Baby Boomers

Josh Hoxie: Past time for a sociopathic generation to leave the political scene

Baby Boomers watching TV in the late '50s.

Baby Boomers watching TV in the late '50s.

 

Via OtherWords.org

Historians won’t look fondly on 2017.

The news cycle was dominated by sexual assault, widespread anxiety, the unedited musings of a mentally unstable president, rising economic inequality, and an opioid epidemic. And in case you forgot, the planet is still on track to boil.

In short, things were bad.

This year, it’s time to transition from despair to action.

We saw the beginnings of this transition as hundreds of political newcomers came out of the woodwork to run for state and local office last year. And thousands more started the process to run in 2018 and beyond.

Democracy isn’t a spectator sport, and it’s good to see a younger generation more politically engaged than their parents. Unfortunately, the younger folks will have many messes to clean up left by their elders.

Bruce Cannon Gibney goes so far as to depict Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, as sociopaths in his book, A Generation of Sociopaths: How The Baby Boomers Betrayed America.

Not all of them, of course.

Gibney limits his analysis to mostly white, native-born, powerful Baby Boomers — the ones in position to make decisions on behalf of everyone else. At each critical juncture, Gibney argues, these Boomers looked after themselves at the expense of everyone else.

Thanks. For. Nothing.

We saw this play out most recently in the tax cut package just passed by Congress. Regardless of the bluster coming from the White House, this bill was nothing more than a wealth grab by the already ultra-wealthy. Over 80 percent of the tax cuts go to the top 1 percent.

Poll after poll showed the majority of Americans understood this. Yet congressional Republicans chose to work on behalf of their donors instead of their constituents.

We see this playing out again as they threaten the Medicare and Social Security of future beneficiaries. That’s millennials they’re targeting, not Baby Boomers. That’s not a coincidence.

In case you couldn’t tell by the abundance of wrinkles and white hair on C-Span, the people making the decisions in Washington are not young. The average age in the Senate is 61, eight years older than 1981. More than a quarter are over 70. The last four presidents have all been Baby Boomers. They oversaw the greatest expansion in economic inequality in modern history.

Young people are inheriting an economy in which it’s all together common to start adulthood tens of thousands of dollars in debt, thanks to a higher education system rooted in exploitation. Meanwhile wages are generally stagnant, and the federal minimum wage falls below the cost of living of every major city in the country.

Young people are rightfully outraged at this inequality and are ready to take bold action to address it. Or, as legendary Republican pollster Frank Luntz put it, millennials are “terrifyingly liberal.”

Naturally, age isn’t everything. Paul Ryan, born after the Baby Boomers, wants to completely destroy the social-safety net. Bernie Sanders, technically too old to be considered a Boomer, might be the biggest advocate for young people in Washington.

Bernie also has massive support among youths. More Millennials cast a ballot for him in the 2016 presidential primary than both Clinton and Trump combined. Unfortunately, Sanders is the exception, not the rule, among his cohort in Washington.

Young people are ready, willing, and able to take a leadership role in healing our deeply broken society and environment. It’s time for the “olds” in Washington — either of age or of ideology — to make way for the rising generation.

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Taxation and Opportunity at the Institute for Policy Studies. 

Chuck Collins: Best wishes to the most indebted class

 

Congratulations, college graduates! As you enter the next phase of life, you and your parents should be proud of your achievements.

But, I’m sorry to say, they’ve come at a price: The system is trying to squeeze you harder than any previous generation.

Many Baby Boomers, perhaps including your parents, benefited from a time when higher education was seen as a shared social responsibility. Between 1945 and 1975, tens of millions of them graduated from college with little or no debt.

But now, tens of millions of you are graduating with astounding levels of debt.

This year, seven in 10 graduating seniors borrowed for their educations. Their average debt is now over $37,000 — the highest figure for any class ever.

Already, some 43 percent of borrowers — together owing $200 billion — have either stopped making payments or are behind on their student loans. Millions are in default.

This debt casts a long shadow on the finances of graduates. During the last quarter of 2015 alone, the Education Department moved to garnish $176 million in wages.

There’s no economic benefit to this system whatsoever. Indebted students delay starting families and buying houses, experience compounding economic distress, and are less inclined to take entrepreneurial risks.

One driver of the change from your parents’ generation has been tax cuts for the wealthy, which have led to cuts in higher education budgets. Forty-seven states now spend less per student on higher education than they did before the 2008 economic recession.

In effect, we’re shifting tax obligations away from multi-millionaires and onto states and middle-income taxpayers. And that’s led colleges to rely on higher tuition costs and fees.

In 2005, for instance, Congress stopped sharing revenue from the estate tax — a levy on inherited wealth exclusively paid by multimillion-dollar estates — with the states. Most state legislatures failed to replace it at the state level, costing them billions in revenue over the last decade.

