Demographer and statistician Steve Sailer has a book review (“Surfer Privilege” at Taki’s Magazine) of war correspondent William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. It’s about Finnegan’s idyllic youth in Southern California and Hawaii at a time when a working-class Irish family could afford real estate in some of the United States’ most desirable zip codes, while also supporting four children (Finnegan’s father worked in television, but was a pump jockey at a gas station upon first moving to Los Angeles; he could purchase a house and support his wife and child on that salary).
I recommend reading the book review linked above, as it contains classic Sailerean demographic analysis. The real estate opportunities accessible to working- and middle-class Americans in the 1950s and 1960s are truly astonishing, and Sailer argues that, if you were born in 1946, the world was your oyster (Sailer was born in 1952, which he argues was also a pretty good year to enter into this world).
The real estate analysis rings true. I’m 33 and earn a modest income as a history and music teacher at a small private school in rural South Carolina, which I supplement with adjunct teaching at a local technical college and with private music lessons (as well as the occasional music gig). I’m also an extreme budgeter and put a significant chunk of my earnings into retirement accounts (IRAs and a 403(b) through my employer), and I drive a twelve-year old Dodge minivan. While I live like a king compared to most people in human history, I still rent a little cottage and don’t support any dependents, much less a wife. I’ll probably work hard for most of my life (though my long-term retirement planning should pay off over the course of decades; I’m definitely “getting rich slowly”), and I’m not counting on Social Security being around when I hit 70.
Had I been born when my parents were, I’d probably have a house, a wife, four kids, a pension, and a convertible, earning six figures in “consulting.”
I’m not complaining. I highly value hard work, and I don’t think demography is always destiny (just look at all the miserable, divorced Boomers who are trying to figure out what went wrong). I believe God has a purpose for us, and we live in our respective time for a reason (not that I haven’t, at times, experienced a sense of dislocation from our current era).
But Sailer’s demographic analysis of the period under consideration—a time that was so safe and prosperous, a kid could spend thousands of hours surfing and his parents didn’t much worry about him—is compelling, and points to long-term problems endemic in our culture today, such as mass immigration, an overly-rosy view of diversity, and idealistic subjectivism.
The Boomer generation was blessed to ride a long wave of economic prosperity and expansion. As a product of the Great Recession, I’m growing more optimistic that future generations will enjoy similar gains. I’m also cautiously hopeful that economic growth can prevent the unfortunate Millennial tendency toward idealizing socialism.
Hopefully, we’ll all be able to say “surf’s up!” again soon.