‘Generational’ accusations are nearly always wrong

Jim Tankersley really strikes out in his column yesterday. He levels the charge that the Baby Boom generation has somehow put the nation into unsustainable debt and calls them, only half-jokingly, “parasites.”

As a member of Generation X, I used to enjoy some good-ol’ hating on the Baby Boomers, but it turns out that such generational finger-pointing is really silly. The prime exhibit offered in defense of the parasite charge is a comparison between federal debt as a share of GDP in 1965 and 2012. It’s 37.9 percent in 1965 and 74.2 percent in 2012 so, voila! Parasites!

Here’s a similar chart. Look closely at what happened between 1965 and 2007—debt held by the public is lower in 2007 than 1965. So, the charge must be somehow that the Baby Boomers’ mooching in the past five years is the real culprit, right?

Or, more likely, some very large economic event happened between 2007 and 2012 that caused Federal borrowing to rise. What could that have been? Oh yeah, the Great Recession.

And this one is hard to hang on the entire Baby Boom generation.

As a general rule, if you find yourself blaming large macroeconomic trends on the moral failings of entire generations … you are surely barking up the wrong tree.