Are we really faced with an inter-generational struggle in resources for the coming decades?
The politics of the next decade will be dominated by a battle over public spending and taxes between the generations. Young people will realise that different categories of public spending are in direct conflict — if they want more spending on schools, universities and environmental improvements they must vote for cuts in health and pensions.
Schools and universities are more important for a society’s future than pensions. Yet every democracy around the world has made the opposite judgment. While many politicians claim to be obsessed with education — recall Tony Blair’s three priorities were “education, education and education” — in reality they support health and pensions to the point of national bankruptcy, while squeezing universities. The same applies to the many fiscal benefits heaped on pensioners over the years. Is it, for example, better for society to offer free bus travel to wealthy 80-year olds rather than students or impoverished youngsters looking for their first job?
Or will it find some kind of resolution not unlike the compromise made between developed and emerging worlds?
Does the increasing first-world sense of austerity give the rest of the world room to grow into middle-class status? If so, we need to find a few Saudi Arabias worth of oil to fuel their ensuing energy needs, and that seems unlikely. Or will we all meet in the middle somewhere, with declining resource requirements increasingly hard-wired into our makeup, the way it is already. happening already in Europe and elsewhere?