No Vacancy (Chain)

Regular reader (and Kindle Kontest winner) Sachin Darji pointed me to this short piece in the current issue of Scientific American by Stony Brook Professor Ivan Chase about hermit crabs and “vacancy chains.”  It seems that when these crabs find a better shell with which to protect themselves, they will discard their old ones and take over the better one.  After that happens, another crab can “move up” to the discarded (but better) shell and the process continues indefinitely. This phenomenon is called a “vacancy chain” by scientists.  It is “an organized method of exchanging resources in which every individual benefits by claiming a more desirable possession abandoned by another individual.”

As I pointed out last week (here), we Boomers are “increasingly postponing retirement and thus crowding out opportunities for the younger generation.  Our reasons include our poor savings records, a lousy economy, an ugly stock market, home values still in the tank and even self-actualization.  And to be fair, net household wealth in the U.S. is still down more than 10% from its pre-recession peak.” As Sachin describes it, Gen X-ers have arrived on the scene like post-Gold Rush settlers only to discover that all of the land, opportunities and jobs have been taken by those who arrived before and who have no intention of making room for more.  History has not been kind to those who arrive late.

In other words, we aren’t allowing the vacancy chain to work for our kids.

To a degree, everyone is responsible for making his or her own luck and opportunities, but doing so is a whole lot easier with a tailwind than with the current headwinds. It’s tragic that our kids see so many “No Vacancy” signs when they try to occupy a better position to improve their lives and their futures.


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