AMERICA had a party in the 1980s, and we -- the "twentysomething generation" -- weren't invited. While high-flying S&L robber barons were making millions with other people's money, while men of bad conscience were constructing investment houses of paper, we were making our way through college and graduate school, taking out loans to finance our educations. Odd, then, that now that the party's over, we should get stuck with the bill.
People are now speaking of the "new austerity" and the "new traditionalism." Those doing most of the talking, of course, are those who can afford to be austere; their income is safely tucked away in tax shelters and investments.
But for those of us just entering the work force, austerity is not something we have chosen; it was chosen for us. We face a job market that is drying up.
Many states are entering recessions. The baby-boomers have a long-term lock on the upper levels of the marketplace, and we face increased competition for entry-level jobs.
Moreover, all the important lips are saying that taxes must be raised to deal with the budget deficit and the S&L binge. The question is, whose taxes? Who will be made to pay for the good times of the last decade? It doesn't take a genius to figure out that it will be us, the youngest and rawest members of the labor force.
The two demographic groups that benefited most from the 1980s, the elderly and the baby-boomers, will want to pay the least. And you can bet they'll use their considerable political clout to shift the tax burden downward.
The Silver Fox set has enough money and influence to insure that Washington will think twice before opposing cuts in health care and Social Security taxes (even though many of them are getting much more out of the fund than they ever put in).
The baby-boomers, who still get all misty-eyed when they think about their marches on Washington and their war protests, have now become what they once despised -- the Establishment.
Never trust anyone over 30 to be in favor of higher taxes. The burden of paying for the rootin' tootin' good time many in America had will therefore fall on those of us who are politically unorganized and unsophisticated -- and least able to afford it.
The fair solution, it seems to me, is simple: Let those who had the party pay for it! I would never expect uninvited neighbors to pay for my party. And I don't think I should have to pay for theirs. Let's have taxes that will affect those who benefited the most in the '80s.
Slap luxury taxes on yachts and $50,000 cars, not on beer. Tar and feather the S&L scoundrels and confiscate their money the same way the Drug Enforcement Administration confiscates drug dealers' assets. Make Donald Trump, symbol of all that was wrong in the last decade, live on the kind of salary most Americans live on, not $450,000 a month. How about $450 a week for starters?
In short, let the self-satisfied, self-appointed, self-righteous baby-boomers be the first to practice the new austerity they have been preaching of late. Finally, let the politician beware. Though we are as yet inchoate and dormant, the twenty-something generation will soon awaken and howl with rage. Then we will have our own march on Washington. And when we get there we will want to meet those who had a fun-filled decade -- and stuck us with the bill.
Mark Featherman works in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City.