Did the Boomers Ruin America? A Debate.

04.06.2021 - By The Ezra Klein Show

Download our free app to listen on your phone

Donald Trump was the fourth member of the baby boomer generation to be elected president, after Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, is a boomer. Chief Justice John Roberts is a boomer. The Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, is a boomer. President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, were born a few years too early to officially qualify as boomers, but they’re close. We’re living in the world the boomers and nearly boomers built, and are still building.

This is not, to younger Americans, a comfort. One 2018 poll found that just over half of millennials said that boomers made things worse for their generation; only 13 percent said they made things better. Then there was the rise of the “OK Boomer” meme in 2019, an all-purpose dismissal of boomer politics and rhetoric. But the boomers are a vast group, as are all generations. So is this a useful category for political argument? And even if it is, what, precisely, is it that the boomers did wrong?

Jill Filipovic is a journalist, former lawyer and the author of “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind,” a primarily economic critique of the boomer generation from the left. Helen Andrews is a senior editor at The American Conservative and author of “Boomers: The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster,” a searing cultural critique of the boomers from the right.

Filipovic and Andrews, both of whom are millennials (as am I), agree that the boomers left our generation worse off; but they disagree on just about everything else, which makes this conversation all the more interesting. We discuss the value of generational analysis, the legacy of the sexual revolution, the impact of boomer economic policies, the decline of the nuclear family, the so-called millennial sex recession, the millennial affordability crisis, the impact of pornography, how much the critique of the boomers is really a critique of technological change and much more.

References:

American Compass survey on family preferences 
"The share of Americans not having sex has reached a record high" by Christopher Ingraham
"The Rise of Childless America" by Lyman Stone

Jill’s recommendations:

The Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch
Can't Even by Anne Helen Petersen
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Helen’s recommendations:

A Tale of Two Utopias by Paul Berman
Coming of Age on Zoloft by Katherine Sharpe
A Book of Americans by Stepehen Vincent Benét

You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of "The Ezra Klein Show" at nytimes.com/ezra-klein-podcast, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein.

Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at [email protected]

“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Roge Karma and Jeff Geld; fact-checking by Michelle Harris; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Jeff Geld.

More episodes from The Ezra Klein Show