Fred Wilson points to a great discussion on Tom Evslin's blog about people who turn more conservative politically as they age.
Certainly such transmutations seem to occur frequently, but as the comments to Tom's post illustrate, there are many other sorts of experiences--from people turning more liberal as they age, to people not changing at all.
Tom and Fred point to the experiences of the Baby Boomers, both, essentially arguing that the failure of the Great Society to end poverty and dependence and the failure of monetary "policy" (Whip Inflation Now!) to staunch inflation in the 1970s pushed the Boomers to the right.
But I'm not sure that's correct. Certainly there were problems with those policies, but the premise behind those policies--that government has a responsibility to make the apparatus of the nation serve the greatest good for the greatest number--was not disproved by the troubles of specific policies regarding public housing, public assistance, affirmative action, or skin-tight credit. Yet many Boomers abandoned those principles together with those policies. Why?
I think the short answer is money. By 1976 the leading edge of the baby Boomers was 30 and beginning to worry about things like home ownership and retirement in a way that they hadn't 10 years before. Yet they were confronted with a world of high taxes, high inflation, high interest rates. By the time Ronald Reagan ousted Jimmy Carter, the Boomers had abandoned the ineffectual Carter for a promise of morning in America.
They got what they asked for, and in some ways this was good--monetary policy helped free up credit and lower rates spurring a borrowed boom that has created sustained growth to this day. (As I wrote previously I believe a debt crisis is looming, the long term result of funding 20+ years of "growth" by a huge increase in consumer and corporate borrowing.) By the middle of Reagan's years in office, early Boomers' were inheriting money saved by their Depression-marked parents, they were increasingly able to buy homes. They now had wealth to conserve. And the conservation of personal wealth is what put the "conserve" in conservatism.
The simple truth is that the tilt toward conservatism over 25 years in America has delivered exactly what you might have predicted. It has opened an enormous chasm between the rich and the poor--creating an entirely new class of McMansion-dwelling super-affluent who pay taxes at the same rate as the middle class. It has saddled the poor with vastly increased debt (as we finance growth in consumer spending through policies designed to expand and protect the subprime lending market, i.e., the new bankruptcy bill). It has reducing health and retirement benefits to the working and middle classes as policies undid defined-benefit pensions and replaced them with optional benefit plans to which many workers cannot afford to contribute. It has made higher education affordable only to the upper middle class and the super-affluent, closing off wage-growth opportunities for poorer Americans. In other words, conservatism has conserved the wealth of the wealthy by creating policies designed to deliver the greatest good to an extremely small number of citizens. And, ironically, conservatism has delivered this victory not through a reduced Federal government but instead through an expanded federal government!
We live in remarkably venal, selfish times; our great experiment in democracy and republicanism as devolved into the ugliest of oligarchies. Simply put, as a nation, we have stopped looking out for one another and now we only look out for ourselves.
Between communism and social Darwinism lies an enormous range of complex principles and political options. But Americans cherish binary simplicity. It's Coke or Pepsi, Democrat or Republican, McDonald's or Burger King, conservative or liberal. So older, wealthier people turn more conservative as they have possession of more worth conserving.
In these times, as I get older, I have found my response has been to become more liberal not less.