By MICHAEL BLACKBURN.
SO, THE MOUNTAINS of the Resolution Foundation groaned for two years and gave birth to…well, the usual farrago of nonsense and madcap propositions that think tanks are prone to. In this case it’s all about the “intergenerational contract” between the Boomers and the Millennials, how it’s being broken and what “we” should do to put it right.
This low-level conflict has been rumbling on for a few years now and really kicked off with a book by David Willetts, The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future – And Why They Should Give It Back (2010). Willetts is a former Tory minister and now runs the Resolution Foundation. “Former Tory” is what I nearly left it at, since his pronouncements these days have been most definitely un-Tory-like, favouring the kind of statist interference beloved of the left.
According to the narrative proposed by Willetts and now treated as gospel by the chatterati, the Boomers have gorged themselves on the good things in life (presumably without having lifted a finger to earn them) and are leaving their children and grandchildren nothing but crumbs for their inheritance. These poor Millennials will never be able to own their own homes, earn a decent wage or receive a livable pension and will probably end up living with their decaying parents forever.
Tough. Experience warns the intelligent observer that economic projections by experts are to be binned immediately. No one has the faintest idea of what wages or house prices will be in five years, let alone ten or twenty, and no one should take such forecasts seriously.
This talk of an intergenerational “contract” makes it sound pretty damn serious and calls to mind Burke’s description of society as a contract, “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born,” except in this case it’s truncated because the dead don’t count, and it’s specious because it is time and generation-limited.
The Foundation, having diagnosed and described this timebomb (ticking, of course) has come up with an array of “solutions”, not all which are bad.
“Introduce indeterminate tenancies as the sole form of private rental control” – that’s good. I never understood why the government introduced fixed-term contracts in the first place. In this case stopping back into the past would be a good thing.
“Introduce light-touch rent stabilisation that limits rent rises to CPI inflation for set three-year periods” – bad. Government interference in market mechanism is inadvisable. And light-touch easily turns into heavy-handed.
“Halve stamp duty” – good(ish). Better to abolish it altogether.
“Create a unit of highly skilled planners in central government to support local authorities in areas of high housing need, and with a full five-year land supply, to deliver high-quality developments” – oh no. No. No. No. Highly skilled? Don’t make me laugh. Postwar generations have suffered enough at the hands of planners, thank you very much. You could, of course, cut immigration to lighten the demand on housing but that would be racist, wouldn’t it?
“Abolish inheritance tax” — ah yes, stop robbing people of their inheritance, good idea, but then — “replace it with a lifetime receipts tax” — nay, nay, thrice nay, you thieving parasites.
The maddest proposal and the one that created the most media attention is to give everyone £10,000 when they reach 25. This they call “a citizen’s inheritance” – “an asset endowment to all young people who entered the labour market during the financial crisis and since — to support skills, housing and pension saving”. Hands up anyone who can see this working out well? Especially since one of the proposed means of raising the cash for it is an “NHS levy” on the earnings of all those of pensionable age, which rather heaps insult upon insult to those who have already done their bit and brought up these supposedly resentful little blighters at great personal expense.
Again, we come up against the unquestioned assumption of all do-gooding, omnisapient, bleeding heart liberal types, that they can work out what needs to be done (because they’re clever like that) and that “we” (the taxpayers) must stump up for it.
Normally I wouldn’t expect the government to pay any attention to this sort of drivel but these days I’m not so sure. The current political crew is so low grade that I can see both Tories and a prospective Labour administration picking out the most costly and inefficient proposals for implementation. All for “A better, more united Britain”, of course.
Currente Calamo columnist, poet, writer and lecturer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire . From 2005–2008 he was the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Lincoln where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent collection is Spyglass Over The Lagoon. A selection of his Fortnightly Currente Calamo columns, Sucks To Your Revolution: Annoying The Politically Correct (US), is available as a Kindle ebook.