Recently I've been thinking that the right has once again hijacked the conversation without our realizing it. This time, it’s on Social Security.
The right assumes a libertarian stance and we don’t argue against it. The assumption they base their argument on is that, yes, each of us creates our own wealth. Each generation, in this view, pulls itself up by its own bootstraps, only to have to share the wealth it has created with an earlier one (that has, by implication, squandered its own wealth).
We forget how much each generation gets from the prior ones—on both individual and societal bases. We like to think of ourselves as “self made”—but none of us is. Donald Trump inherited one of the richest real-estate empires in New York, and Ted Turner’s father owned a vast network of roadside billboards, yet both are commonly believed to be entrepreneurs who “did it on their own.” Yet all we talk about is the “burden” we baby-boomers will soon be placing on our own children as they start to pay for our retirement.
Why have we let the conversation lie there?
Why haven’t we talked about the obligations that each of us has to those who went before, to those who created the world we inherit, this world (here in the US, at least) of unbelievable riches and comforts? More and more, we of the baby-boom generation are spending time and money taking care of our parents—why should we believe that our children shouldn’t do the same for us?
Because there are more of us? Because we had smaller families? But smaller families have led to more wealth, within the family, for our children. Because of their parents and grandparents and ancestors going back through the generations, our children have the greatest possibilities for achieving their potential than any generation ever.
We demean them when we assume that they are so crabbed and grubby that they will not share the wealth that they become responsible for, that they will not help their parents' generation, the generation that becomes exemplar of all they have inherited.
Our children are better than that. They are getting fortunes from the past—and they know it, and will gladly give a part of it back.