In fact, the 32 states that let their estate taxes expire are foregoing between $3 to $6 billion a year, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates. The resulting tax benefits have gone entirely to multi-millionaires and billionaires — and contributed to tuition increases.

For example, California used to raise almost $1 billion a year in revenue from its state-level estate tax. Now that figure is down to zero. And since 2008, average tuition has increased over $3,500 at four-year public colleges and universities in the state.

Florida, meanwhile, lost $700 million a year — and raised tuition nearly $2,500. Michigan lost $155 million a year and hiked average tuition $2,200.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Washington State went the opposite route.

Washington taxes big estates and dedicates the $150 million it raises each year to an education legacy trust account, which supports K-12 education and the state’s community college system. Other states should follow this model, and students and parents should take the lead in demanding it.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said at a Philadelphia town hall meeting that there’s one thing he’s 100 percent certain about.

If millions of young people stood up and said they’re “sick and tired of leaving college $30,000, $50,000, $70,000 in debt, that they want public colleges and universities tuition-free,” he predicted, “that is exactly what would happen.”

Sanders is right: Imagine a political movement made up of the 40 million households that currently hold $1.2 trillion in debt.

If we stood up and pressed for policies to eliminate millionaire tax breaks and dedicate the revenue to debt-free education, it would change the face of America.

Graduates, let’s get to work.

Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies. 

A generation of sociopaths?

"Narcissus'' (1590s) by  Caravaggio .

"Narcissus'' (1590s) by Caravaggio.

 

Adapted from an item in Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary'' in GoLocal24.com.

Generations obviously flow into each other and we must be leery of over-generalizing. But Bruce Cannon Gibney is on to something when indicting the Baby Boom generation (1946-1964) for having all too many selfish, narcissistic, greedy, uncivic-minded, myopic and, well, dishonest people. He makes his case in forthcoming book: A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America.

Consider the corruption in varying degrees of leading politicians and business leaders in the past 40 years as the Baby Boomers came to power. Look at their disinclination, compared to their parents, to participate in unpaid if admirable civic projects.

You don’t hear very much anymore of “dollar-a-year men’’ who volunteer to take onerous but crucial public-sector jobs to address a crisis. Look at their using public office to line up gargantuan payoffs  later in the private sector.

You see many more rich Boomers plastering their names on buildings, be they at colleges, museums and hospitals, compared to their parents’ generation, for whom anonymous giving was much admired. From the Gospel of Matthew, in the New Testament: "Be careful not to do 'good works' in front of others. Don't do them to be seen by others. If you do, your Father in heaven will not reward you.’’

You see something of the Baby Boomer culture in executive suites, not to mention the Oval Office. As Boomers started to take big jobs in public companies many started to display astonishing greed compared to their parents, and a disinclination to share corporate wealth with their underlings, whose inflation-adjusted wages generally have fallen over the era of Boomer hegemony.

 That is, of course, partly due to the increasing self-segregation of Americans into their own socio-economic groups.  The rich have less and less daily contact with the nonrich and so the former care less and less about the latter. There is less and less cross-class interaction.

At the same time, insider trading and other Wall Street sleaze have flourished.

For whatever combination of reasons – be it that too many Boomers were cosseted as kids or whether the media came to excessively worship wealth and conspicuous consumption –arrogance and extreme greed came to characterize much of American business under the Baby Boomers. You have to go back to the Twenties and the Gilded Age of the late 19th and very early 20th centuries to see its like.

And consider many Boomers’ lack of interest in supporting government programs for the poor and other weak  groups and their generally successful push for lower taxes even as they fight any cuts in programs that benefit, or will soon benefit, them, especially Social Security and Medicare.  And look at the popularity of eliminating the federal estate tax as affluent Boomers’ parents started go to their reward. Or their debonair attitude toward the ever-deepening federal debt that goes with lower taxes and higher spending on programs that disproportionately favor the Boomers.

Glance at America’s crumbling infrastructure -- mostly due to a refusal to pay taxes commensurate with long-term public needs – is another monument of the Boomers, too many of whom are not societal builders but users.

And it’s curious that older Baby Boomers often get credit for promoting civil rights for racial minorities, women’s and gay rights associated with the ‘60s and early ‘70s, when the people who led these movements were from the so-called Greatest Generation and Silent Generation.

And while Steve Jobs and his Silicon Valley contemporaries did come up with some nifty inventions they can’t compare in long-term importance with those  developed by the generation before them – often with the help of federal programs. Semiconductors and Internet are examples.

It is true that many Boomers became avid foes of the Vietnam War – but mostly because they didn’t want to fight in it.

