Growing up on MTV, video games and microwave dinners, our Generation X'ers have become far more fiscally conservative than past generations.
Born between 1966 and 1982, our group witnessed our baby boomer parents sell out their "make love, not war" ideologies for BMW's, stock portfolios and kitchen extensions.
As we grew up, we experienced our parents' "acquisition phase" -- the pursuit of better houses, better cars and better TVs as their "nest egg" grew. It was all so natural and inevitable. There was a faith in current and future earnings. The motto was buy a house now that you can afford in three years. Our parents had "made it," and we thought our lives would be the same.
As children and teens, we basked in a "supreme" USA. President Reagan proclaimed, "It's morning in America again," and said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" marking the beginning of the Cold War's end. Under the leadership of presidents Reagan, H.W. Bush and Clinton, we could move forward with confidence in our future knowing that were no strategic threats from without or economic woes from within.
Since 9/11, it's been downhill -- Iraq, Afghanistan and most recently the economic meltdown. Our feeling of comfort and security has morphed into angst and vulnerability. Just as our careers were on the upswing and we were entering our own "acquisition phase," we were hit with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression: a credit crunch, out-of-control budget deficits, a crippled housing market, weakening dollar and sharply rising unemployment.
And the most recent efforts of Washington have done nothing to assuage our anxieties. Rather, it is Washington that is eclipsing the financial future of Generation X. Due to this year's plethora of bailouts and reforms, we know that our taxes will increase for years to come. But we are no longer earning more.
Just as we stood at the threshold of leadership roles, our prospects for advancement dimmed and the roles to which we aspired became far less appealing and rewarding. That nest egg we wanted to obtain vanished with little likelihood of return. Where are the rewards for our hard work?
Even before the bailouts, our generation's Social Security and Medicaid were becoming a rapidly vanishing mirage. We are paying Social Security to support our parents and Medicaid to support our grandparents, yet the coffers of these government programs will be empty when it's our turn. And the recent bailouts have deepened that stake in our Social Security hearts. As we grow old and sick, who will take care of us?
Is it any wonder that our Generation X has an increasing lack of trust in large institutions and an insatiable desire for an endless stream of back-up plans. We have become a generation of the fiscally conservative. Unlike our parents, we are on hold to buy that better house, better car, and better TV. We will not be the generation of acquisition or consumption. Ours is to hunker down.
Is it any surprise that household names like
and Linens n' Things have vanished? Being a fiscally conservative generation is part of the reason that homebuilders like
are finding the housing recovery slow to take hold. This also explains why car sales are so sluggish for
; and entertainment sales for
( BBI) are in decline.
Where is our Margaret Thatcher to resurrect our economy? When Thatcher assumed office in 1979, Britain was encumbered with coal miner strikes, an expensive welfare state and a lack of order and leadership. Then came revival, as she publicly and unequivocally defeated the causes of British decline by transferring economic power from the government to the people and giving its citizens a country to be proud of once again.
We, too, are a nation geared toward economic progress. As we await our Margaret Thatcher, it is our responsibility as Generation X'ers to collectively protect our generation's future. As all of Pelosi's congressional horses and all of Geithner's Treasury men try to put the financial world together again, a new type of Generation X'er has emerged from this economic collapse -- one who has exchanged the mantle of "acquirers" and consumers" for fiscal responsibility and a productive membership in society.
Alexandra Linden is a recent graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School and Columbia Business School. She is interested in the intersection of business and government. She has also recently interned at the White House in business outreach and worked at Goldman Sachs in government affairs and equities trading.