Generation Next: The Debate
Hayden:Even if there were more solidarity between older and younger workers, broader government policies have been divisive, picking and choosing groups to protect and groups to attack. More and more we can talk about the “pre-crisis” and “post-crisis” generation, divided by different social entitlements, permanent jobs and income.
Prof Guy Standing recently coined a term for such an emerging group: “The Precariat”, a generation whose lives are marked by insecurity.
This sounds ominously familiar for young people in today’s Ireland. Does government have the motivation or means to go beyond short-term electoral concerns to ensure this doesn’t happen?
Horan:I don’t see a pre- and post-crisis generation of insecurity emerging, as EU legislation gives equal status to different forms of employment. However, on current projections pensions for young people will be inadequate, unless the trend of the past 30 years of the wealthy capturing a disproportionate share of resources is reversed.
Since the crisis began, public discourse has centred on public-private, insider-outsider and now younger-older divisions. Those in our society comfortable with the status quo hope it remains that way.
Many of my generation, radicalised by the Vietnam war and the events of May 1968, fought for change in the 1970s, only to see it evaporate with the emergence of free market economics in response to high inflation. Today with high levels of debt, so many in negative equity and the return of mass youth unemployment, the reality is that the cure was worse than the disease. The younger generation need to outline a vision for a new society that will promote fairness, and the emergence of a genuine entrepreneurial class in the traded sector, in place of pyramid schemes, gambling on property and the use of public decisions by an elite to secure unearned wealth.
Hayden:Discourse that focuses solely on a public-private divide is simplistic and misses the point, but equally, some divisions are real.
Older people vote in greater numbers and reap the political returns when it comes to government policy. Frequently, the old are the wealthy, and they hold a disproportionate share of the wealth, some of it in pension entitlements.
We face an unprecedented pension crisis when the unfunded liabilities of this, much longer-lived generation need to be paid back by young workers in the stagnant Irish economy of tomorrow.
Vietnam and May 1968 caught the imagination and aspirations of young people about the kind of world they wanted to inherit. Today, leadership is lacking, and yesterday’s ideologies fail to articulate a change. In civil society, younger people are held at a convenient arms’ length from decision- making while insiders abound.
Asking that young people “outline a vision” requires that they are given a vantage from which to do so. Instead, older generations have closed ranks and pulled the ladder up after them.
Horan:I agree that many of my generation have a real advantage when it comes to pensions, and that far too little is being done to tackle youth unemployment, now close to 30 per cent. I don’t support singling out pensioners as a group, as there are many with very little or only the basic State pension. The strongest opponents of increasing PRSI contributions to close the gap are employers.
What young people need most from society today is decent jobs and an end to mass emigration. An unfortunate legacy of the Celtic Tiger era is an attachment to the low-tax model that contributed to the crisis.