Let us hope that younger folks display more civic-mindedness and generosity than their parents. Or will they just disappear into social media?

 

Chuck Collins: A commencement address for the most indebted graduates ever

 

Congratulations, college graduates! As you enter the next phase of life, you and your parents should be proud of your achievements.

But, I’m sorry to say, they’ve come at a price: The system is trying to squeeze you harder than any previous generation.

Many Baby Boomers, perhaps including your parents, benefited from a time when higher education was seen as a shared social responsibility. Between 1945 and 1975, tens of millions of them graduated from college with little or no debt.

But now, tens of millions of you are graduating with astounding levels of debt.

This year, seven in 10 graduating seniors borrowed for their educations. Their average debt is now over $37,000 — the highest figure for any class ever.

Already, some 43 percent of borrowers — together owing $200 billion — have either stopped making payments or are behind on their student loans. Millions are in default.

This debt casts a long shadow on the finances of graduates. During the last quarter of 2015 alone, the Education Department moved to garnish $176 million in wages.

There’s no economic benefit to this system whatsoever. Indebted students delay starting families and buying houses, experience compounding economic distress, and are less inclined to take entrepreneurial risks.

One driver of the change from your parents’ generation has been tax cuts for the wealthy, which have led to cuts in higher-education budgets. Forty-seven states now spend less per student on higher education than they did before the 2008-2009 recession.

In effect, we’re shifting tax obligations away from multi-millionaires and onto states and middle-income taxpayers. And that’s led colleges to rely on higher tuition costs and fees.

In 2005, for instance, Congress stopped sharing revenue from the estate tax — a levy on inherited wealth exclusively paid by multi-million dollar estates — with the states. Most state legislatures failed to replace it at the state level, costing them billions in revenue over the last decade.

In fact, the 32 states that let their estate taxes expire are foregoing between $3 to $6 billion a year, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates. The resulting tax benefits have gone entirely to multi-millionaires and billionaires — and contributed to tuition increases.

For example, California used to raise almost $1 billion a year in revenue from its state-level estate tax. Now that figure is down to zero. And since 2008, average tuition has increased over $3,500 at four-year public colleges and universities in the state.

Florida, meanwhile, lost $700 million a year — and raised tuition nearly $2,500. Michigan lost $155 million a year and hiked average tuition $2,200.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Washington State went the opposite route.

Washington taxes wealthy estates and dedicates the $150 million it raises each year to an education legacy trust account, which supports K-12 education and the state’s community college system. Other states should follow this model, and students and parents should take the lead in demanding it.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said at a Philadelphia town hall that there’s one thing that he’s 100 percent certain about:

If millions of young people stood up and said they’re “sick and tired of leaving college $30,000, $50,000, $70,000 in debt, that they want public colleges and universities tuition-free,” he predicted, “that is exactly what would happen.”

Sanders is right: Imagine a political movement made up of the 40 million householdsthat currently hold $1.2 trillion in debt.

If we stood up and pressed for policies to eliminate  tax breaks for millionaires and dedicate the revenue to debt-free education, it would change the face of America.

Graduates, let’s get to work.

Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies. 

Robert Whitcomb: Where we can win; childlessness; water wars

  The metastasizing Mideast chaos and violence have shown yet again the limitations of American power there. We’re backing and opposing groups in a fluctuating toxic religious, ethnic, tribal and national stew and frequently contradicting ourselves as we do.

Some neo-cons want us to go in with massive military intervention. We tried that. Now consider that the Sunni fanatics called ISIS use American weaponry captured from the Iraqi “army’’ to attack “Iraq’’ -- whatever that is -- an ally of longtime U.S. enemy Iran, which has joined in the melee against ISIS, even as Sunni Saudi Arabia fights its long-time foe and fellow dictatorship Shiite Iran in Yemen. And in Libya and Syria, the civil wars go on and on in permutations and combinations.

The U.S. must occasionally act quickly in the Mideast to rescue its compatriots and to protect the region’s only real democracy – Israel. But after all this time, we should know that the Mideast has so much confusion, fanaticism and corruption that a heavier U.S. role won’t make things better. The best we can do is to marginalize the region as much as possible, such as by reducing the importance of Mideast fossil fuel by turning more to renewable energy in America and Europe, while, yes, fracking for more gas and oil.

We must focus more on Europe, where a scary situation is much clearer. Our Mideast projects have dangerously diverted resources from countering the far greater threat to our interests posed by Vladimir Putin’s mobster Russian regime.

