By Natasha Singer, New York Times, October 24, 2010
For the first time in history, people aged 65 and over are about to outnumber children under 5...
If the cost of maintaining aging populations could lead to World War II-era levels of government debt, solution to the crisis will require a mass-scale collaborative response akin to the Manhattan Project or the speace race, says Michael W. Hodin, who is adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and researches aging issues.
Governments, industry, and international agencies, he says, will have to work together to transform the very strudcture of society, by creating jobs and education programs for people in their 60's and 70's--the hypothetical new middle age--and by tackling diseases like Alzheimer's....
Finally, governments and companies may need to view aging populations not as debt loads but as wells of expertise.
(First, we welcome, with open arms, the inclusion of the Book Review and the News Section of the New York Times into the Sunday Toronto Star. Without in any way hinting at or advocating for the "annexation" of Canada into the U.S., we are delighted to have access to some of the best journalistic writing on the continent. Also, the opinions of thinking Americans might just nudge some Canadian thought leaders to push their envelope a little, catching a little of the American trait of "risk-taking" and actually thinking less 'conservatively'.)
Now, more to the point of the case of the aging being seen as a resource, not as a debt load on the society's accounts.
Warehousing our aging population, while it may have seemed 'enlightened' a century ago, no longer works for anyone. Our's is a generation that, for its time, was the first to graduate from university, in many of our families. We were the ones who sought careers in teaching, law, medicine, social work, architecture, psychology, engineering and the sciences, including electronics in such massive numbers. We were the beneficiaries of an explosion of opportunity the likes of which our parents could never have imagined.
There may certainly be aspects of our generation that some find less than wholesome; however, we are a bank of intelligence, of adjusting and transitioning skills, given our ride through the stormy seas of the dramatic changes witnessed over the last 70 years.
We were rasied after the second war, when there was plenty of plenty. We participated in the revolution of the sixties and early seventies. We are represented in pop culture by the likes of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon and Art Garfunnkel, Bob Dylan, John Kennedy and Pierre Trudeau. We lived and breathed "change" from the military industrial complex, of which Eisenhower so eloquently warned. While our efforts may not have brought complete peace, we planted the seeds of non-violence. Our's was not so much a fight on the battlefields of Europe or Korea, but our's was a battle in the buses of Selma, Alabama, and Haight Ashbury in San Francisco, and the open challenge to the "suits" to get more real and less detached from the needs of the street.
There is still so much work to do, to bring the "establishment" to its knees, especially about the relationship between the individual and the system. It is not the system that serves the individual, so much as the inverse: the system would not exist without the individual. Humans are the energy and the creativity and the hope and the life-blood of any enterprise, and we collectively have permitted the profits and the trade agreements and the numbers of both production and consumption to guide our policy and our think tanks in a dangerous direction.
We still need hundreds of new think tanks that can see the "human" implications of global warming (for example) for what they really are, including their implications for corporations seeking to jam their heads into the sands because of the increased costs of doing anything to counteract this tsunami of toxins. We still need think tanks staffed by our generation to bring the continent back from the brink of complete co-dependence on the rules and needs of those profit-seekers whose perspective excludes the impact their decisions have on human beings, and their families.
We cannot sustain either pensions or health care, without bringing our generation back to the bargaining table, including back to the workforce. We need to consider new options such as paying the grey-beards and the blue-rinse set to continue teaching, coaching, mentoring and not relegate us to a "volunteering" role only. We are not interested in being a "drain" on our children and grandchildren; we still want to earn our keep, and we are far more capable, both intellectually and physically, than we have been given credit for being.
Look for example, at the twelfth election of Hazel McCallion as Mayor of Mississauga, at 89!
When she is not longer the "exception" but the norm, then our generation will have been accepted into the ranks of the useful, the imagination and the contributors...and there are millions of mind-sets that need to change to bring such a transformation about. And we are definitely capable of bringing such a transformation about. We have the intellectual skills, and the political will and the new technology to bring about such a change in perspective. It is not only that we can meet legitimate needs of the society, but the society can no longer afford to exclude us from the process.
Reports of our demise are greatly exaggerated as Mark Twain so succinctly reminds us.