This Is Nuts
From Pyramid to Rectangle
Demographic Problems and Opportunities
Puerto Rico, Cleveland, and Boca Raton
In an increasingly divided world, we all share one great desire: self-preservation. Not just humans, either. The survival instinct exists in almost every living thing. Humans simply have greater ability to do something about it.
In fact, we have been doing something about it for many thousands of years. An inverted pyramid of geniuses and giants, modern medicine, nutrition, sanitation, and assorted other innovations has extended our lifespans and helped more of us live to ripe old ages. That’s wonderful… but it’s also a problem many of us still don’t fully understand.
I have mixed feelings myself. At 69, I truly believe I’ll live well past 100 and stay as healthy and independent as I am now. But sometimes I wonder. For instance, in the past few weeks I had a growing adverse reaction to a new (to me) medicine. It made me tired and slowly lowered my blood pressure to a dangerous level. I didn’t recognize it and just thought the years and miles were finally beginning to take their toll. Finally, in consultation with my doctor, we figured out what was going wrong, changed course and the major symptoms improved quickly. But for about a month, I felt much older, almost invalid at times. It was kind of like the Hemingway line, “How do you go bankrupt?” The answer: “Slowly, and then all at once.”
Of course, I’ve helped my elderly parents and others but this poignant experience gave me new awareness of my own age. It also increased my determination not to go gently into that good night. And, to today’s topic, it helped draw my attention to aging and demographics as they relate to my series on debt.
Aside from death, aging brings financial and cultural problems. We are simply not prepared for a world in which old people outnumber the young. But it may be coming, thanks to life extension at the upper end and falling fertility rates below. National pension systems—what we call Social Security in the US but similar elsewhere—are not designed for that combination. They presume a high ratio of working young to retired old citizens. That is no longer happening and is increasingly hard to ignore.
Today I want to review these issues, and then tell you about a new initiative to help you live well and even prosper in this new, longer-lived world.