Now that it has seized Crimea from Ukraine and occupied a big slice of the eastern part of that large democracy, Putin’s fascist police state is firing off yet more threats to “protect’’ ethnic Russians in what he calls “The Russian World’’ (i.e., the old Soviet Empire) from bogus “persecution’’ by the majority population in the Baltic States and Poland -- NATO members and democracies. Latvia is coming under particularly hard Russian pressure now. Hitler used the same strategy against Czechoslovakia with the Sudeten Germans. It’s past time to re-energize NATO to thwart Russian aggressio

xxx

Regarding an April 4 New York Times story headlined “No Kids for Me, Thanks’’:

My mysterious father used to say ruefully that “your friends you can pick, your family you’re stuck with.’’ He had five children.

From observing my childless friends, I’d say that contrary to an old social cliché, they are generally happier than those who have children – so far. A simple reason: They have more money, time and freedom to do what they want.

Arthur Stone, a professor of psychiatry at Stony Brook University who’s co-authored a study comparing childless adults’ happiness and those with kids told CNN: “They {parents} have higher highs. They have more joy in their lives, but also they have more stress and negative emotions as well.’’

CNN said he found “little difference" between “the life satisfaction of parents and people without kids, once other factors -- such as income, education, religion and health -- were factored out.’’ Yes, but how do you ‘’factor out’’ income? Paying for children causes a lot of anxiety.

People tend to be more self-absorbed these days, and so less enthusiastic about sacrificing so much for, say, children. But this presents a problem that some childless Baby Boomers are already experiencing: Who will take care of them when they get really old? If they think that younger friends will feel as compelled to squire them through old age as their children, they’re in Fantasyland.

xxx 

The California dream of always-green lawns in McMansion developments in the desert is being revised as drought deepens. (Probably global warming.) The land of Silicon Valley, Cal Tech and Hollywood has more than enough intellectual firepower to address the conservation challenge. (“Dehydrated water – just add water’’?) However, don’t expect many new L.A. Basin golf courses. Californians will see more cactus and less lawn. Meanwhile, places with lots of fresh water -- e.g., New England and the Pacific Northwest – may now be in a better competitive position.

Regarding Golden State water-wars, see the movie “Chinatown’’.

 

Robert Whitcomb  (rwhitcomb51@gmail.com) oversees New England Diary. He's a partner at Cambridge Management Group (cmg625.com), a healthcare-sector consultancy, a  Fellow at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, a former finance editor of the International Herald Tribune, a former editorial-page editor and a vice president at The Providence Journal and a former editor at The Wall Street Journal. 

 

James P. Freeman: 1965: A very consequential year

  “But yes I think it can be very easily done”

                                                --Bob Dylan, “Highway 61 Revisited”

 

Given the Baby Boomers’ irrational reverence for everything 1960s — incense, peppermints and the like -- give them their due for recalling the golden anniversary of a truly momentous year: 1965.

Camelot faded and from innocence bled armaments when the first combat troops (3,500 Marines) were dispatched in March; by November the Pentagon informed President Lyndon Johnson that it needed 400,000 personnel to vanquish the Viet Cong. Thus the stain of Vietnam became the defining event for a generation of Americans.

But the ‘60s were more than the turbulence of war. In fact, 1965 would have been memorable for casting a postmodern panorama: The Social Security Amendments (Medicare and Medicaid); The Voting Rights Act; The Immigration and Nationality Act; the first flights of Project Gemini space program; the closing of the Second Vatican Council (from which emerged three future popes); Casey Stengel’s retirement from baseball after 56 years; and television’s debut of jazz-tinged A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Hurricane Betsy, with winds of 145 mph, roared by New Orleans, killing 76, and became the first hurricane to cause a billion dollars in damage. The Gateway Arch was completed in St. Louis. Bob Dylan went electric at Newport and the Beatles went to Shea Stadium in New York. Rebellion occurred in Watts and demonstrations in Selma.

However, three unrelated, but monumental, developments — all within six weeks of each other — meant that 1965 would be the most consequential year of  20th Century American history as a predictor of the cultural, political and technological condition of early 21st Century America: the  The Moynihan Report, passage of The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and publication of Moore’s Law.

Known formally as “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” it was authored by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then assistant secretary of labor, and, later, one of the Senate’s greatest thinkers. Originally labeled “For Office Use Only,” but released in March, it focused on the roots of black poverty in America.

Describing a “tangle of pathology,” he wrote that “expansion of welfare programs... can be taken as a measure of the steady disintegration of the Negro family structure over the past generation.” Absence of a “nuclear family” would hinder progress towards economic and political equality.

With pedagogic prescience, Moynihan illuminated the idea that such disintegration would beget social and cultural regression. In 1965, it was estimated that 23.6 percent of black children and just 3.07 percent of white children were born to single mothers. Today, those rates have been far exceeded (72 percent of black children; 29 percent of white children).

