Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Baby Boomers – Stop Apologising!

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Update: Now Matthew Parris has joined other middle-class writers having a go at Baby Boomers in his piece headlined “Fight back youngsters. Gran is mugging you” in the Times (15 June 2013). Just because a young teenage conservative had a go at him at a speaking engagement he felt the need to publicise David Willetts’ book on how the baby boomers stole their children’s future.

It’s a load of rubbish if you think about it as it was the politicians who sold our gold, allowed banks to oversell about every financial product they produced, and generally f*!*!*d us over.

He says 2/3 of benefits goes to pensioners, not migrants or the unemployed. I object to calling our pensions benefits as baby boomers worked all their lives to earn that pension and then have to pay tax on it!

Needless to say there was a backlash in the letters column the following week. One correspondent echoed my own sentiments telling the young to “stop bleating, toughen up and get on with it”. There was also a pice by a columnist in one of the Sunday papers (I’ve mislaid the article) also rebutting Parris’s piece by referring to her own elderly parents and how they were coping with life in austerity Britain on their pensions..

Original post

There has been a spate of stories over the last couple of years about how lucky baby boomers are and how they make it difficult for the current generation.

I’m sick of hearing it, and of people like Jeremy Paxman moaning about his “shame” about causing the next generation to suffer.

So when I read Valerie Grove’s piece in the Times today I thought at last someone biting back.

Do you think baby boomers ie those born in the aftermath of the second world war, had it easy? Well we didn’t.

We didn’t have a free NHS until 1948 and women had to pay for ante-natal care for their babies.

We might have had free school milk and orange juice but as Grove reminds us we had sweet rationing until 1953.

P1000931In fact rationing was worse after the war as the country struggled to recover. Bread rationing was introduced in 1946 (until 1948) and potato rationing a year later after the deep snow and hard frost in the Winter of 1946/7 destroyed crops and the ground was so hard that farmers had to use pickaxes and pneumatic drills to get vegetables out of the ground.

P1000933When it eventually thawed accompanied by severe storms many houses were flooded and destroyed and Canada was sending us food parcels!

Clothes rationing was stopped in 1949, petrol rationing in 1949, sweets and sugar rationing in1953 and met and all other food rationing ended in the Summer of 1954.

She was right about Xmas presents too: a book, often an annual, and a tangerine was typical.

Large school classes sitting in rows with the brightest at the back. No political correctness about upsetting less bright pupils. And regular visits from nit nurses.

One pair of shoes, darned socks. A pair of pumps for PE if you were lucky otherwise bare feet. NHS glasses in brown or pink frames (before they were considered trendy). Designer clothes? More likely grandma’s needlework and knitting.

We might have had the run of the nearby country side if we were lucky but we also had poor air quality with smog, so thick you couldn’t see 10 yards in front of you, (before smoke control legislation was introduced in 1956 & 1968) contributing to premature deaths.

You probably had more chance of a job when you left school at sixteen (fifteen if you weren’t at a grammar or high school) but wages were low. Clerical jobs in the public sector started at £250 – a year. OK you were included in the pension scheme when you were 18 but in those days public sector pay was lower than the private sector even at the top. None of the inflated salaries paid to CEOs in the public sector nowadays

Twenty years later we had an economic crisis following the closure of the Suez canal and dock strikes and the then PM Harold Wilson devalued the pound famously saying that the pound in your pocket would stay the same, and it would put an end to a “boom and bust economy” (so Gordon Brown didn’t make up that phrase!). And even 30 years on it wasn’t much better. Wages were still low and inflation high. We’d had the terrible Winter of 1973.

Getting a mortgage wasn’t easy – you had to have at least 10% deposit and if your wife worked you might be lucky to have part of her salary taken into account but women have babies and were expected to give up work. Even teachers and nurses.

And 60 years on many baby boomers are part of the sandwich generation. Still supporting their own children and in many cases caring for their own longer-living parents.

