every generation likes to bemoan the excesses and irresponsibility of the young. This should stop. The youth of today – the “new young fogeys”, as we call them – are the best-behaved generation since the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s. Hard work has, it seems, replaced hedonism. In an era of £9,000 university tuition fees and insecurity in the workplace, caused by a combination of the financial crash, competition from overseas workers and the rise of new technologies, many young people do not have the time or inclination to indulge as their parents once did.

Twenty-two years after Oasis sang, “All I need are cigarettes and alcohol,” the young are abandoning both, perhaps in preference for a flat white coffee. Over a quarter of those aged 16-24 in Britain today are teetotal, according to the Office for National Statistics; just 29 per cent drink heavily in an average week, compared to 44 per cent a decade ago. Only 23 per cent of those under 25 smoke, a 10 per cent decrease since 2001. Drug use among the under-25s has also fallen by more than a quarter in the past decade. Teenage pregnancy is at its lowest since records began in 1969; sexually transmitted infections, rising among older generations, have declined among the under-25s in the past five years.

Moreover, young people are more tolerant than previous generations. Racism is on the retreat: while almost half of those born before 1950 oppose marriage between black and white people, only 14 per cent of those born since 1980 share similar prejudices. Perhaps that is why the odious British National Party has collapsed.

The good news extends to law and order. The total number of crimes recorded by the Crime Survey for England and Wales has fallen by almost two-thirds since 1995. Those committed by under-18s have fallen by 68 per cent since 2003. It is an example of how today’s teenagers promise to be even better behaved than the young fogeys in their early twenties. Schoolchildren are a third less likely to be truants than in 2008. Could it be that we have entered what the US columnist David Brooks has called a “period of social repair”?

In an age of unease about immigration, we should be celebrating the contribution that migrants and ethnic minorities have made to social attitudes among the young. London, the richest and most diverse city in Britain, is also among the least hedonistic: a third of adults in London do not drink alcohol at all.

Perhaps the changing habits of the young also have a deeper significance. They are a reminder that, despite all the challenges that the world confronts, recent decades have brought significant progress in public behaviour and health. Those who fret that today’s youth are debauched binge drinkers should instead be saluting a generation of driven, determined young fogeys, too busy making their way in life to indulge in the libertarian excesses of previous generations.

Vladimir Putin's Wars

Most leaders see war as a last resort. Not Vladimir Putin. At the start of his first presidency in 2000, he used the Second Chechen War to his advantage, swiftly and skilfully transforming himself from a little-known politician into a national hero. Eight years later, during his convenient four-year stint as prime minister, Russia went to war with Georgia. As Elizabeth Pond writes on page 22, President Putin’s most dangerous intervention occurred in February 2014, when he sent special forces into the troubled Ukraine. Although the conflict was initially popular at home, it has proved disastrous for Russia’s economy, ruined its centuries-long relations with its neighbour and badly damaged Mr Putin’s international standing.

Undeterred, he embarked on his fourth war last September, entering the quagmire in Syria. The stated motivation was to take on Islamic State (IS), whose ranks include many young fighters from the north Caucasus. Events have shown this claim to have been a half-truth at best. Although Russian planes and drones have struck IS positions, they have focused more on other groups opposed to Mr Putin’s murderous ally Bashar al-Assad. According to Syrian human rights monitors, the civilian death toll from Russian attacks already exceeds 1,000. As with Ukraine, the longer Mr Putin’s war in Syria continues, the more reckless it appears.

This article appears in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war