Letter to a Mayor…

It’s autumn so it’s timely to let a weathered leaf from the  season of our life drift into the summer of another’s – in this case New Plymouth Mayor, Neil Holdom.

Some time ago he described baby boomers as ‘ the most selfish generation’. And then on Facebook and presumably a few other places,  he apologised.  His j’accuse was similar to comments  by any of the critics of boomers, some so young they could pass for the grandchildren of the first boomer cohort.

Holdom said he had made the comment deliberately, to be provocative and start a conversation, and added that there were things about baby boomers that he appreciated. Here’s what he reportedly said (below).

“We owe a hell of a lot to baby boomers. They are possibly the hardest working generation and incredibly innovative, gifting my generation a life many never dreamed could be possible. And we are grateful.”  See? He didn’t really mean it.

But… he went on to say boomers were repeatedly asking for more services as they transitioned into retirement; that they had a ‘massive concentration of wealth accumulating with the boomers’;  that we had collectively applied political power to ensure no mainstream political party would introduce a tax on capital gains; that we had enjoyed a free education and sold off many public assets.

Well Neil, you wanted to start a conversation so here’s my penny’s worth. You   lumped all babyboomers together when in fact they arrived in three waves,   beginning in 1946 and ending in 1965. New Zealand, Australia and Canada were countries with a strong emphasis on the concept of children as an asset to the nation at that time. And our Department of Statistics calculated that 1.125 million babies were born here in that period – 77% more than in the 20 years before the baby boom, ending in the early 1960s.

Each of the kids in these cohorts had very different experiences from each other but we all enjoyed the benefits of a munificent welfare state in which education and pretty much everything else was free.  It was what our elders wanted for us  – and later for themselves in their old age. Who would see anything amiss about  having world class health care or free education?

What passes for society now is an indication of how far we have drifted from those ideals. But boomers didn’t trash the Welfare State. David Lange’s  governments began that and National is still trying to finish it off.  Nobody can speak for one million Kiwis. But my bet is that few boomers wanted to see a  cohesive society replaced by the con of a free market – all of this without their mandate.

And yes we did protest, as we did in the 1960s. We protested against a new alien state  selling assets we already owned, under an ideology which world-wide has hurt just about every society in which it was implemented.

We protested full stop, but along the way Neil, you will realise that over time we married, had families, and bought yes, much cheaper homes – but at punishing mortgage interest rates. That those homes escalated so rapidly in value was the   fault of  the open door immigration decisions of both Labour and National – not us.

The protests our generation launched led to changes in attitudes to women, to  war, to sex, to the environment and to Maori. That’s called social progress and  boomers led the way.

But you might be right about that word selfish – if it was aimed at the greed and   damaging individualism of today’s market economy

Share this:
Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.