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Boomer Outlook: From Woodstock to Wall Street


The secret is to never grow old.

This story was co-written by Minyanville's Charlie Mangano and Tom Eggers.

Flashback: In the 1950s, two baby boys were born in New York to Depression-era parents who were chasing the American dream: good jobs, homes in the soon-to-be booming suburbs, and the 2.5 children that the bureau of population statistics predicted for them.

During the '60s, the boys lived through air raid drills, JFK, Vietnam, The British Invasion, Catholic boy's high schools, RFK, and MLK. The '70s brought Nixon and Catholic college, where the two of us met.

In 1976, we set out on a quest to become successful without selling out. To us, Hermes was just a Greek god and "Beamers" were people who smiled a lot. So what happened?

What happened was the 1980s, the decade when investment bankers became rock stars. We traded our coke and sympathy (there's the requisite Boomer Rolling Stones lyrical reference) for cash and options.

Okay, we'll admit it right up front -- some would say we kind of sold out. Two guys who were going to change the world -- or at least influence how people perceived it -- wound up in careers on Wall Street instead. Idealism was replaced by pragmatism, and communal spirit gave way to a corner office. We traded Camelot for Want A Lot. It worked out pretty well, with good careers at well-respected companies (at the time, at least): Merrill Lynch (BAC), Paine Webber (UBS), and an overlapping stint at Deutsche Bank (DB).

So now we find ourselves with both feet firmly planted in (dare we say it?) "middle age," trying to figure out exactly what the Great Almost Depression of 2008-2009 really means.

Now at this point in the story, we're compelled to admit that as Boomers we feel a little guilty for setting the cultural tone that got us into this mess. It was our generation that initiated and fostered many of the elements that formed the economic maelstrom that almost pulled us down. Instant gratification, credit addiction, and conspicuous consumption might not have been invented by Boomers, but they were pretty well perfected during our coming of age.

The truth is, we all kind of forgot the wisdom of our elders when we hopped on the Great Bull Market. The "when I was your age" stories we heard from our parents and grandparents made the "Grapes of Wrath" experience many of them endured very real.

We didn't need Springsteen lyrics to tell us about hard times. We heard the real thing firsthand.

We also heard plenty of advice:

1. Save money: Start early and save often. A favorite confirmation gift of our generation was the Series E savings bond.

2. Get a college education (avoiding the draft was an added benefit).

3. Get a good job. A suit and tie job was considered special and a "job in the city" was extra special.

4. Marry a "nice" girl from a "good" family, preferably one who's college-educated and working.

5. Buy a single-family home in a suburban neighborhood with good schools. Put at least 33.3% down and pay the mortgage in 25 years if you can.

So where has the Great Almost Depression left us? Like everyone, we have both seen our portfolios reduced, but we believe that having survived several down cycles (1972-1974 stagflation, 1987 market crash, 1990-1992 banking/real estate crisis, 1994 debt debacle, 1998 "Asian Flu," 2000-2001 tech bubble), we have a little better perspective on dealing with it.

For the generations that came after us, there's been nothing but a straight line from the bottom left of the chart to the top right. Well, welcome to reality you Slackers, Gen Xers, and Yers. Trees don't grow to the sky. It just looks that way from inside the forest.

We grew up as a generation that's fought tooth, nail, and forehead wrinkle against growing old, so we're not concerned about the effect on our "retirement." We never really planned to "retire" in the traditional sense. We saw ourselves doing some of the things we aspired to in our youth before chasing the dream replaced following our hearts.

Being charitable, creative, and entrepreneurial has returned to our priority list after 30 some odd years. The famous Who lyric, "I hope I die before I get old," is easy to do if you never grow old. We're proud of starting second careers and, with any luck, we may even see that morph into third and fourth careers.

And speaking of luck, we both view ourselves as the luckiest people in the world. Our generation was schooled in the ethos of the Depression, but lived in the age of hope, survival, and the promise of a second act before our ticket is punched. Beneath all the glitzy consumerism, you need to know that it's fun while it lasts, but it may not last forever.

Economic prosperity isn't a birthright. It's something you earn through a combination of hard work, luck, and some guy in the corner office who went to business school instead of Woodstock.

Happy New Year -- and don't trust anyone under 50!
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