We boomers are leaving a toxic legacy
We need to feel guilty because the poisoned bequest we are leaving behind us stems from our own neglect. We can blame politicians, who are usually in the crosshairs when things go wrong. And some – not all – should take some of the rap. But the charge of neglect can’t come to rest only on them. The relative ease of living for post-war generations in affluent democracies has been the outcome of an implicit collective agreement not to disturb conditions in which living standards increased, choice widened, societies became more permissive, security was guaranteed by U.S. hegemony and state benefits became, mostly, more generous.
The list of our negative bequests is a melancholy and frightening one, usually put aside with a sigh and a passing frisson of dread. That frisson has lingered recently because one element in the legacy, security guaranteed by nuclear weapons, feels less secure given reports that North Korea is now developing nuclear missiles that can strike the United States and much of Europe - as well, of course, as the U.S. allies of South Korea and Japan.
North Korea is not the only nuclear danger. In an alarming commentary, former U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry wrote that Russia is “well underway” in its nuclear rebuilding program and that the threat of nuclear catastrophe is greater than during the Cold War.
Nuclear annihilation is the largest of the malignant possibilities we have failed to address. Government debt is less dramatic, but steadily narrows the future economic choices available. To give the citizens in countries covered by welfare states the ability to buy cars, engage in travel and indulge in other leisure pursuits along with the necessities of life, most Western states have taken on huge public debts.
Wolfgang Schauble, the controversial outgoing German Finance Minister widely seen as the architect of austerity in the European Union, has warnedthat “the growth of public and private debt” constituted a very large risk – a fear echoed by the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde.
The world’s ecology gets no better, and may get worse – as President Trump announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change in June.
A study from MIT in August warned of “deadly heat waves” hitting India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, causing “devastation” within a few decades, if carbon emissions are not reduced. That would unleash a flight of refugees that would make the present one pale in comparison.
We’ve become used to learning of breakthroughs in the treatment of disease and chronic conditions, and the eradication, or substantial diminution, of feared diseases like polio. But new infectious diseases are erupting more frequently, spreading more quickly, and evading treatment more efficiently.
These and other fundamental threats demand strong government responses, but governments, especially in democracies, are weaker.
Post-war generations, especially the “boomers” (my own) have let the good times roll for too long. If that sounds unduly pessimistic in the face of continuing advances in many fields, neglectful of the fact that bad stuff always happens but the world continues, then reflect on the triggers – the list could be expanded - whose pulling could precipitate disaster.
*This abrigde article is taken from Reuters