The Ecphorizer

The Counter-Culture
Barry Leff

Issue #32 (April 1984)

What happens when the "hippies" come of age and attain political and economic power?

[quoteright]The counter-culture generation is formed by those of us who grew up and went to school during the period from the mid-sixties to the early seventies: the generation that brought you marijuana, draft dodgers, LSD, acid rock, the sexual revolution, Students for a Democratic Society and most of the "fodder" for the Vietnam War.

The media were amused at Jerry Rubin (the Yippie author of Do It!, the revolutionary's handbook) when he cut his hair and became a stockbroker on Wall Street. Jerry Rubin is not alone. Most of the "flower children" (and Vietnam veterans) of the counter-culture have cut their hair and gotten married, and are becoming solidly middle class citizens. In business they are making their way into top management; in government they are reaching high-level staff positions. Many of the women who postponed children in favor of careers are now having children as they reach their mid to late thirties.

Except for the few entrepreneurs who can force their way at an earlier age and a few energetic oldsters, real economic and political power in this country is centered in people who range in age from their late thirties to mid-fifties. These are the people who are traditionally the "movers and shakers" of society. They have experience and have had the time to accumulate some economic power, while still retaining the energy and drive to do something.

During the next decade, power is going to shift from a conservative generation that grew up with World War II, the Korean War and McCarthyism to the counter-culture generation. What changes can we expect?

The counter-culture generation is better educated and more socially aware (with all due respect to my elders) than the preceding generations. The counter-culture generation tried to change the world (and did, although not quite as planned).

A substantial number of the best and brightest of the generation are making traditional economic advances (promotions, starting businesses, etc.), which is creating a substantial population of people who are socially liberal (i.e., tolerant of wide deviations in behavior) and politico-economically conservative. A lot of us are discovering that capitalism isn't all that bad if you can figure out how to make it work for you. However, since many of the generation still partake of a little "toke" now and then, and may still be pursuing "free love," they do not quite fit the strict "conservative" or "liberal" models.

I am quite optimistic that the generation will remember some of their counter-culture philosophies and awareness, and temper them with the wisdom gained through experience. I believe we are going to see businesses that care more about people and the environment and that have implicit social and personal growth objectives as part of the underlying value system. Profit will be viewed more as a business expense (the cost of equity financing) and a scorecard on performance than as an absolute raison d'etre for a business.

On the political sphere I would expect a renewed appreciation for the free market processes and a search for more efficient means of providing social support (e.g., make welfare and schools work better, rather than throwing more money at problems). As this is the "involved" generation, I would expect to see government functions being pushed more toward a local level, where people can be involved, than the federal level, which is too far removed and does not allow as much individual involvement. As this is the generation that wanted to change the world, I am optimistic that when in positions of political power they will wield more actual change and less vacuous rhetoric than some of their predecessors. Reagan talks a good game on reducing government and taxes, yet government and taxes continue to increase (the present administration's idea of a tax cut is to raise taxes less). I hope the counter-culture generation will be a little better at practicing what they preach when they are given the reins of political and economic control. We despised hypocrisy 15 years ago; I hope we continue to despise it 15 years hence.

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