Hard Times,
Great Expectations

Never before have so many done so much for themselves. Twenty years ago when Yuppies were multiplying like rabbits, that is how I would have described the baby boom generation.

Until boomers had children, they were quite probably the most spoiled generation this planet had ever seen (As a baby boomer, I speak with some firsthand knowledge). But it wasn't all the fault of these aging adolescents.

As offspring of the greatest generation, which grew up in the Great Depression and saved the world from fascism, baby boomers were fortunate to grow up in a world of freedom and abundance. Their parents understandably wanted them to enjoy all the things that were not available to most children in the 1920s and 1930s. Above all, they infused their children with great expectations, the notion or parental hope that boomers could grow up to do whatever they wanted to and found meaningful.

The events of life can sometimes prove to be a great equalizer, and few contrasts could be greater than the childhoods and early adult years of boomers versus those of their parents. One generation struggled to help their parents put food on the table, later stormed the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima and then spent the rest of their adulthood creating the greatest economy the world had seen to that point.

Their children were the primary beneficiaries of that economy, but got a reality check in the 1970s when their lofty expectations were shattered by a seemingly endless war, sitting in gas lines and competing with millions of contemporaries for jobs that many thought were beneath them. Yet by 1980, many boomers were happy to have jobs at all, and realized the biggest house they'd ever live in was the one in which they grew up.

As it unfolds, history has a way of squaring the circle. Boomers took the U.S. and global economies to another level, but imbalances persisted. Just look at the present predicament, in which European and Asian nations are dependent on the unbridled spending of American consumers, and we are dependent on their savings. Something has to give.

In this issue, some of our top writers and outside contributors, from Nick Murray and Tracey Longo to Deena Katz and Lewis Walker, examine what the inevitable march of boomers into their fifth and sixth decades means for your practice. Nobody knows what will happen, but as Deena and Lewis write, boomers are already starting to redefine what maturity means. Retirement is next.

And we're not the only ones thinking about these issues. In the past month, I've read numerous articles on the subject, including a masterful piece in the Wall Street Journal by MFS Non-Executive Chairman Robert Pozen, who will be the opening speaker at our Retirement Planning Symposium in Las Vegas on April 20.

Major attitudinal shifts are likely, and several different scenarios could evolve simultaneously. One commentator recently predicted that someday soon many hyperactive boomers might regard Social Security recipients as welfare-like slackers. Of course, the public is still getting some worrisome messages. In mid-March, NBC's Brian Williams told viewers that it could cost Americans less than they think to retire. Maybe if you move to Costa Rica, but it's not the message most Americans need to hear.

Some of us would like to believe that after so many false starts, boomers will finally fulfill the promise of great expectations their parents dreamed of 50 years ago. But the second half of this book has yet to be written.

Evan Simonoff
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