Bruce Cannon Gibney writes that for decades the United States has been run by people who are deceitful, selfish, imprudent, remorseless and hostile — the baby boomers, a generation that Gibney defines as being born between 1940 and 1964.
In his new book, “A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America,” Gibney says people born in the baby-boom generation have sociopathic tendencies, and have undermined the prosperous, progressive America they were raised in. Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks with Gibney about the book.
- Scroll down to read an excerpt from “A Generation of Sociopaths”
On why Gibney calls the baby-boom generation sociopathic
“The reason why I called them sociopaths is because as a generation — as individuals they are like every group, a mixed bag. But as a generation, they display the classic clinical indicators of antisocial personality disorder, which used to be known in a less PC way as sociopathy. So for example improvidence is a key sociopathic indicator. And we can see that in the national data based on cohort savings levels and national savings levels, which have been in significant decline since the 1970s when the boomers first entered the workforce. We can also see it in the national debt, which on a gross basis was just under 35 percent of GDP when I was born and is now at 105 percent of GDP and projected to exceed its World War II levels. That’s about improvident as you you can get.”
“It is the boomers as political actors who presided over the policies that allowed the national debt to become so large. So in the 1970s, there was actually a great deal of hand-wringing over this sort of catastrophic level of debt, 35 percent of GDP. And 40 years on, the problem is substantially worse and there’s no discussion of the debt whatsoever. In fact there were no discussions of any long term problems, problems that were of greatest moment to the young, during the course of the election of 2016. And the two candidates, both of whom were boomers, agreed on absolutely nothing, not even where to stand on the stage, save for one thing and that was an unshakable commitment to senior entitlements.”
On why he thinks the baby boomers are uninterested in preparing for future generations
“One of the key indicators for sociopathy is a lack of empathy. So you just don’t care for people other than yourselves. So in the case of Social Security, the Social Security Administration projects the trust fund will be depleted in 2034, but by 2034 the median boomer will be dead. And the same sort of dynamic applies to the national debt, which will reach crisis levels in next 20 years. And the same logic applies to — or lack thereof — applies to climate, which is a problem whose most significant impacts are expected from the late 2030s on, but any cost of remediation must be borne today and would therefore imperil the entitlements budget. So, they’re deeply focused on maximizing consumption now without regard to problems that are going to be postmortem.”
On factors that may have influenced baby boomers’ behavior
“They were the first generation to be raised permissively. Dr. Spock’s book came out in 1946. So did the first mass-produced television from RCA, and the boomers are extremely high consumers of TV. There were some other odd aspects of their upbringing, including exposure to relatively high levels of environmental lead. It was the only generation where bottle feeding was a majoritarian practice. But I think one of the other critical factors was that, especially for the first two-thirds of the baby boomers, they were raised in a time of what seemed like effortless prosperity where the economy growth, you know, something like 3 percent. They would watch new stars be embroidered on the flag as Alaska and Hawaii were added to the union. Neil Armstrong bounded on the moon. The United States more or less leaped from one great success to another, and that conditioned them to believe that success would be effortless. And I think that’s had some significant impacts on the conduct of policy and personal lives.”
On the relationships among the boomers
“Prior generations did not divorce frequently, in substantial part because no fault divorce wasn’t around until ’69. But the odd thing is that the boomers actually have higher rates of divorce than even their children at comparable points in the marriage. So their rates of divorce are lower. And that’s relevant not because divorce is a moral good or bad, per se, in any given situation, but because one of the key sociopathic indicators is an inability to form a lasting relationship, and I think divorce certainly falls into that category.”
On the ’60s and ‘victories’ for the boomers
“As for the 1960s, I think it’s time that we dispense with this meretricious rebranding that’s gone on — that it was a time of sort of unalloyed moral victories on the part of the boomers. Curiously, it was actually people under 30, that’s to say the boomers in the 1960s, who were most pro-war, and that was in part because many boomers had no real expectation that they would serve thanks to the system of deferments and the deferments and exemptions were of course the fault of prior generations. But the system of deferments shifted the burden toward the disadvantaged. I’ve also gotten some pushback about. ‘well, didn’t we rally for civil rights and the environment and any number of other things.’ But the chronology for that sort of myth of boomer goodness simply doesn’t work. You know, Brown v. Board of Education was not decided by 14-year-olds, and that would have been the oldest boomer at the time. It was decided by nine old white men on the Supreme Court. The Clean Air Act that was passed in 1963. Again, that’s not a boomer victory.”
“Certainly there are a large number of good boomers. My argument is mainly one about deceleration. So there has been nothing equivalent to the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 under boomer tenure. The pace of gains has slowed. There has been stagnation in the convergence between female and male earnings, and the economy itself has slowed. And the slowing of the economy combined with fiscal imbalances perpetrates, in many ways, a much larger, if harder to see, injustice and that’s intergenerational injustice. So by failing to invest in the foundations of prosperity, which the boomers’ parents did do in a very significant way, the boomers have consigned their children and their grandchildren to impoverished futures, and also to cleaning up some of their messes, from the environment to infrastructure to rebuilding the research and development and educational systems of the country.”
On why boomers have managed to stay in power
“That’s straightforward. There are just a lot of them and the boomers are, from the perspective of policy, all roughly the same age, and they all care about basically the same thing, and that’s maintaining the flow of government-intermediated benefits for as long as possible. But because Social Security and Medicare consumes a large fraction of the budget and will consume most of the discretionary budget over the next 20 years, if the boomers can win on this single issue they went on every other issue. So, if there is no room in the budget left over after paying out these entitlements for research and development or for funding free public higher education, something that hasn’t existed since the boomers themselves were in in college, or for remediating the climate, then the nation loses on all these issues and the boomers win on the single issue that they’re most concerned about which is entitlements.”
On his hope for Generation X and millenials
“I do have hope. Young people do seem to embrace an empathetic agenda, up to and including supporting senior entitlements, I think in part because they’ve been misled about it. They’re certainly much more progressive about climate change and civil rights than the boomers are. So I am hopeful, but it will be some time before they’re in control. The boomers still hold 69 percent of the house. They’re obviously in the White House for some time. Whether that’s four more weeks or eight more years remains to be seen. And they control substantial chunks of the judiciary and the administrative state. So we are going to be living in a boomer America for some time, in part because the policies themselves will carry forward for some time.”
Book Excerpt: ‘A Generation Of Sociopaths’
By Bruce Cannon Gibney
Excerpted from A GENERATION OF SOCIOPATHS by Bruce Cannon Gibney. Copyright © 2017 by Bruce Cannon Gibney. Excerpted by permission of Hachette Books.