Parents want their kids to have more opportunities and a better life than they once had themselves. That, at least, is the theory – but the baby boomer generation, which remade the world in so many ways, seems determined to chuck that one out of the window as well.
The latest evidence for this thesis comes from YouGov, which has been polling Britain on its attitude to Brexit (because obviously we all desperately want to know more about that). It found significant evidence of what, in a shameless attempt to go viral, it termed “Brexit extremism“.
A healthy majority of Leave voters, it found, claimed that “significant damage to the British economy” would be a price worth paying for Brexit: 61 per cent, compared to just 20 per cent who disagreed. More bizarrely, when the question was made more personal, and respondents were asked would it be worth “you or members of your family” losing their jobs, 39 per cent still thought Brexit was totes worth it – slightly more than the 38 per cent who, like normal, sane people, replied “obviously not”.
How much can we trust these figures? It’s one thing to tell a pollster you don’t mind getting poorer. Actually doing it is another matter entirely, and my suspicion has always been that a government which delivers on people’s demands that they swap riches for sovereignty is a government which will come to regret it.
The difficulty with that thesis, though, is the age breakdown. The older Leave voters are, the more likely they are to think crashing the economy because they don’t like Belgians is a pretty fine kind of idea:
That trend reaches its peak among the Leavers aged over 65, fully half of whom are happy to tell pollsters that they don’t give a shit if Brexit causes a relative to lose their job, they want it and they want it hard.
The thing about the over 65s is that relatively few of them work: to be blunt about it, those most enthusiastic about people losing jobs are those who don’t have jobs to lose. The vast majority of this oldest cohort will be on pensions, whose value is far less likely to come under threat from a recession than almost any other form of income. Most will own their own houses, too. They’re the section of the population most likely to be left entirely unscathed by the Brexit-based recession. They are quite literally alright, Jack – and, it turns out, fully half of them don’t care if their kids aren’t.
Baby boomers, as a cohort, benefited from free education, generous welfare and cheap housing, then voted for parties which denied those things to their kids. Their contribution to intergenerational inequality led my colleague Stephen Bush, in one of his frequent bouts of being infuriatingly good at his job, to note that, “The baby boomer is one of the few mammals that eats its own young.” All this we already knew.
Nonetheless, it’s rare to see this selfishness communicated so baldly, so shamelessly. When asked directly whether they’d swap the wealth and security of their own children for a blue passport and the ability to deport Polish plumbers, they said yes in huge numbers.
“Would you like your children to have a better life than yourselves?” You Gov asked them. And the reply came back: “Fuck ’em.”