In 2012, ominously, 1,609,619 children were born to unmarried women, ushering a massive new generation reliant on civic altruism and government support. The long term ramifications are unknown but such instability is unprecedented and may help explain polarizing gaps in the normalcy of upward mobility.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was signed into law by President Johnson on Palm Sunday, April 11, a mere three months after being proposed, and is today in its ninth iteration (No Child Left Behind). At the time, it was the most expansive federal education bill -- an arena once the exclusive province of state and local educators.

Some have suggested that it marked the last time the federal government would consider any matter exempt from federal intrusion. Anything could be a constitutional imperative. It spawned the Department of Education and, more recently, Common Core State Standards Initiative. Fundamentally, it legitimized, if not anticipated, the largesse of Obamacare.

Today, the federal government allocates about $141 billion for education and, since 1965, over $267 billion has been spent to assist states in educating disadvantaged children. Despite requiring a “culture of accountability,” achievement is stagnant. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, reading proficiency of 17-year-olds has remained flat since the early 1970s.

On April 19, in the trade journal “Electronics” appeared a seminal essay, “Cramming More Components onto Integrated Circuits.” Dr. Gordon Moore, schooled in physical sciences rather than electronics, unwittingly changed the course of computing. He noticed processing speeds for clusters of transistors — the electronic engines of computers -- were effectively doubling every two years. He reasoned that such trends would continue through 1975. Remarkably, in 2015, his “lucky extrapolation” -- what became known as “Moore’s Law” -- is still relatively intact and nearly a self-fulfilling prophesy.

 

Americans today can trace the seemingly urgent, relentlessly constant, pace of technological change to Moore. Silicon Valley considers it a social contract, a driver of improvement. Before Moore’s observations, it was challenging to fabricate a single silicon transistor. Now, state-of-the-art advancements produce 1.5 billion transistors on a single wafer. Engineering scientists are conducting research in “self-assembly polymer molecules” and extreme ultraviolet lithography in order to extend the law.

 

Michael S. Malone, without a hint of hyperbole, concluded in his book, The Intel Trinity: “It has been said that if in 1965 you had looked into the future using any traditional predictive tool — per capita income, life expectancy, demographics, geopolitical forces, et cetera — none would have been as effective a prognosticator, none a more accurate lens into the future than Moore’s Law.”

 

In his State of the Union address on Jan. 4  of that year, Johnson envisioned a “Great Society” whereby “society will not flower spontaneously from swelling riches and surging power.” Fifty years later, with 1965 as a catalyst, that society is largely realized.

 

James P. Freeman is a Cape Cod-based writer

John O. Harney: New England vs. demographics

  BOSTON

“The Great Recession and not-so-great recovery applies to all of us.”

That was University of Southern Maine professor Charlie Colgan’s  remark at at the New England Economic Partnership (NEEP) conference Oct. 13 as he noted that Maine was just two-thirds of the way back to pre-recession employment levels.

The  New England forecasts at the Fall Economic Outlook conference were  generally cautiously optimistic, sprinkled with the expressed and implied NEEP mantra: “Having said that, I could be wrong.”

It may be the dismal science, but it’s an experiment you're part of every time you go to work or buy anything.

“What is relatively unique in New England is the region’s demographics—with a rapidly aging population and steep declines in young adult population threatening the region’s workforce skills and education advantage,” said New England Forecast Manager Ross Gittell, chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire.

In Maine, for example, Baby Boomers and their children simply had fewer babies, so all of Maine’s added population in the next 40 years will come from in-migration, but the big sources of that in-migration—Vermont and New Hampshire—are also shrinking, said Colgan. Will productivity increase enough to keep Maine and New England competitive?

Gittell and others joked that given the demography, the region should have focused on under-18 housing instead of over-65 housing.

Colgan noted that ship and boatbuilding have returned to Maine as a major industry (thanks to more destroyers  being built at Bath Iron Works) and natural-resource industries have returned, in a sense, with Lincoln Logs coming back to Maine from China.

Colgan, by the way, is one of the professors let go recently by the University of Southern Maine—part of a higher-education disinvestment story that may say more about the future of the New England economy than any other layoff tracked by NEEP.

He warned that people in Maine see the loss of old-economy jobs such as the impending closure of the Verso paper mill in Bucksport as a tragedy, while they view the laying off of intellectuals at USM, who may be “from away” (though Colgan’s not) as a win for taxpayers.

Among tidbits from the other NEEP forecast managers:

Fairfield University professor emeritus Edward Deak noted that just 60 percent of Connecticut jobs lost during the recession have been regained in the Land of Steady Habits. No one knows whether they are as good as the jobs they’re replacing. What is clear in Connecticut, said Deak, is that “the well-to-do are doing very well.”

