08 April 2010


NewScientist | Fred Pearce | The shock of the old: Welcome to the elderly age

Of all the people in human history who ever reached the age of 65, half are alive now.
Wow. Assuming that figure is accurate,* that's some tremendous progress for civilization.

In contrast, only 5.8% of the total number of people ever born are alive today, according to this 2008 article by the Population Reference Bureau.

Like almost all articles in the New Scientist, this one is full of much foolishness,** such as equating age and wisdom, and a big heap of Malthusianism.  Also annoying was the way Pearce tried to counter claims that the old are often infirm and impose medical costs on society with irrelevant numbers like 3% of older britons being in nursing homes. That's nice but it still doesn't have any bearing on the relative costs of the old compared to the young, and the burdens of an aging population.  Pearce needs some first order logic lessons if he thinks statements like this are relevant: "Of course, many older people do need healthcare, but many others are fit."  Who's claiming that there are zero older people who are not fit?

Despite that sort of rubbish there are many interesting age-related facts to be found there.

This is important to keep in mind too:
In future, old people will be expected to stay in the formal economy for longer. [SB7: hopefully, anyway.] The idea of a retirement age was invented by Otto von Bismarck in the 1880s, when as chancellor of Germany he needed a starting age for paying war pensions. He chose the age of 65 because that was typically when ex-soldiers died. But today in developed countries, and soon in poorer ones, women can expect nearly 30 years of retirement, and men 20 years.
Like teenager-hood, retirement is a contemporary invention not a natural right.

* Seriously, is it too much to ask for some footnotes for a figure like that?  Especially from a publication with the word "Scientist" in it's name?

** Who was it who advised people be on guard when reading any publication called "The New [Blank]"?  I wish I could remember, because that's good advice.

(Via Tyler Cowen)

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Mostly unrelated, but still on the subject of youth and aging and societal changes, is Ed Morrissey's piece on the result of young American voters overwhelming supporting Obamacare.  It concludes:
This is what happens with “community pricing.” Costs don’t disappear; they just get allocated in a different manner. Instead of the actual higher-cost clients paying their share of the burden, they now get subsidized by low-risk clients instead. Thanks to Congress, these low-risk clients no longer have the option of choosing high-deductible catastrophic insurance with HSAs for routine medical work, but have to buy comprehensive insurance plans that wind up subsidizing their parents and grandparents.

Or, to put it in simpler terms, they’re getting f***ed by the same people who pushed the “F*** the Vote” campaign and the Democrats. Had the younger voters taken the time to learn something about risk pools, insurance, and the experience of Massachusetts and Maine using the same kind of mandates, they’d have told Rock the Vote to f*** off. They still have the opportunity to deliver that message to Democrats in November.
He is reacting to this AP piece: "Health premiums could rise 17 pct for young adults."

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