Jilted Generation – book review
If you were born after September 1979, this book is about you. You are a member of the jilted generation. We are the jilted generation. Or so Shiv Malik and Ed Howker tell us in their book of the same name, coming out next week.
And they make a pretty convincing case that our generation has been screwed over. Replete with shocking statistics, fascinating graphs, and punchy sentences, the first half of the book is hard to argue with.
29% of men under the age of 34 live at home – they can’t afford to leave. Compared to our young parents, those of us who have left home live in smaller, lower quality houses. We are less likely to own them, and much more likely to be kicked out. It’s harder for us to find work than it was for our parents – much harder. And that was before the credit crunch. The work we do find is likely to be temporary, part time, and badly paid. Unlike our parents, we are expected to work for free as interns for long periods. And the credit crunch has disproportionately impacted the young more than any previous recession.
Young people have always been poorer, they tell us. But we are much poorer. And this isn’t just an affliction of our youth. The baby boomers – under the leadership of Thatcher – sold the family silver, and cashed it in for a 20 year consumer binge. The right to buy turns out to have been one generation taking the housing stock their parents had built for them, and selling it to themselves at a discounted rate. Instead of saving this money for their pensions, a criminal lack of foresight means that we will have to pay for their retirements too. We will bear these costs for the rest of our lives.
The generation who paid tuition fees have often felt that we are worse off than our parents. The first half of this book has the stats to back it up. They examine housing, jobs, and the public assets – and debts – that we will inherit. The case is convincing; the narrative compelling. We are the jilted generation. We will spend the rest of our lives paying for these mistakes.
The second half of the book attempts to explain this phenomenon. It explains rational choice theory, and Philip Gould’s government by focus group. It demands that politicians provide leadership – and that democratic decisions are devolved to the lowest level, where they are likely to be made better. It argues for land trusts, and co-ops.
But I’m not sure that it names the beast. Because at the end, after a whole book about how the Thatcherite experiment has failed – how treating voters as individual consumers has conned baby boomers into to stealing from their own children, the authors claim to support capitalism. And for me, if they support workers’ co-ops, radical democracy, and a more economic planning, then they are not supporters of capitalism.
But the book is a timely call. As the eldest baby boomers’ children enter their thirties, many still waiting for the adult lives they were expecting to begin, it demands that we start this debate. It’s time to work out what went wrong. Because until we work out how the generation which gave us free love accidentally gave corporations free reign, we risk leaving an even worse mess for our children.
Jited Generation – how Britain has bankrupted it’s youth – is published by Icon Books and comes out on the 2nd of September.