There’s a reason for this generational divide. Skapinker’s (and Lord Turner’s) post-Woodstock generation - those who were teenagers in the 60s - had their beliefs shaped by growing up at a time of full employment. So they thought they could pick and choose what jobs they did. My generation was shaped by the mass unemployment and industrial decline of the 70s and 80s. So we felt we had no such choice. For us, any job would do. And many of us still feel this way. When I think about it - and I prefer not to - I’m always surprised that anyone thinks I’m employable.
Economic conditions in our formative years, then, can have long-lasting effects upon our attitudes towards the economy. It is, surely, only a generation brought up cosseted in (relative) affluence that could ever have listened to song lyrics such as “All you need is love” without laughing contemptuously.
Two recent papers provide academic evidence for this.
This one finds that:
Such recession-induced beliefs can, in turn, have macroeconomic consequences. For example, one reason why the Bundesbank was for years so ferociously anti-inflationary was that Germans who grew up in the early 20s were scarred by the horrors of hyper-inflation and determined not to repeat them. Perhaps it was the passing of this cohort that weakened opposition to joining the euro.
And one of my favourite (partial) explanations for the rise of wage militancy in the late 60s and early 70s was that the generation that was cowed by memories of the 1930s’ depression into accepting low wage growth gradually retired, to be replaced by people who had never suffered unemployment and so were more willing to demand higher pay.
Which brings me to a possibility. Perhaps younger people today will have their beliefs permanently formed by this recession. They’ll not care about doing “socially useful” work, be grateful for what they can get, and have no trust in authority.
In which case, we can welcome them to our world.