Saturday, April 18, 2009

After the Boom


One of my favorite collections of stories, from my youth, is entitled The Heart of a Dog. Albert Payson Terhune authored the collection, first published in 1924, along with many other works, some of which are still in print. I read those dog stories, written by a dog lover extraordinaire, and reread them, along with other classics, at an impressionable time, so some of the author’s ideas are integrated into my perspective on life. The story, “Youth Will Be Served” is about the old champion dog, being evaluated by a veteran dog show judge, as he stands against the finest dog of the new generation. The judge, once confident that the long-standing champion could never be surpassed, examines the champ, admiring the perfection of his lines. As a judge, he must be fair, so he compares him to the young dog, seeing that the youngster has a broader chest, a finer coat, and so forth. Although his heart is with the old champion, in despair, he awards the blue ribbon to the younger dog, uttering the title phrase, “Youth will be served.”

As it is with the dog and the dog show judge, so it is with all generations. I was born in the midst of the “baby boom” and my outlook has been shaped by that. The boomer generation took on the world in the sixties, questioning accepted morals and mores. In the seventies, they grew up, put their educations to work, and had two and a half children, on average. Their parents had come from larger families, but the boomers wanted to give more and yet have more, so they begat fewer children, albeit giving them much more stuff. In the eighties and nineties, these boomers matured, driving BMWs or Hondas instead of Caddies or Chevies, working, spending, saving less than earlier generations, but investing those savings with unbridled confidence, all while caring for aging parents and sending the next generation to college.

Now those boomers are beginning to retire, and the ones still at work are facing changing circumstances. Oh, some boomers adapt, texting and twittering, and socializing via facebook, sans capital letters and conventional spelling, but others are the new dinosaurs. Accepted standards pass away, a new generation takes charge, and those who are 45+ face the challenges of layoffs, a crippled financial system, and a bursting-bubble housing market, making their investments worth far less than they cost. Boomers out of work is the subject of a recent New York Times article, which reveals that these experienced, talented workers, once laid off, are passed over in favor of younger folks. "Youth will be served," as Terhune observed some 85 years ago, and our society will surely be changed after the boom fades away.

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