January 10, 2018

Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Tech

Today's post is a bit unusual for several reasons.  First, it centers on a podcast rather than a TV clip, article, movie or music from a genuine media outlet (like a printed newspaper or magazine).  These days, the number of new online newspapers and magazines has exploded, although not all are legitimate businesses, many are simply mining for web clickbait and may ultimately spam people willing to provide their email addresses.  But the evolving media market is a key part of this story.  My main reservation is that the podcast itself comes from a conservative think tank, rather than a genuine media outlet, so I had some reservations because many such organizations are proven to promote known falsehoods.  But upon listening to the discussion in this podcast, I feel pretty comfortable sharing it.

The origins begin with a new book that will be released on August 14, 2018 entitled "Zero Hour for Gen X: How the Last Adult Generation Can Save America from Millennials" by Matthew Hennessey (available for purchase on August 14, 2018 at Amazon.com, see http://amzn.to/2D1GqPt for detail).  There is a podcast at the end of this post which I am sharing because its interesting and not overtly partisan in nature in spite of coming from a conservative think tank.

Note that the book's author, Mr. Hennessey, is a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, which has been owned by Australian immigrant Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation since 2007.  The Murdoch purchase ended a century of Bancroft-family ownership at Dow Jones & Co. (the WSJ publisher) and it put the premier U.S. business newspaper directly into Murdoch's very partisan media oversight, although its worth acknowledging that Dow Jones has struggled financially since being acquired by News Corp.  The difficulty has more to do with a rapidly changing media landscape than the political leanings of its primary owner.  The new media landscape includes adept outlets including startups like Business Insider which began in 2009, plus traditional newspapers like the UK's Financial Times which have expanded into the U.S., not to mention Bloomberg's ubiquitous terminals at firms all over Wall Street which have rendered the WSJ far less important (and less relevant) than traditional newspapers are, with their less frequently updated publishing schedules.

Immigrant Rupert Murdoch's Struggle to Keep Up With Tech

Indeed, the global television and entertainment conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his family renamed its entertainment assets 21st Century Fox (including its TV network and movie studio among other things) in 2013, but surprisingly, on December 14, 2017, it announced (see http://politi.co/2qM81PC for the news) that The Walt Disney Co. had struck a deal valued at $52.4 billion to acquire most of the Hollywood holdings of 21st Century Fox.  All that remains of the original conglomerate he created is what he calls "the new Fox" — essentially, Fox News, Fox Business Network, the national Fox sports networks, his broadcast network and a some local stations.  None of "the new Fox" are considered leaders in breaking important news, and in spite of being quite profitable, they have also won fewer prestigious journalism awards such as Pulitzer's compared to their biggest rivals.  Instead, Murdoch's model has been to use media to advance his particular view of conservatism, often by perpetuating biases of his viewers in order to secure their political votes, rather than legitimate news coverage.

Anyway, in Murdoch's core news business, Rupert Murdoch made a number of atypical missteps since taking control of the WSJ, including a completely incoherent pricing strategy for the newspaper itself (aggressive and unjustified price increases among longtime subscribers, who started dumping the WSJ), a poorly-conceived and poorly-executed Weekend Journal that aimed to compete with the New York Times but which failed by most measures, and perhaps most importantly, rapid turnover of the valuable journalism staff of the WSJ, relying instead upon more freelance journalists without much loyalty to the news outlet they were doing work for, rather than the paid staff who had helped to made it such a great American news outlet to begin with.

About Demographic Groups, And Particularly Generation X

With all that said, this post isn't even a diatribe about about Rupert Murdoch's (un)ethical or even business failings, it's about demographics, specifically Generation X (or Gen X) being squeezed out by the loud and self-absorbed generations before and after it.

In spite of having personal reservations about City Journal, which is published by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research  a conservative think-tank based in NYC, not too dissimilar from entities including the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute  I would just acknowledge that facts (something that the Heritage Foundation in particular seems to have run away from in recent years) should always be considered non-partisan, especially when it comes to demographic trends which are validated by U.S. Census Bureau data and is mandated to be collected by the U.S. Constitution.

I do not dismiss data simply because the source is from an entity whose political leanings are different from my own, although I will not blindly accept them, either (I do the same for more progressive sources) and all media consumers should do the same.

This particular podcast is one I am willing to share because the content is not especially political or partisan, rather it addressed the author's forthcoming book and some of the broader implications of demographics.  In this podcast, Mr. Hennessy discusses with Aaron Renn the fading of the Baby Boom generation, the rise of supposedly tech-savvy millennials (who did not build any of the tech they will be responsible for maintaining), and what he considers to be the challenge for those in-between, known as Generation X and potential implications in the future.

They discuss the fact that Gen X is sandwiched between two large demographic cohorts, and how those cohorts share some similarities in terms of size and the impact their size has on making them both more self-absorbed simply because of their raw numbers.  While some of Hennessey's assertions are more of a warning for his own generation (Gen X), particularly because younger Millennials seem very impatient in spite of their lacking relevant experience and old Boomers refuse to step down even though they really should because they are now too old to continue (especially in governance), the concern Hennessey seems to suggest is that Millennials don't view the world from the conservative perspective that 1980's sitcom "Family Ties" character Alex P. Keaton (played by actor-turned-star Michael J. Fox) is not viewed favorably by younger voters who now outnumber both Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.