Connecticut has the sixth-oldest population in the U.S., though many people over age 65 are leaving the state after retiring. In retail, more purchases are being made via the Internet by working women with young children; fewer at the malls, Deak said, adding that when you look at Connecticut skylines, you don’t see any cranes. It’s all work on old buildings.

Bryant University assistant professor Edinaldo Tebaldi seemed relieved that Rhode Island is no longer first in unemployment; now it’s third. But this “gain” is associated with shrinking of the labor force, and the number of jobs is still below pre-recession levels.

New Hampshire has gone the other direction. Center for Public Policy Studies economist Dennis Delay said New Hampshire had been outperforming New England and U.S. job growth especially in early '80s, but is no longer the superstar. He showed 2012 migrants by higher educational attainments: lots of graduate or professional degrees among the foreign-born, but also many without a high school diploma. Delay noted that New Hampshire ranks high in indicators of home ownership, voter turnout and low welfare costs, but also high in student debt and low in growth of people ages 25-44—so-called wealth-building years.

 

Vermont economist Jeff Carr noted that about 90 percent of jobs  there lost during the recession had been recovered—second in New England to Massachusetts, which has fully recovered jobs. Vermont is difficult to analyze because the job totals in each sector are small. But that small size adds to anxiety about the loss of a few-hundred highly paid jobs at the closing Vermont Yankee nuke; as well as perpetual concern about IBM because its decisions are made in Armonk, N.Y. Carr also cited the importance of Vermont’s food industry, including craft brewers. (The  same day, the Vermont Foodbank reported that one-quarter of Vermont's citizens don't know where their next meal is coming from.)

Carr joked that he is in favor of financial-services bonuses in New York City and Boston because they boost Vermont's sizable second-home economy.

According to the New England regional forecast, prepared by Gittell, the regional economy will continue to see growth rates below the national average. The NEEP forecast is that total employment growth will average 1.3 percent a  year—and all the New England states are projected to have employment growth below the national average over the forecast period out to 2018.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, opened the conference with a presentation on the U.S. Economic Outlook. In a year or so, growth in gross regional product could go from 3% to 4 percent fueled partly by more housing, including pent-up demand among millennials who have been renting. The economist, and increasingly visible TV pundit, contended that financial aspects of economy are in great shape, especially high-income households. Middle-incomes households are still encumbered by debt, he said, but the high end does most of the spending, “though I’m not arguing economy can flourish without everyone participating,” said Zandi.

Phew. He told of his son majoring in philosophy. (Reminded me of the founder of one of the nation’s leading career-oriented online providers confiding that his child was majoring in sociology on a traditional campus.)

Despite Zandi’s general optimism, the risks include interest rates and a mélange of global issues, Zandi noted, adding that even Ebola could undermine traveling and spending (may not be rational to be so concerned about it, but people are). In response to a question, Zandi said he doesn’t think income and wealth inequality is a big issue in a given year, compared with the lack of labor. No one’s going to be writing a book about income inequality soon, he said. Really?

In his keynote address, former Maine Gov. John E. Baldacci, now at the law firm of Pierce Atwood, cited the importance of energy and exports in the region’s economic future. He hailed natural gas as the foundation fuel, while the region works toward renewables, including solar, tidal and wood.

He tied exports to tourism, noting that the owner of New Balance sneakers was introduced to Maine via ski vacations, where he was treated well, then announced plans to open plants in the state.

In a concluding panel, William Guenther, chair and CEO of Mass Insight, boasted: “Massachusetts has benefited for years from the talent cluster that we have offered business.” He noted, however, that technology-focused jobs are growing in such areas as big data analytics, cybersecurity, and computer sciences, but the state is not producing enough college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) to keep up with demand from business. "Jobs will always come to where the talent is,” said Guenther.

Jobs also go where there’s energy work. The state and Canadian province with the most explosive job sectors are oil- and gas-rich North Dakota and Alberta.

John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education, the online publication of the New  England Board of Higher Education (nebhe.org), where this column originated.

 

 

Robert Whitcomb: Trying to corner time

As our electronic “communication” devices spin us around, we sometimes feel that we’re losing what little grasp we had of our individual pasts as they recede ever more rapidly behind us. The attention-deficit disorder intensified by mobile devices, wishful thinking about multitasking and our fear of what self-reflection can dredge up have led to a growing feeling that we’re going through life in a daze, with less and less understanding of how we came to be the people we are. (And psychoanalysis is far too expensive.)

Life is brief enough without so much of it disappearing into a false-urgency fog of text messages, and we too often confuse mere activity with achievement and progress.

In the early 20th century, Marcel Proust, in a fraught but much slower era than ours, strove to recapture, through literature, emotions, sensory perceptions and thoughts as they were experienced in the past. It was a way of justifying his life and fending off a sense of waste. It wasn’t exactly a search for immortality, but a first cousin.

