Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Boomsday Book: John Sutherland on a Sinister Plan for Ageing Baby Boomers

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Boomsday Book: John Sutherland on a Sinister Plan for Ageing Baby Boomers

Article excerpt

"Artists," Ezra Pound declared, "are the antennae of the race." If so, it is the novelists among them who best foretell the political future. Aged 67, Anthony Trollope, the workhorse of Victorian fiction, wrote a novel called The Fixed Period, in which he imagined a "Britanula" of the late 20th century. On their 67th birthday (or deathday), citizens are "deposited" into a "college" (Necropolis) and euthanised.

In this fantasy about knackers' yards for humans, Trollope identified a growing social problem. People were living longer. The traditional safety nets--parish welfare, extended family groups--were fraying. Oldsters were in the way, morally troubling and economically burdensome. It would not be sorted until Lloyd George came up with the old-age pension, for 70-year-olds, in 1908.

There is no copyright in ideas for novels. Christopher Buckley's recycling of The Fixed Period, Boomsday, is currently riding high in the US bestseller lists.

Buckley's novel revolves, comically, around an intractable demographic problem: the vast cohort of Americans born between 1946 and 1964. "Boomsday" is 1 January 2008, when "the first of the nation's 77 million so-called Baby Boomers begin, aged 62, to retire with full Social Security benefits".

Buckley fantasises an America in which the president (a hilarious caricature of baby-boomer Bush) approves such measures as "a federal acid reflux initiative; a grandchild day-care initiative; visa requirement waivers for elder care; and a sure-to-be-controversial subsidy for giant flat-screen plasma TVs (for Boomers with deteriorating eyesight)". …

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