From Inter-Generational Conflict to Intra-Generational Inequality: How States Are Financialising Life-Course Risks across Generations

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Ben SPIES-BUTCHER, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Gareth BRYANT, University of Sydney, Australia
Adam STEBBING, Macquarie University, Australia
Estimates of the fiscal impacts of population ageing have led many critics of the welfare state to raise questions about generational equity. By taking generations as the primary unit of analysis, and focusing exclusively on fiscal transfers, generational accounting and other new public accounting techniques have reinforced social policy reforms that promote individual saving and insurance – rather than collective risk pooling – to mitigate social risks across the life course. In practice, these policies typically entrench forms of financialisation, making individuals more reliant on asset and debt products. This paper examines changes in accounting techniques across three policy domains most closely associated with life course risks and inter-generational conflicts: pensions, housing and higher education. While media reporting often represents the politics of these issues as involving conflict between younger and older citizens, sociologists have highlighted how generational categories obscure other important inequalities. The paper extends this analysis by exploring how changes in public sector accounting techniques reconstruct changes in distributional patterns within generations as conflicts between generations. This construction, we argue, reflects political strategies to overcome resistance to welfare state retrenchment, and is consistent with a broader de-politicisation of welfare associated with neoliberal politics. However, we end by noting the re-emergence of political contestation within this new financialized framework, and suggest alternative tools for analyzing and understanding the intra-generational distributional impacts of policies across the life course.