The 63-year-old—yes, Willetts is a Boomer himself—is well aware of the subject’s emotional resonance. Mostly, though, he is surprised that the rage tends to come not from Millennials, who feel disadvantaged, but from the Boomers, who feel attacked. (After The Pinch first came out, he began to receive furious letters in neat copperplate handwriting on expensive notepaper.) “When we have all this power, we shouldn’t be surprised when younger people are rather resentful,” he said. “I’m surprised they aren’t angrier.”
He does not think Boomers hate young people, “but I don’t think they’re yet aware of the impact of the policies they vote for on the younger generation.” In Britain, for example, Boomers have opposed housebuilding, leaving the country with a chronic shortage that protects the value of their homes but traps younger people in the expensive private-rental sector. (In 1980, the average private tenant spent 10 percent of their income on rent. That figure is now 30 percent.) Boomers have successfully deterred politicians from devaluing the state pension, even as salaries and working-age benefits have stagnated. The result is that pensioner poverty has halved since 2000, whereas poverty among people of working age has risen. Pensioners are less likely to be surviving on a low income than are those of working age.
The challenge for politicians is that, like other relatively privileged groups—think men or white people—Boomers can be defensive about their unearned luck. After all, any individual pensioner might be poor; might have been driven out of a much-loved job by an ageist employer; might have been recently divorced or widowed; might be worried about their future retirement bills. Very few of us feel that we have lived unfairly blessed lives.