Gen X's Ability to Navigate Around Self-Absorbed Generations

In reality, Gen X is not especially conservative from a political perspective, with about one-third being registered Democrats, one-third being registered Republicans and one-third being independent voters.  Also, Gen X has proven itself to be fairly nimble in standing out rather than being swept away by much larger demographic cohort groups before and after them.  Its not that special, but it was a survival skill necessary for a group used to being overlooked, and that's a skill that neither Boomers nor Millennials posses.  It's also a huge credit to Gen X's ability to stand out in spite of the odds which the author doesn't appear to acknowledge.

While it's most likely that Gen X's tenure in political leadership will be short-lived due largely to Baby Boomer unwillingness to step aside and get out of the way, combined with overly-eager Millennials eager to take center stage, its also appropriate to acknowledge that the transition Generation X leadership might prove to be very, very valuable for the country due to several reasons.

As the generation who literally grew up with the computer, one can convincingly argue (successfully) that Gen Xers are the true "digital natives" (the 1983 movie "War Games" which starred a young Matthew Broderick is perhaps the best example) who also grew up in a time of analog television, radio, movies, media, etc. which means Gen Xers are therefore uniquely able to assess the benefits to each way of doing things, and they might more wisely choose a path that seamlessly blends traditional and new methods of doing things than their younger Millennial or older Boomer counterparts.

Beyond that, there's also a degree of maturity that Gen Xers can bring to policy discussions that has been sorely lacking from current Baby Boomer political leadership, which has become overtly partisan and less willing to compromise, which has always been a cornerstone of successful, good governance.  The selfish "my way or the highway" is a hallmark of Baby Boomer leadership in recent years, and its an utter failure in governance.

Also, as already noted, Gen X is neither conservative, nor liberal.  Overall, they are middle-of-the road, with roughly one-third registered as Democrats, one-third registered as Republicans, and the last third as "independents" who are not registered with either of the two major U.S. political parties.

Baby Boomer Ethos: We Don't Care About Fixing Social Security As Long As We Get Ours

There are a number of big challenges on the horizon that Baby Boomer lawmakers have simply refused to address, perhaps hoping to force their younger counterparts to deal with them instead.  One is the ballooning of people their age who are actually eligible to collect Social Security and Medicare.  Privatization is a favored solution offered by many conservatives, but that's really trying to transfer the problem to another party that can take blame for any Boomer failure, rather than a genuine fix.  It's a myth to say that the system will be bankrupt because that's a falsehood; and the numbers prove it.

Social Security Not (Yet) Bankrupt, But Giveaways to Higher-Income Earners Must Stop 

Social Security taxes are paid for by both employers and employees.  Yet for reasons that are unexplained, there is a mysterious cap to earnings that are taxed, which means that Social Security taxes are only paid until incomes reach $128,700 in 2018.  That means for every penny earned over $128,700, no Social Security taxes are paid into the system.  Admittedly, the maximum benefit someone can collect from the Social Security system is also capped, but its always been a tax, not an indemnity life insurance plan or investment.  I would add that the maximum earnings of $128,700 is not especially high, either.  Perhaps it was unthinkable that anyone could earn $128,700 in 1935 when it began, but the few, periodic increases have not kept pace with changes in the cost of living.  Today, that's not even considered a particularly high income level, especially in certain geographic regions of the country.

So the earnings cap for Social Security taxes can and should be increased to a higher level (or eliminated completely), the exact amount is what lawmakers really SHOULD be discussing, with a debate about what that amount should be and why.  We can also discuss whether there should be a certain level of income and/or assets that merit no longer being eligible to receive Social Security benefits.  Remember, its a program to keep the elderly who can no longer work from going hungry or homeless.  But should Rupert Murdoch be entitled to collect as much in Social Security and Medicare as an older widowed woman from Nebraska of modest means gets?  Does he really need or even deserve it?  After all, hasn't he received enough in tax benefits?

Yet Baby Boomer lawmakers have not had a single serious discussion of this matter even now that 10,000 Baby Boomers a day are going on the proverbial dole.  Yet rather than doing anything about the issue, Baby Boomer lawmakers still in office have kept kicking the proverbial can down the road for future American lawmakers to deal with.  The only issue for them is that the solutions future generations make may not necessarily be good for Baby Boomers.  That means middle-of-the-road solutions are arguably the best outcome for all parties involved, except the very wealthy (and the selfish).

Anyway, have a listen to this podcast below, or by visiting the following two links (one is the conservative think tank's "City Journal" magazine article on the author's forthcoming book, the other is the website for the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research's podcast).  Although some of the narrative is speculative or uncertain (such as excessive technology use altering the way Millennials' brains process information), or what the priorities will need to be for the future leaders of America known as the Millennials) but most of the conversation is interesting and relatively on-point.  Certainly, there is a risk of cutting Gen X out of the discussion prematurely, which would be a mistake.  I did like the reference he makes to succession in the British Royal Family.

Whether Mr. Hennessey's prophecy is too worrisome is also a relevant subject to debate.  But I believe its an appropriate conversation for America to have.  Failure of society to do so could mean some very useful solutions are overlooked.

From the "City Journal" Magazine: Zero Hour for Generation X

Podcast: Generation X, Millennials, and Technology

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