Europe’s rich Baby Boomers are behaving like the nobility in the Peasants’ Revolt, and could face an uprising by the younger generation if the situation doesn’t change, HSBC’s chief economist has warned.
By Katherine Rushton
Stephen King warned that the widening wealth gap and sense of “entitlement” between older generations and cash-strapped youths had echoes of the conditions which led to the 1381 uprising of British peasants against the aristocrats who ruled them.
Then, the country had just been savaged by the plague, which robbed famers of their workforces as well as their loved ones by killing an estimated 1.5m people. However, the wealthy ruling classes refused to modify their behavior, leaving the poorer farm workers to bear the brunt of the economic downturn.
“In those days, public spending was about warfare… resources had been severely curtailed as a consequence of the Black Death,” said Mr King. “The nobility wanted to continue as they had done previously. They did not change their ways even though there had been this terrible disease come through…there was an attempt to try and clamp down on tax evasion which led to the Plantagenet equivalent of men with baseball bats coming along to raise funds.
“Those entitlements the Boomer generation are stuck to are imposing a significant cost to the younger generation… which over the long term is very disruptive to the performance of economies.”
He said the Occupy movement and the London riots two years ago were the beginnings of what could develop into more widespread protests by youths, who feel they have been shortchanged.
“I am intrigued at the moment that the youth are quite peaceful, and I wonder whether that might change. It is very difficult to predict but youth movements might become more focused on their own rights rather than the economy [at large],” he said.
The economist, who has just released a new book about the end of Western affluence, When The Money Runs Out, called for a major overhaul of public spending in order to stave off this sort of unrest.
“There should be some kind of new deal which deals with the generational divide,” he said. “Decisions are increasingly influenced by the interests of the baby Boomer generation and therefore there are lots of commitments to pensioners’ healthcare and so on…we need to get a reversal of that trend, to focus on protecting the interests of the young who are in minority.”