Ken Connor

“Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.” Psalms 71:9 ESV

“You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:32 ESV

In Christopher Buckley’s 2007 novel Boomsday, a charismatic 20-something with a generational ax to grind and an ambitious politician pair up to campaign for government-sanctioned suicide of the “resource hogging” Baby Boomer generation. The en masse retirement of Boomers threatens to sabotage the financial future of America’s working-age citizens. Cast in the same take-no-prisoners, satirical vein as his novel-turned-blockbuster hit Thank You For Smoking, Boomsday addresses the very real, very imminent financial and demographic crisis facing America.

Writing for Real Clear Politics in 2007, columnist Robert Samuelson explained why Boomsday strikes such a chord with Boomers and Millennials alike:

“Buckley’s comic tale revolves around two truths usually buried in our dreary budget debates. First, a generational backlash is inevitable. It may not come as attacks on sunbathing retirees, but the idea that younger workers will meekly bear the huge tax increases needed to pay all boomers’ promised benefits is delusional. The increases are too steep, and too many boomers – fairly wealthy and healthy – will seem undeserving.”

It’s certainly difficult to muster much sympathy for the retirement concerns of the Boomers with visions of “sunbathing retirees” dancing in our heads, but it’s worth considering the broader question of how society’s changing view of the elderly throughout the years has contributed to this Great Divide between generations.

There was a time, believe it or not, when the question of finding someone to support the needs of the elderly in their twilight years of life wasn’t a question at all, but a duty embraced by family and community. Before the advent of the modern welfare state (and the corresponding shift from an extended family to a nuclear family model as the social norm), it was understood that aging relatives would be cared for by family, often with the support of community associations like churches or civic groups. The elderly were not viewed as “burdens” or “resource hogs,” but rather as venerated members of the family – depositories of great wisdom to whom the highest respect and honor were owed. Thus, the extra work required to support these elderly relatives was not considered extraordinary, unjust or unfair.

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.