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Willetts’ thesis is that the baby boomers have had more than their fair share of the luck, and the money, and that they should give some of it back.

He argues that as the baby boomers were a large generation, with a small generation ahead of them, they had less pensioners above them to pay for and more of their own generation to spread the costs amongst. To protect their living standards in the face of the wage pressures of being a larger generation they delayed having children and had fewer of them. In addition, the social change of working women becoming the norm allowed them to increase their living standards further. Then, just as the baby boomers might have felt the pinch – a smaller generation of workers coming behind them pushing prices up through more expensive labour – globalisation happened and delivered the extra workers needed to keep labour and products cheap. Willetts argues that all of this has allowed the baby boomers to have the best living standards in history and to accumulate wealth at an untold of rate.

The pinch of the title is that of the smaller generation coming up behind the boomers (and perhaps the arguable ‘pinching’ of assets by the baby boomers that should have been left for intergenerational transfer). They are left with a large ageing population who are not willing to give up their high standard of living as they grow older – so are spending their savings rather than passing them onto the generation below, as they have done historically. They are also delivering a pensions crunch – more people will become pensioners in the next 5 years than did in the 10 years beforehand, and their pensions will have to be paid for. Meanwhile, the boomers accumulation of assets has pushed up house prices and made it very difficult for the generation below to get on the housing ladder. 

So what is Willetts’ answer to the pinch? Unfortunately that’s where it all starts to get a bit fluffy (as a member of the generation behind the baby boomers I declare an interest in solving the issue if at all possible). Willetts seems to be arguing for politics to drive a change, creating a return to the intergenerational social contract. But he never actually seems to get down to the issue in the sub-title – whether and how the baby boomers could give their children’s future back. And realistically, with the baby boomers reaching pension age – entering the demographic most likely to vote – and with there being more of them than the generation behind, it doesn’t seem a cry that politicians are likely to heed any time soon.

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