Baby boomers’ grandparents probably lived to see their grandchildren grow up and maybe have children of their own. Today’s generation will be lucky if they have any grandparents alive when they grow up and get married as  their parents often put children on hold for their careers and they themselves get married later. So something else for them to moan about when they don’t have built-in baby-sitters.

And the thing that really annoys me is the young generation’s sense of entitlement. That just wasn’t part of the equation for baby boomers. If you wanted something you worked hard for it, studied at night school unless you were one of the lucky minority to go to university, and worked two jobs. There was no bank of Mummy and Daddy. Stress was unheard of.

Baby boomers have probably lived through the greatest period of social change in modern times. We enjoyed the sixties through music and the freedom to dress up a bit, although it wasn’t all sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll by any means. Not everyone had a car or even a telephone, and foreign holidays and package tours were unheard of for most people until the sixties.

Many of us have final salary pensions – something available to fewer people now due in part to companies not topping up pension pots when things were going well, and deciding they could no longer afford them when times were hard, and thanks in no small part to the government turning a blind eye to greedy bankers who made sure they were well set up for their retirement.

So all I’m saying is we worked hard all our lives, paid taxes on modest salaries, had to make do without, saved for our retirement by having a mortgaged house, receive a poor state pension (the worst in Europe by a long way and half that of the Netherlands, the next lowest) and a modest occupational pension if we are lucky.

So if you think that’s unfair? Tough, get over it. We had to.

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France miserable? c’est la vie

Sacrebleu! France is the most miserable country in the world.

According to the Global Barometer of Hope and Despair for 2011 life is looking grim for many Europeans but the French are the most pessimistic.

Iceland was the second most pessimistic followed by Romania, Serbia and the UK in joint third place (some people say the French have always been a melancholic race but we seem to have followed them since our latest recession).

Pascal Bruckner, a philosopher, was quoted in the Times as saying that France had a tradition of self-flagellation but was concerned that; ” the better we live, the more we complain” and that France was wallowing in “le miserabilisme”.  A French newspaper, La Croix, said that; “The French are the European champions of the bad mood”.

The most optimistic countries were Nigeria, Vietnam, Brazil, Ghana, and China.

The survey asked a sample of 64,00 from all social groups in 53 countries, whether they felt optimistic or pessimistic about 2011. The percentage of optimists and pessimists were then subtracted from each other to show whether that country was hopeful or pessimistic. Globally 30% expect 2011 to be a year of prosperity and 28% expect it to be a year of economic difficulty – so the net Global Hope score is 2%. But of the 53 countries only 19 can be classified as hopeful whilst the rest are pessimistic.

Global hope is highly concentrated among the rising economic powers of Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the BRIC countries) which have a Hope score of 35%. In sharp contrast the score for the rich countries of the world known as the G7 (USA, Canada, Germany, France, UK, Italy, and Japan) is a negative score of -17%.

The survey also looked at per capita income in each country and found that most of the countries high on income were low on hope and the most hopeful countries were those lowest in income.  But 20 of the 53 countries fall into the category of both low income and low hope. These countries include many of the former soviet republics such as Ukraine, Latvia, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, and Lithuania, as well as Egypt, Turkey and Bosnia

By contrast there is a small group of countries which had both a high per capita income and a high hope score. These were Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Switzerland.

These countries have been in the limelight before. Finland has been judged the best country in the world, followed by Switzerland and Sweden, and one of the top countries people would like to live in, along with Sweden and Denmark. It’s scandinavian neighbour Denmark has been judged to have the most satisfied populace, followed by Switzerland and with Finland and Sweden both not far behind. There is definitely something to be said about these Nordic countries but Norway must feel left out.

Updated 30 January 2011: To add to France’s woes President Sarcozy is proposing that French schoolchildren are taught English from an early age! The President is well-known for his love of Anglo-saxon culture and now wants to teach the “language of Shakespeare” to toddlers.

