The Generational Divide in American Politics

Baby Boomers have had it easy in many ways. One of the advantages of being born during a baby boom is that your generation is always going to be large and politically influential. And of course the baby boom that followed WWII occurred largely because the U.S. was embarking on a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity.

Birth rates declined in the 1960s as the post-WWII economic boom ended and the Vietnam War began. The 1970s in many ways represented a watershed moment for U.S. power and prosperity. Economic problems forced Nixon to take the dollar off the gold standard, essentially bringing to an end the original Bretton Woods system. And the 1973 oil crisis showed how vulnerable the U.S. economy was.

As Mark Schmitt argues, things were different for Americans that came of age in the 1970s. Median income growth began to slow and at times even decline. Real wages stagnated. The rich got richer, but for the most part ordinary Americans did not. As a result, the gap between the rich and poor in the U.S. widened dramatically. The shift was social as well as economic. The sexual revolution and experimentation with drugs of the 1960s gave way to AIDS and crack in the 1980s. 

If you came of age before the 1970s, your formative experiences were of prosperity, while if you came of age later—with the notable exception of the period in the late 1990s when the Internet began to take off—your experiences were more likely to be of economic stagnation. The effects of these formative experiences can be profound. The most recent economic crisis wiped out the assets of many young homeowners, and permanently lowered the lifetime earning prospects of recent college graduates. As Schmitt says, if there were ever going to be a generational war in this country, the “high school class of ‘74 would be its Maxon-Dixon line.”

The Baby Boomers are likely to continue to have it easier. One of the central features of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget proposal is his plan to privatize Medicare and in the process drastically reduce Medicare benefits. But this part of Ryan’s plan wouldn’t take effect for 10 years and thus wouldn't affect anyone older than 55. Ryan appears to be hoping that Americans older than 55—who mostly came of age before the 1970s—won’t oppose something that won’t affect them, while Americans younger than 55 won’t be worried about something that won’t impact them for 10 years. And the truth is that whatever our budget problems may be the Baby Boomers are just too politically powerful for Congress to cut their benefits.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.

Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less