Is it just me or does the topic of aging, longevity, anti-aging and even immortality seem to be popping up everywhere? It could be me because I think this is right up there in the top four or five world-shaking forces shaping the future, and I’m researching the aforementioned subjects.
But in the Sunday supplement to my local paper an article appeared titled, “The coming battle of the ages.” The double entendre foreshadows the rather apocalyptic tone of the piece. The author, David Rothkopf, says the big problem ahead is not the “clash of civilizations” (e.g., Western society vs. fundamentalist Islam), but the “clash of generations–in which the interests of an aging, developed world are pitted against those of a developing world that is young and increasingly frustrated.”
It’s another “have” vs. “have-nots” scenario where the struggle is between meeting the needs of the aging, particularly in the US and EU, and the needs and aspirations of millions—nay, billions—of young people around the world. What’s that have to do with us? In the US itself the costs of Social Security, Medicare, etc., will put a severe strain on politics between generations, and, as we learned on 9/11, the US is not insulated from roiling forces elsewhere in the world.
Demography is, in fact, destiny: Half the people in the world today are under 24.
Of these, nearly nine out of 10 live in the developing world. A billion of them will need jobs in the next decade — 60 percent of them are in Asia, 15 percent are in Africa. For them, the choices are simple: dignity or desperation, a job or starvation.
For the citizens of the developed world, though richer, the challenges are also daunting.
Our populations are older than ever. We live 50 percent longer than people in poor countries. Our median age is twice as high. In Europe today there are four workers for every retiree; in a few decades, there will be only two workers to pay for each retiree.
At the same time, the bill for caring for these older citizens will skyrocket. In Italy, Spain, Japan and France, public benefits to the elderly will exceed 27 percent of GDP by 2040.
Alarming? The author hopes so. He maintains that nowhere in the world is the situation being confronted squarely. Politicians are unwilling to insist that voters give up short term interests—taxes—to prepare for some planned amelioration of the situation. So things seem to be on a collision course. He proposes a broad recognition among people that it’s in our common interest to solve the problem with some calculated compromises rathe than simply meander into the crisis.
Gosh, what a dreamer!