But she is courageously right to insist that the reckonings ahead for aging Americans portend “nothing less than a radical rethinking of the cherished American myth that individuals should be capable of providing for their economic independence throughout their lives.” Boomers, she suggests, will be obliged to shuck off their customary self-infatuation in order to “plan in a more systematic way for old age even as—also paradoxically—they abandon delusions about their capacity to exercise complete control over the circumstance of their final years.”

In Jacoby’s view, this new intergenerational social contract will depend absolutely on the so-called wellderly: “If boomers do not lead the way, no one will.” As I write this, however, older voters disproportionately turned out to support the Tea Party, whose agenda has failed to produce the barest specifics for a program of spending cuts, hewing instead to a spasmodic rejection of government itself. In other words, there seems to be little basis in our political culture to support Jacoby’s scenario.

Still, one can hope that her impassioned, closely argued tract gains a serious hearing among her fellow boomers. Without such counsel, they—and a good deal of the economic order that has long catered to them—will go gently into that good night, in the firm belief that it is forever high noon. 

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Chris Lehmann is an editor for Yahoo News, co-editor of BookForum, and a columnist for The Awl. He is also the author of Rich People Things.