And consider the new movie “Boyhood,” by director Richard Linklater, filmed in “real time” from when a boy named Mason (played by Ellar Coltrane) is 6 until he’s 18. The movie is about how time changes and doesn’t change us.

Then there’s Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s long autobiographical novel “My Struggle” (“Min Kamp” in Norwegian). As Simon Prosser wrote in The Guardian, Mr. Knausgaard’s book collapses “the wall between author and writer as you live his life alongside him” since his youth. He is trying to corral the horses of memory before they run off and disappear. After all, we are our memories. (That “My Struggle” is also the English name of Hitler’s hideous book, “Mein Kampf,” has aroused anger; Mr. Knausgaard seems to have merely sought to grab readers’ attention with the title.)

Another notable attempt to recapture time is the work of W.G. Sebald, the late German writer, with its eerily oblique references to World War II and the Holocaust.

Are many people pushing back against the accelerating speed and hyper-complication of modern life as they feel their histories evaporating? Will they try to live more fully in the present moment so that they have richer pasts to remember? Text me your answer ... .

A new book called “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” by Greg McKeown, might help us push back.

***

“You have been given the choice between war and dishonor. You have chosen dishonor, and you will have war.”

So said Winston Churchill, in 1938, referring to British and French attempts to appease Hitler at the Munich Conference.

The West may finally be seriously confronting revanchist Russia, run by a brutal, cynical and kleptocratic dictator. Vladimir Putin, by seizing Crimea — part of Ukraine, a large and sovereign European nation! — and continuing to attack this neighbor, has even more clearly shown himself to be a duplicitous tyrant. Ignore his regime’s Joseph Goebbels-style propaganda.

Myopic and rather decadent Western Europe, tied far too tightly to Russia’s largest industry, fossil fuel, would suffer a bit (though far less than the Kremlin) by taking strong measures against Russian aggression. But it would suffer much more if it continued its appeasement, based to no small degree on wishful thinking.

Slash trade with Russia and give all practical military and intelligence aid to Ukraine (no, not troops on the ground) so it can properly defend itself. Or wait until Putin starts terrorizing Poland and the Baltic Republics.

I’ll bet Ukrainians wish they had joined NATO.

***

The suburban office parks that started to go up in the 1950s in the golden age of the automobile and cheap gasoline, are, like suburban malls and big-box stores, generally boring and sterile places, with forgettable knock-off Modernist or Post-Modernist architecture and vast parking lots. Most have not aged well.

But as part of a growing desire, especially among young adults and Baby Boomers, to live in places with a greater sense of community and more convenience than suburban tracts, developers are turning some old office parks into mixed-used complexes with housing, retail, office and even (in few places) light manufacturing. In other words, turning them into new villages. I thought of this when driving around the Boston area lately and reading Jay Fitzgerald’s July 27 Boston Globe story, “Developers take steps to reinvent suburban office parks.”

Some of the office parks’ buildings can be fairly easily retrofitted for new uses, and some of the parking lots replaced by buildings and green space. Much of the success of this reinvention will depend on getting more public transportation, more space for bikes — and golf carts.

Robert Whitcomb oversees New England Diary.

Roz Chast on 'Being, Nothingness,' etc.

chast  

From the show "Being, Nothingness and Much, Much More: Roz Chast, Beyond The New Yorker,'' at the Bruce Museum, in Greenwich, Conn., through Oct. 19.

Ms. Chast is  best known a cartoonist for The New  Yorker but she is also a distinguished writer. Her latest book, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury, 2014), deals with her aged parents -- a topic of great interest and often exasperation for Baby Boomers who are dealing with such people even as they slide and stagger into old age themselves.

The arts, Alzheimer's and Boomers

 

By BERNA HUEBNER

A way to help Boomers who get dementia does exist. The power of the arts to improve the quality of life of people with Alzheimer’s  disease and to help them connect and reconnect with their families is just beginning to be understood.
A film, which has been described by people in the field as groundbreaking, describes how the worlds of art, science and medicine intersect. It addresses the critical discourse on Alzheimer’s care with far-reaching implications for Baby Boomers, who are reaching the age when they might develop Alzheimer’s.
The documentary is called I Remember Better When I Paint (the trailer is at irememberbetterwhenipaint.com). It is narrated by Olivia de Havilland and provides powerful examples, including that of Rita Hayworth as told by her daughter Yasmin Aga Khan, of how families and other caregivers can use the creative arts to help people with Alzheimer’s. It also includes interviews with neurologists who explain the science behind these hopeful stories. Neurologists in the film explain that parts of the brain related to emotions and creative expression are spared to a large extent. These areas can be stimulated through exposure to the arts.
We hope that this film will help change the way people look at Alzheimer’s.
In her review Gail Sheehy says “It shows an entirely new pathway for engaging with a loved one you thought was lost.”
Berna G Huebner
Director, The Hilgos Foundation, Highland Park, Illinois
Co-Directors of the Film: Eric Ellena and Berna G. Huebner

