Robbing the young

I am lucky enough to own a house which has escalated in value to the point where it is apparently ‘worth’ a lot of money. Big deal! The only way of turning it into ‘real’ money would be to sell it and live in a tent. More importantly, the price escalation which has led to its current valuation is what will make it difficult or impossible for my kids to buy homes of their own. I therefore view house prices with a good deal of dyspeptic cynicism, and refuse to participate in dinner-party conversations on the subject. So good on Peter Wilby, who has written an excellent rant on this very subject, in the process highlighting yet another reason why young people are turned off by newspapers. Excerpt:

Anybody over 50, who has already done most of their retirement saving, has every reason to be gloomy when the Footsie dives. Those under 40, with most of their saving ahead of them, should jump for joy. Their pension schemes will pay less for the assets that are going to finance their old age. So they will get more bang for their bucks. The same, more obviously, applies to house prices.You would not know any of this from reading the papers. Whether it’s house prices or share prices, the press treats a rise as cause for celebration, a fall as an occasion for alarm. We are led to believe that inflation is a thing of the past, a relic of the 1970s and old Labour.

This is nonsense. Inflation is alive and well; it has merely moved from goods and services to assets. In other words, the press presents the world through a middle-aged, middleclass prism. When young people read that house prices have shown “healthy increases”, they must think journalists live in a parallel universe. No wonder they don’t read newspapers or feel any affection for them. If any paper hopes to woo the under-30s in large numbers, whether through new media or old-fashioned print, it will have to get to grips with what Faisal Islam, economics correspondent of Channel 4 News, calls “the great generational robbery”.

In the New Statesman this month, he wrote of how 22-year-olds, through rent payments, are paying off the mortgages of older landlords who benefited from cheaper house prices; of how, when they eventually buy houses, it will represent a transfer of many millions of pounds from young to old; of how, through rising taxation, they are paying their parents’ pensions. Why do we so rarely read of this in the daily and Sunday papers? Why do papers such as the Telegraph and Express fuss so much about inheritance tax which matters to people in their 50s and 60s, whose parents are approaching the end of their lives, not to those in their 20s and 30s? Newspapers think they are trying hard to attract younger readers, with new designs, consumer guides to iPods and long features about pop and film celebrities. It is all window-dressing. In their coverage of politics, social affairs and business, they betray underlying assumptions and attitudes to drugs, sex, money and much else that seem quite alien to the most young readers.

I’ve just read Faisal’s piece, and very good it is too.