Yes, it’s time for another one of these posts. Why You Should Read …, if you’re not familiar with them, are posts where I talk about books other than my own that I have perused, enjoyed for one reason or another, and now recommend to all of you for (probably) those same reasons.
I’m a big proponent of reading—well, not just reading, but thinking and comprehending. Thinking critically. Questioning. Gathering information and then using it to look at the world through a new lens. Comparing lenses and asking why one may work better than another.
I’m also a big proponent of seeking out knowledge. I don’t hold at all with the idea that “what I’ve got is good enough, and I refuse to learn more” (sadly a common concept, I feel, in modern culture). We should, I believe, always be striving to learn new things, new knowledge and new concepts. Again, there’s a way to do that intelligently and with patience, but seeking out and learning new things is one of the blessings of modern society. Well, at least, the capability to do so is. A lot of people, sadly, don’t take advantage of this, then still want to play in the grand sandbox, pitting their toy soldiers of ideas against actual tanks (and often not understanding in the slightest why their plastic memes failed to make a dent in a well-armored, carefully researched opponent).
Basically, Why You Should Read … posts are the occasional recommendation of books that I find worthy of being added to someone’s read shelf, for one reason or another. Some are fiction (because you absolutely can learn a lot from fiction, as many scientific studies are discovering) and some are non-fiction (because understanding the building blocks of the world around us along with its cause and effect is pretty important). Today I’m recommending one of the latter: The Pinch by David Willets. Or, to use it’s less common full title, The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future — And Why They Should Give it Back.
Yeah. It’s a mouthful. And the longer title isn’t especially popular with some people, as you may guess. After all, it straight up points out an issue and assigns blame right there, and against a particular generation that doesn’t much like being blamed for anything save the good. Which, you might suspect, could be part of the problem.
But David Willets is not intimidated. In fact, he’s a member of that generation (the Boomers). He’s also a British lord and chair of the British Science Association as well as a member of the British Council of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. In other words, he’s not some random individual. Willets is someone who was tasked with studying the economic impact of the largest generation ever, along with a whole wing of the British government and independent research groups. And after a several-decade study, comparing data going all the way back to the late 1800s (and in some cases even earlier), and yes, involving the United States, Willets wrote a book about their findings to try and widen their audience because, well, it’s vitally important that people know what they found out.
And I’m saying that you should read it. Hit the jump.
I actually first learned about Willets’ book after Youtube suggested a video of a speech he gave and I sat down and watched it. I’m actually going to embed the video below because, well, for those of you who want a quick summary/primer for the book it’s a pretty good idea. It’s reasonably quick (47 minutes for such a heavy topic) and does summarize much of what the book lays out in much more developed and researched terms. If you’re like me, watching the video will only make you want to read the book more, and send you down the path of hunting for a copy to peruse, which I obviously recommend.
So there’s the video. It’s well worth your time to sit down, watch it, and mull over things. But then I do recommend that you move on to the book, which I’ll now start focusing on.
So, there’s one of the many covers available for this book. So where to start with this one?
Well, I’m actually going to start by talking about the public response to this book. Now, I will point out that like The War on Normal People by Andrew Yang, another book I’ve recommended reading on this site, The Pinch comes with an exhausting supply of reference research in the back, and plenty of footnotes to its sources. The copy I acquired (hardcover and one of the first printings) ended on page 267 or so … but continued for another 100 pages, all of those pages small, fine print references to research studies, papers, and other investigations spanning decades. Like Yang’s book, The Pinch does not shy away from reference material.
That said, when I logged onto Goodreads after I’d finished it at last (a process that took several weeks, as this is a book to digest), I found to my (at first) surprise that it had a large number of low reviews.
Then I actually looked at them and realized they made sense. They were angry reviews, stung by the concepts the book presented and the root explanations of the issues and lashing out by leaving it a low response. Or pointing out that Willets himself is a boomer, and therefore a hypocrite (or betrayer) for writing the book. Or using the review to lambast one political party or another without mentioning the contents of the book.
Or, my personal favorite, a whole glut or reviews that admitted the problem outlines was severe … but where was the solution. The book didn’t offer a solution to all these problems, they claimed, therefore it was an awful book just written to make the poor boomers feel bad.
