Do baby boomers deserve a better rap?

Are the lucky postwar generation of baby boomers responsible for the plight we are all in today? Missing the wars that destroyed so much of the lives of their parents and grandparents, they went on to enjoy unprecedented levels of prosperity and security – but left what exactly to the rest of us? The baby boomers stand accused of bequeathing a world to the young that is blighted by climate change, record youth unemployment and soaring bills for housing and higher education. They have wrecked the lives of the generations that follow them. Justice demands they pay a price.

In the second of LSE's unique series of public prosecutions, to be held later this month, the charge sheet will be pretty extensive.

The prosecution's opening statement will no doubt explain how the horrors of the second world war inspired the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and later international covenants, but, by their actions, the baby boomers have been multiple violators of those fundamental rights for generations X and Y, and all the others still to come.

The jury will be told that the resources of the world have been so plundered that the basics of a decent, human-rights-respecting life – water, food, fresh air – can no longer be taken for granted. Nor even can a habitable world be assumed for many already alive who have the misfortune to be born at the wrong time. By neglecting the planet, the baby boomers have breached the trust they owed to the world's peoples coming after them.

The baby boomers' defence will, though, be surprisingly powerful. They inherited a world laid waste by war and rebuilt it, staying clear of further war despite the power of the weapons they had to hand. They evolved a welfare state to provide security for all their people, and brought freedom to their colonies the world over. The world they handed over was in decent shape and they have endeavoured to keep it that way by acknowledging climate change as a key policy issue and negotiating legally binding international limits on emissions of the six major greenhouse gases.

The baby boomers will also no doubt argue that, with their compulsion to embrace the market, their lack of any kind of social solidarity and their failure to think imaginatively and together to solve the issues that confront them (much smaller than anything they faced) it is generations X and Y that are the true culprits for the mess they are in.

So who is right? At this public trial, cases will be put by barristers from Matrix and Brick Court chambers supported by expert witnesses from the world of journalism and public affairs. Expert witnesses will include (in defence of the baby boomers) the granddaughter of Winston Churchill, Emma Soames. The audience will give their vote before and after it has heard the arguments but a specially selected jury of young and old will give the final verdict and – if guilty – decide on the remedy the world is entitled to today.

So are the baby boomers guilty? Either come along and have your say, or give us your verdict in the comments below.


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