Reviewed 2/09/2018

A Generation of Sociopaths, by Bruce Cannon Gibney
Access to this book courtesy of the
San Jose, CA Public Library
How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America
Bruce Cannon Gibney
New York: Hachette Books, April 2017




ISBN-13 978-0-316-39578-6
ISBN-10 0-316-39578-1 430pp. HC $27.00

Bruce Gibney is mightily displeased by the parlous condition of the United States of America in the twenty-first century. He ascribes this condition to the depredations of "Boomers": the generation born between 1940 and 1964. Briefly, he lays the damage done to Boomer greed and short-sightedness, which led them to promote policies (and, when they had attained political power, to pass laws) that benefitted them at the expense of future generations.

He lays out his indictment right at the beginning of his Foreword.

What happens if society is run by people who are, to a large degree, antisocial? I don't mean people who are "antisocial" in the general sense, the sort who avoid parties and hide from their neighbors. I mean people who are antisocial in the clinical sense: sociopaths. Could a sociopathic society function? Unfortunately, this is not a thought experiment or an investigation into some ramshackle dictatorship in a distant land; it is America's lived experience. For the past several decades, the nation has been run by people who present, personally and politically, the full sociopathic pathology: deceit, selfishness, imprudence, remorselessness, hostility, the works.1 These people are the Baby Boomers, that vast and strange generation born between 1940 and 1964, and the society they created does not work very well.

– Page xi

This sets the pattern that runs throughout the book: Gibney's generation blaming the Boomers as a class for every defect he perceives in the country. He starts with the economy.

One of the virtues of data is that it resolves at least some of the mapmakers' problem, reducing the 324-odd million (sic) stories of the American people into comprehensible summaries and simple charts. What these data show is what those millions of citizens sense: The country is off course. Median income growth has been slow, then stagnant, and at times in the recent past, outright negative. America's other vital signs are producing similarly ominous beeps.

America is not, however, poor. In fact, America is substantially richer in the twenty-first century than it was in the twentieth, and the rise in average, rather than median, incomes reflects that. The divergence between mean and median reflects gains by the top end of the distribution. The Constitution's pursuit of "general welfare" has turned into a very specific kind of welfare. It isn't quite as simple as the 99 percent versus the 1 percent. Rather, it is the mass, democratically sanctioned transfer of wealth away from the young and toward the Boomers, the latter having adjusted tax and fiscal policies to favor the accumulation of wealth during their lives, at the expense of the future—a future whose course is of little concern, because whatever failures it holds will be cushioned by the tens of trillions of entitlement dollars Boomers will receive. Whatever you think about the 1 percent (and many of them are Boomers), their accumulations pale in comparison to the generational plunder of the Boomers overall.

– Pages xxiv-xxv

No, it isn't as simple as the 1 percent versus the 99 percent. But in fact Gibney tries to make it even simpler, portraying it as the Boomers versus everyone else. He ignores the fact that there are Boomers who aren't rich (I'm one) and rich people who aren't greedy or antisocial (Nick Hanauer is one.)

Every aspect of society gets the same treatment: Education, science, law, taxes, debt and deficits, employment, medicine. For example, Gibney spends quite a bit of space on the Vietnam War, alleging that draft resisters, boomers all, gamed the deferment system in various ways, and that those of lower economic status committed serious crimes to make themselves ineligible for military service; or, if drafted, resorted to crimes in Vietnam.

Beyond that, he throws in a great many literary references and a few French phrases. Pretentious? I would say yes.

"The Boomers inherited some of the lightest intergenerational burdens in American history and will leave some of the greatest. In doing so, the Boomers have authored one of the greatest injustices of a modern nation (mostly) at peace. It's an injustice that is not as overt or violent as the cruelties based on categories of race, gender, or sexuality. And unlike conventional categories of oppression—which were based on minority status (with the exception of women, a minority that is in population terms, a majority)—intergenerational injustice affects not only most Americans now living, but all those yet to be born. The various explanations, excuses, motivations, and context for this catastrophe have already been raised and disposed of in earlier chapters; all that matters here is that the intergenerational injustice created by the Boomers, in full service of themselves, by itself moots any idea of Boomer goodness."

– Page 305

It is unfortunate that Gibney has adopted this dogmatic attitude. He has researched the problems he discusses well, and makes many good points; but to my mind the mental image of him pointing and glaring at every oldster he meets negates any positive impact his considerable effort might have produced. I would say read this book, or as much of it as you can, and get what you can out of it. Perhaps one day there will be a second edition that fulfills its purpose better.

1 I might challenge him to find "the works" used in this sense in the DSM-V.
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