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Dorn: Revenge of the Boomers

Apologies are in a bull market. Not a week goes by without someone apologizing publicly for saying or doing something. This trend has not gone un-noticed by the Boomers. Just as they have done everything in a big way, they are apologizing profusely.

At 2009 commencement speeches across the United States, the boomers were telling the graduates one message: Our bad. Don’t be like us.

Among the most pungent of these apologies came from Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist and highly-prolific writer. In a speech to the graduating class of Grinnell College, Mr. Friedman (a Baby Boomer born in 1953) described his cohorts as “…the grasshopper generation eating through just about everything like hungry locusts…”

Unfortunately, this is the truth about a large number of Boomers. It is, however, risky and perhaps unfair to put one label an entire generation, especially one as massive as the Boomers. How do you fit approximately 100 million people (one-third of the population of the United States) into a single category? With great difficulty at best.

Boomers, born between the years 1946-1964 (definitions vary so I am using approximate dates for the post World War II baby boom) were pampered and spoiled children, raised under the permissive standards set forth by Benjamin Spock, M.D. Dr. Spock’s Book “The Commonsense Book of Baby and Child Care” was published in 1946 and is reputed to have sold more than 50 million copies. Boomers were the first generation to be “given credit cards.”

As the Boomers grew into adolescence and young adulthood, many became known as “hippies.” They were anti-everything, including their parents, teachers and war. Perhaps more than any other decade, the 60's defined the Boomers. During that time, they were passionate about music, frolicked at Woodstock, protested the Vietnam War and rioted on college campuses.

As adults, they focused on accumulating stuff, on spending and keeping up with each other. Enough was not enough for many of them. They were unable to distinguish between needs and wants and felt entitled to everything. Some of them did hideous acts in the name of making money.

They are now accused of throwing future generations into debt, of robbing and cheating their children and grandchildren in order to enhance themselves. Many authors, including myself and my colleague Nick Russo in our Big Rollover Thesis put forth in 2005, are on record as saying that the demographics of the Boomer, the decrease in Boomer spending and the increase in their entitlements and unfunded liabilities are partly responsible for the economic crises we face today. This will continue to worsen as more Boomers step up to the government trough in the years ahead.

But what will life really be like for the Boomers as they enter their Golden Years?

Again, it is a rigorous and often counterproductive task to label an entire generation. That said, it is clear that old habits don’t go away so easily. I don’t think the Boomers will go quietly into the night like the so-called Silent generation before them. I would not be surprised to see many of them refusing to retire and working for as long as they are able. A large number of Boomers define themselves by their job or the work they do. It may be virtually impossible for this group to stop working. Some will do this by choice and others because they have no choice. They will continue to start small businesses and be entrepreneurs.

Some boomers will continue to accumulate credit card debt and not care about their credit score if they declare bankruptcy. Some will walk away from their homes when they can’t pay the mortgage. They will think about it and maybe have a twinge of conscience about doing it, but they will continue to do what they believe is in their own best interest. Homes are a status symbol for Boomers, so most will do whatever they can to keep their homes. Some will downsize, but others will actually upsize in order to have room for their children who are forced to live at home because they can’t find jobs or make enough money to live on their own.

In terms of the financial markets, many Boomers will turn to trading or investing as a means to sustain their lifestyle. Rather than leaving the stock markets as many predict, they may gravitate toward them as traders or investors in an attempt to make enough money to sustain their lifestyle. With few exceptions, this is likely to prove an exercise in futility, but it will not stop them from trying.

Boomers consider themselves to be young forever. They will do whatever it takes to look and feel young and cottage industries will spring up to support this trend. I would not be surprised to see spa centers specifically targeted to pampering the aging boomers with facial and body treatments, targeted exercises and a couple of plastic surgeons on staff. Geriatric medicine and concierge medicine will be in high demand as boomers become more aware of their aging processes and seek out both conventional allopathic as well as so-called complementary alternative medical treatments. Some of them will lead movements in New Age spirituality, and many will follow. Those who have lead a religious life will strength their religion and become leaders and teachers of their faith.

Boomers have seen hard times before. They watched the price of gasoline skyrocket from 30 cents a gallon to $2.50 a gallon and oil from $5.00 a barrel to $80 a barrel. They saw prices of homes rise from $15,000 to $800,000. Boomers have had a wild ride in their lifetimes and they aren’t quitting yet. Many with whom I interact are full of energy and ambition, driven to work and produce, and eager to pass on their wisdom and knowledge. Others are downtrodden, defeated and have a sense that they have lost their way.

I am not a Boomer, nor am I defending them. They do a good enough job of that without me! I just think they get a really bad rap and perhaps this is justified. I believe that they are acting out the role that they were destined by history to play.

They may take the moral high road by apologizing but it is important to observe how they act, not what they say. Attention Boomers: we are watching you, and continue to be both dismayed and fascinated by your behavior.

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Janice Dorn, M.D., Ph.D. is a Financial Psychiatrist and Financial Futurist. She is the author of one book (Personal Responsibility: The Power Of You) and 2000 articles on the financial markets. She has traded the gold futures markets full-time since 1993. She is believed to be the only M.D, Ph.D. Psychiatrist in the world that actively trades, writes market commentary and runs a subscription-based Website: www.thetradingdoctor.com

Watch "Tom Brokaw Reports: Boomer$!", Thursday, March 4 at 9pm ET on CNBC. The program will also air Saturday, March 6 at 7pm ET; Sunday, March 7th at 9pm ET; and Monday, March 8th at 8pm ET.