The intergenerational question
Such complaints have much truth: university tuition fees and how house prices are big burdens on young folk that my generation - the pushing 50s - didn't face. And, of course, it's no fun being young in recession; almost one-fifth of 18-24 year-olds are unemployed, and graduating in a downturn can have long-term adverse effects.
But is it fair to say today's generation is, on average, worse off than mine? I'm not sure, for two reasons.
First, in the long-term, even quite modest GDP growth has big effects. If the economy grows by 1.5% a year (less than its long-term average), then the average 50-year-old in 25 years' time - that is, today's 25 year-old - will be 45% better off than the average 50-year-old today. Barring an improbable disaster, today's young people will on average be better off than my generation on average.
Sure, the skewness around the average might change; if we become even more of a "winner take all" economy, the fruits of growth will go to only a minority. But if this happens - and I've no idea how to forecast long-term changes in the distribution of incomes - it is a problem of within-generation inequality, not of between-generation inequality.
Secondly, there's technical change. Think of what today's 25-year-olds have that I didn't when I was 25: the internet with its free access to music and (let's be honest) porn; e-readers that give you classic books for free; MP3 players that mean you don't have to cart cassettes around for your Walkman; mobile phones that weigh less than housebricks; TVs with more than four channels; better video games. And so on. In these regards, an average 25-year-old is better off than the richest 25-year-old was in 1988.
And, because he's younger, today's typical 25-year-old can look forward to more fruits of technical change than I can.
I don't say all this to patronize youngsters and claim they have no complaints. They do.
Instead, I do so to draw attention to a paradox - that whilst some people are complaining (rightly) about hard times, others are speaking of a "rapid growth of material superabundance." These are two sides of the same coin. The story of long-term economic growth is a story of changing relative prices. Prices of many services, drink and housing have risen over time - in part because of government policy - but prices of many goods have plummeted: an iPod was infinitely expensive in 1988. If we look at the former, today's young people are struggling. If we look at the latter, they're blessed.
I'm not at all sure how these balance out. Would I rather be a 25 year-old today than a 25-year-old in 1988? I just don't know.