A distinctive element of skiffle was its use of home-made instruments such as the washboard and tea-chest bass; aficionados argued over the merits of Ceylon and Assam tea. There was a reason for this; in the 50s, conventional instruments were too expensive. For example, John Lennon’s first guitar, bought in 1956, cost £5’10. That was almost two-thirds of a week’s pay for a skilled manual worker; today, you could probably buy a better instrument for one-third of a week’s pay.
Anyone wanting to listen to music faced a similar problem; records too were expensive. Until Woolworths started a price war, single records cost nine shillings in 1954 - a third of a day’s pay. And that was if you could find them; fans of the American folk music which inspired skiffle had to schlep forlornly around expensive record shops. Today, we can download it easily for nowt.
Today’s pensioners - yesterday’s young people - faced much narrower horizons and opportunities because real wages and technological opportunities were both low. This is true even if their income today is relatively high. In this important sense, they have suffered disadvantages relative to today’s youngsters through the unavoidable bad luck of being born early. You can interpret redistribution towards pensioners as compensation for these disadvantages - just as we support children born into poor families who suffer similar bad luck.
But is this a sufficient argument? There are two, separate, lines of thought which suggest not.
One is the standard libertarian claim that differences in luck are not sufficient justification for redistribution.
The more interesting arguments, though, are utilitarian ones. One of these says that the bad luck of living at a time of low wages and lack of technology did not make people unhappy. Nobody in the 50s or 60s cried themselves to sleep because they didn’t have internet access.
The other lies in the marginal utility of income. It’s possible (pdf) that older people have a lower marginal utility of income than younger ones - in the sense that if their income rises by a given amount, their happiness would rise by less. If this is the case, then taxing the young to give pensioners higher incomes decreases happiness.
My point here is not so much to take sides, as to suggest that, from an egalitarian point of view, there might be a case for generous support for pensioners, to compensate for a relative disadvantage.