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The Boomer Shift: From Rebel …to Establishment …to What Next?

Sep 29, 2016 | Market & The Economy | 2 comments

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It happens to all of us eventually: that realisation that we are no longer the rebels, the challengers…. That we may have the very means, networks and even beliefs that we once criticised. For me, it was a recent U2 concert, on the band’s Innocence + Experience Tour, that woke me up to this profound shift.

First, you need to know that I have followed U2 and Bono since I was ten-years-old. Over the decades, I’ve watched them evolve – always with depth to their music.

So when Bono sang and rapped the following about himself, I felt, in part, like he was singing about my generation:

This boy, who looks a lot like me, comes up to me and says: ‘Have you forgotten who you are? Have you forgotten where you come from? You’re Irish. But here you are all smiling and making out with the powerful.’ The boy is behind the police line and I’m on the other side of the barricade to myself aged 19. The boy shouts at me: ‘We don’t want you in our revolution; you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.’

At 56 and fabulously wealthy, Bono also rapped the lines “Can you see those fighter planes, when you’re in your private plane?

To me, it was a marker of aging, but also a powerful reflection on the world we now live in. The Baby Boomer generation is entering its late afternoon to twilight years, and many of us are very uncomfortable with the shifts that we are seeing. In fact, the world will look very different in 10 years’ time. The question is: how different?

Globally, younger generations are tired of what they perceive as the deceit and the selfishness of the Boomer generation. This dissatisfaction is pushing the pendulum to swing against many established political and business leaders globally, and they are rightly concerned as to where it is heading. In some places it’s going to the far right and in many of those that are traditionally left, it has swung even further left.

Today’s protestors are angry and frustrated, but they are equally confused. In South Africa, we saw this beginning last year with the #FeesMustFall campaign. It was real and relevant, but it has descended into an incoherent mess that could weaken and even destroy our world class academic institutions. Some feel that the vote for Brexit has and will have a similar trajectory.

In November 2016, we could have a US President who is a billionaire without political experience but also a genius at getting media attention through social media and sound bites. Trump is not the only one who is good at this: there are more and more leaders locally and globally who know how to get the media to work for them, but don’t necessarily have experience or wisdom to govern a country.

The Baby Boomer politicians have a job on their hands. Can they win the centre back or has it been too long since we’ve seen how ugly the far right and left can look?

Globally, we need to change course, in how we address social, economic, religious, political and nationalistic issues – for we know that armies, spin and gluttony ultimately no longer work. The Darwinian philosophy of ‘Adapt or Die’ may well apply more than ever to us, as human beings, in the next century.

As financial planners, we need to evolve just as quickly as the times, if not faster, so that we’re always on the front foot. It’s no longer good enough to be looking at the now; we have to be scanning the horizon, constantly assessing where we are going and what we need to put in place to remain on the front foot. This means looking at changes in the economy, our government, taxes, the markets and opportunities for investments – and it’s something we do every day.



  1. Nigel Macdonald

    Hi Barry,

    What an excellent article. Thank you.

  2. Barry Guiney

    A thought provoking piece Barry and definitely on the pulse.


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