Right wing intellectuals are up in arms reminding everyone that de Gaulle never spoke a word of English in public (but we know what an ungrateful so-and-so he was) and that another former President, Jacques Chirac (currently in a spot of trouble with the law), walked out of a meeting being addressed by a Frenchman in English. They see language as an agent of domination

The English language borrows from the French (usually courtesy of 1066) but the French don’t generally reciprocate. “Le weekend” is about the extent of it apart from internet language and air traffic control. The government is proposing that children start learning at 3 years of age – rather than at seven as at present – assisted by computers, and there should be student exchanges for older pupils. Some experts say that three is too young anyway and that children can’t learn a foreign language until they learn their own at age 5 or 6.

Others argue that standards in French have slipped and those should be improved before teaching English. The President himself has been criticised for his use of slang and vulgar expressions. The Academie Francaise has always resisted the spread of “franglais” and “globish” and insisted on French words such as “courier electronique” for e-mail.

Updated 21 February 2011: Good news at last for the French, or at least the French “baby boomers”. It seems they might have found the secret of beating old age and believe that senior years can bring joy and fulfilment rather than what Charles de Gaulle called a “shipwreck”.

There has been a backlash against jeunisme (youngism) led by psychotherapist Marie de Hennezel. Her best-selling book: “The Warmth of the Heart prevents your Body from Rusting” promotes staying healthy but embracing physical decline rather than resisting it. She says it means; “accepting age without becoming old”.

She is a government adviser on end-of-life policies and finds that although quality of life allows people to live longer, old people are hidden from site and France has one of the highest suicide rates in the world for the elderly.

As you might expect from the French, the need to continue to delight in sex is an important part of this new philosophy and Hennezel says; “it just gets more beautiful and lasts longer as you get older“.

And older women are revered on French TV (the top rated newscaster is a 56 year old woman) and many foreign stars like Sharon Stone and Kristin Scott Thomas have resurrected their careers in sexy roles in French cinema.

So for baby boomers follow the French way: accept your age but enjoy the sex!

Updated 28 February 2011: I never thought I would say this but after the last update and the latest news from France – I am getting to like the French (except for Arsene the Winger)!

The news is that part of the planning to reduce the 9.3% unemployment rate is to offer free hairdos, manicures and makeovers to female jobseekers. Action Relooking is an initiative open to a dozen women every month from the 1.5 M who have been out of work for more than a year. OK it would take over 10,000 years to clear the backlog but it’s a start.

Pole Emploi, the national employment agency, has been accused of sexism by feminist groups because it hasn’t offered the same service to men. In the politically correct UK of course it would never have got off the ground in the first place unless men were offered the same treatment.

The French Prime Minister’s wife is backing the scheme and those who have been the lucky recipients say it has boosted their morale in difficult times and given them confidence when they attend interviews knowing that first impressions are important.

Others are less convinced. A union activist said it was a “get pretty and go to work philosophy” and feminist websites are saying that makeup and fashionable clothes will only be good for bosses who are predominantly male.

Updated 2 May 2011: You have to feel sorry for the French riot police, the CRS. They’ve been told they can no longer have a glass of wine with their lunch when on duty!

The police union aren’t happy about this attack on a Gallic tradition of having a 1/4 litre of red with their meals. The union is suggesting a very French compromise – having their meals and drink out of sight of the public. Other police departments are watching with more than interest as they fear the same rule will be applied to them.

French employment law prohibits alcohol in the workplace with the exception of, wine, beer, apple or pear cider (so now you know the French definition of alcohol) and police regulations forbid drinking altogether but this has always been officially ignored (and you have to admire the French for their willingness to ignore rules and regulations).

The CRS spend most of their time waiting to deal with riots and see the wine as a convivial tradition. Unfortunately last year riot police were seen drinking beer during demonstrations they were supposed to be policing.