Except, you know, there was a solution offered in the book. The whole last chapter offers a solution, and a pretty good one: Stop being selfish.
Of course, that wasn’t the solution those reviewers wanted to hear, so they crucified the book. After all, a solution that’s unacceptable to their mindset is just as bad as no solution at all.
Point is, this book is clearly a bit divisive, especially across generational lines. And well …. yeah, that’s to be expected. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it. In fact, if you’re already chaffing a bit at it’s title, that probably means you should read it.
Okay, so enough about people being upset by it. Let’s talk about why people are upset by it, and why I would recommend it despite that.
Simply put, The Pinch is a summarization of something that has already happened. Unlike The War on Normal People, where the first stages of what the book is talking about are definitely in play but there’s more to come, the damage The Pinch talks about has already been done.
Yes, you read that right. Damage. Economic damage. Social damage. And more. The Pinch covers over a hundred years of history, looking at everything from how children and teens are treated to even further back and how the structure of the “family unit” was vastly changed by the Boomer generation.
Yeah look, there’s no way to sugarcoat this: This book hammers the Boomer generation. To put it simply (though in the book it is not, and backed by hundreds of decade-long studies) the short of it is that the Boomers changed the rules for everyone. A lot of it was dumb luck and fortuitous timing mixed with a really unhealthy (for everyone around them anyway) dollop of selfishness, but the end result is that the Boomer generation, in almost every country around the world, rebuilt the system to suit themselves and keep them on the top of the heap. And when I say system, I mean system. Boomers changed family structures, and how the American nuclear family operated. Boomers changed the economy, in everything from costs to wages, to better suit themselves. And at every step along the way, basically throwing everyone else, their own children included, under the bus so they could keep riding it.
Yeah, I know that sound grim. But that’s pretty much the point of the book. Congratulations Boomers, you were selfish and have crushed the generations around you so that you would never have a want. Sometimes intentionally, with rationalization, but often unintentionally by virtue of having the biggest voting block and taking safety in numbers.
Again, not a happy book, really. In a way it’s kind of depressing, since as it will point out, the damage has already been done. That doesn’t mean it isn’t going to get worse. In fact, several of the dire predictions made in the text, such as the US modeling schools after the panopticon prison complex due to the Boomer generation’s distrust in younger people—studied and documented—have already come to pass. In fact, the book argues that we’re headed for a breaking point called “The Pinch” (which is where the title comes from) in the mid-2030s when all the debts the Boomers have accrued and then shoved off on their descendants “because they can” will come due … and those descendants have no means to pay them.
Brutal? Yes. Harsh? Actually not as much as it could have been. A must read? Yes. That’s why I’m recommending it. Especially when the solution, which the entire last chapter revolved around, was so simple, yet such a foreign concept to so many (as the reviews I looked over showed).
Basically, this book reads like an intervention. An almost desperate one, where everyone else sits the individual down—or in this case a generation—and says “Look, here is everything that shows you have a problem, from the photographs of you drinking in the janitor’s closet at work when you think no one is watching, to that video of the time you lashed out at a party and hit someone, and the security footage that shows you crashed the car while drunk, not your kid like you’ve been claiming. You have a problem.”
That’s The Pinch in a nutshell. It lays it out, heavily, and backed by thousands of studies and reports. Again, it often notes that it wasn’t intentional but in many cases just the luck of circumstance that allowed this the start … sort of like someone picking up the wrong drink at a party where too many were freely available, but that then they just kept imbibing, even as things grew worse and worse.
And that’s why I recommend it. This is a book that above all else will make you think. It’ll make you think about your great-grandparents, your grandparents, your parents, and if applicable, your own (maybe probable) children. It’ll talk about the “great contract between generations” and what that means and how it’s shown in human history. But most of all, it’ll make you, the reader, think about your role in that process, and how you might influence it.
Yeah, it doesn’t sugarcoat things. Then again, it’s not like the particular generation that would take issue with that have sugarcoated what they’ve dealt out to the world, so what goes around comes around, though the two aren’t equal. Point being, this book is a hammer. A heavy to digest hammer that takes time to read and ponder, but definitely is worth the investment of tracking it down.
So you, that’s why you should read The Pinch by David Willets. It rough, heavy, and doesn’t pull its punches. Track down a copy today and give it a look.