If you think today’s heated debates about Social Security entitlements presage conflict between the generations, Juan Carlos Cantú’s Age Warfare presents a future demographic nightmare in which the old use their collective power at the ballot box to keep younger generations in a state of low-wage, low-opportunity economic slavery.
Cantú’s novel is fiction, of course. But it is not hard to see where he gets his creative inspiration. The overall unemployment rate is only 7.3% today, but among teenagers it is 23%. And it is not for nothing that Social Security is called the “third rail” of American politics. Any attempt to reform the system without guaranteeing that all those in or near retirement will be exempted is career suicide for any politician of either party. The result is that today’s young and early-middle-aged pay for the comparatively lavish benefits of prior generations…benefits they cannot hope to receive themselves. And this says nothing of the “debt slavery” that Americans are bequeathing to their children in the form of trillion-dollar deficits and spiraling federal debt.
Age Warfare takes place in the 2050s, decades after an energy crisis caused the world economy to grind to a halt and forced the world’s governments to implement population control measures that make China’s modern-day One Child Policy seem mild by comparison; baby boys are sterilized at birth. It is a world in which power is so precious that the energy expended at the gym by running on a treadmill or pushing up a bench press bar is cycled back into the electrical grid via electrodes attached to the exerciser. Wealth is represented by energy, and dollars have been replaced by a new currency denominated in joules.
Like other dystopian writers, Cantú has invented a new vocabulary to describe the world he envisions. In 1984, George Orwell gave us Newspeak, a language created by the totalitarian state to limit the ability of citizens to express themselves. In Age Warfare, the young communicate by “Fonglish,” or “phonetic English.” What is fonglish? 2 get n idea, u shuld read ur kidz txts.
Returning to the central theme of the book, the class struggle between age cohorts, Cantú gives names to the generations of the next 40 years. Today, we have the Baby Boomers, Generation X and the Millennials. In 2053, we have pre-collapsers, collapsers and limiters.
Pre-collapsers, or those born before Cantú’s energy crisis, roughly correspond to today’s real-life Millennials. Born before the collapse, they’ve lived a mostly-privileged life. And because they are a much bigger generation than those that followed, they have the clout at the ballot box to ensure preferential labor regulations and retirement benefits. Collapsers, those born during and immediately after the crisis, are a broody lot, having come of age at a time of bleakness and pessimism about the future. Limiters are a more idealistic generation, but they resent the reduced opportunities they have been given in a system that grossly favors the old over the young.
Overall, Age Warfare is engaging and thought-provoking. I would recommend it for readers with an interest in demographics and in dystopian fiction.