When Cassandra Cohane, 17, won admission to Yale University, she believed that her years of power-studying had paid off. Wrong. Her father had sunk her college savings into a dot-com. With the money gone, Frank Cohane suggested that his daughter enlist in the military to pay her tuition. Twelve years and one name change later, Cassandra Devine is an angry blogger who, hopped up on Red Bull, NoDoze and Nicorette gum, incites riots at golf courses and gated communities as Gen Wers (members of Generation Whatever) protest the massive financial burden they carry in order to maintain the Un-Greatest Generation -- my generation -- in the style to which it has become accustomed.
That's the setup for Christopher Buckley's satirical novel "Boomsday." Boomsday, the novel tells us, is a term economists use for the date when America's Baby Boomers begin to retire. Or, as Devine sees it: "Mountainous debt, a deflating economy, and 77 million people retiring. The perfect economic storm."
While the novel does not tell readers the exact year in which Devine's blogging causes an uproar, in real life, Boomsday is a mere months away.
According to Harry Zeeve of the bipartisan budget watchdog group The Concord Coalition, Boomsday falls some time next year, as the first Baby Boomers become eligible for early retirement at age 62 in 2008.
Things will only get worse. The Concord Coalition figures that by 2018, Social Security will spend more than it takes in. (Medicare already spends more than it takes in.) In 1960, there were 5.1 workers for every one retiree. Today the ratio is 3.3 to one. By 2040, it will shrink to 2.1 to one.
In "Boomsday," the Bank of Tokyo, for the first time ever, declines to buy new-issue U.S. Treasury bonds. A Concord Coalition chart shows how the percentage of public debt owned by foreigners has risen from 17 percent in 1987 to half in 2006. ("They don't have to stop buying our debt," Zeeve told me. "They only have to slow the rate at which they're buying our debt for us to start to feel it.") Economic collapse and generational warfare follow.
Washington responds by raising payroll taxes -- to 30 percent of payroll on workers under age 35. With the super-sized deficit serving as Gen-W's Vietnam, young workers burn their Social Security cards in protest.
Devine proposes that America balance federal finances by promoting "Voluntary Transitioning" -- that is, have the government offer tax incentives for seniors who kill themselves by age 75. Her idea of a successful government program is a Voluntary Transitioning Center with a "Welcome Seniors" banner out front.
The book is funny. Reality isn't.