Baby Boomers as shut-ins; Gees' infernal groves of academe

couple

By ROBERT WHITCOMB
(rwhitcomb4@cox.net or rwhitcomb51@gmail.com)

Will America soon get more realistic about the “Silver Tsunami” of Baby Boomers heading into old age? So far, the nation’s policymakers have mostly been in denial, though it’s probably the biggest fiscal and social challenge of the next few decades in America and Western Europe.

But then, most Boomers themselves have been in deep denial. Many have not saved nearly enough money. They might have been lulled into complacency by seeing how many of their parents, beneficiaries of historical luck, have lived comfortably on old-fashioned defined-benefit pensions (and Social Security), which many of them started enjoying upon remarkably early retirements.

Some of the oldest Boomers — those born in the late 1940s — have those traditional pensions; most of the younger ones will have to settle for, at the most, 401(k)s. Meanwhile, most Boomers underestimate how much ill health will beset them as they age.

But there are even bigger problems. Consider how dispersed America (capital of anomie) has become. As always, many families with children break up as couples divorce — though more and more the couples don’t get married in the first place — and people move far away from “home” to seek jobs or better weather, or are just restless. This leads to a sharp decline (accelerated by modern birth control) in the number of large but close-knit families. At the same time, there has been a huge increase in the number of younger families where only a very harried mother, who may well never have been married, is the sole parent in place, amidst a societal emphasis on “self-actualization” above family and civic duties. All these factors mean that a lot of old people won’t have the family supports enjoyed by previous generations of old people, even as they generally live longer, albeit with chronic illnesses.

There are, of course, retirement communities, with some of the high-end ones set up like country clubs. The better ones have gradations of care, from independence, within a rather tight if safe community, organized by for-profit or nonprofit organizations, to “assisted living,” which usually involves residing in an apartment and getting help with some daily tasks, and, last, the nursing-home wing for those who have slipped into full-scale dementia or are otherwise disabled.

But plenty of people can’t afford to live in a retirement community.

More realistic and pleasant for many folks are such organizations as the Beacon Hill Village model, in Boston. In this, for hundreds of dollars a year in dues you become part of a formal network of old people (and thus indirectly the networks of their families and friends) and get such services as easy access to transportation, shopping, some health-care connections and trips to cultural events. The central idea is to let people “age in place” — to stay in their homes as long as possible.

Of course, most old people eventually get very sick and end up in the hospital and/or nursing home. But the Beacon Hill approach is attractive — if you can afford the dues.

The fact is that most oldsters will have to create their own informal networks of family and friends to help look after each other as their mobility declines. And in the end, the majority must depend on family members, if they can find them. So often, obituaries report that the recent decedent was at the time of demise in some strange place with no seeming link to his or her past. It’s very often the community where a child — more often a daughter — has been living. As Robert Frost said: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” “They” generally means a relative, not a friend.

Until then, will you have enough loyal friends to look after you when you get really old? You’d better make sure that your pals include some folks too young to live in retirement communities.

***

Hurrah for “Higher Education: Marijuana at the Mansion,” Constance Bumgarner Gee’s well-written memoir. Most of the self-published book is about her time as the wife of the very driven, peripatetic and big-spending E. Gordon Gee, who has led the University of Colorado, West Virginia University (twice), Ohio State University (twice) and Brown University, where he had the tough luck to succeed the much-liked  and world-class hugger Vartan Gregorian, who had gone on to run the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

There’s lots of, by turns, hilarious and sad personal stuff in the book — about her sometimes bizarre relationship with her immensely well-paid and workaholic husband, the silly controversy about her using marijuana to treat her Meniere’s disease, her love of her riverfront house in Westport, Mass., and her ambivalent attitude toward her native South. But best is her vivid portrayal of university boards and administrations these days.

It’s not a pretty picture. The social climbing, empire-building, brand obsession, backstabbing and money-grubbing don’t present many good civic models for today’s students. The  stuff at Brown was bad; it was much worse at Vanderbilt in Mrs. Gee's story. Big universities are starting to look like New York City hedge funds whose partners are driven to build ever bigger houses to show off to each other in East Hampton.

Now to reread Mary McCarthy's novel "The Groves of Academe''.

Robert Whitcomb (rwhitcomb51@gmail.com), a former editor of The Providence Journal's editorial pages,  is a Providence-based editor and writer.