The Downside to Longer Life

A blog about business and economics.
April 12 2012 2:15 PM

The Downside to Longer Life

Via Tyler Cowen, Timothy Taylor glosses an IMF account of the economic consequences of an unexpectedly rapid increase in life expectancy in the developed world. Needless to say, the result is total doom for both public sector retirement programs and private sector pension plans. Thus all right-thinking people must fervently hope that the reverse happens, and rapid growth in the prevalence of multi-antibiotic resistant bacteria leads to an actual decline in life expectancy as routine hospitalizations for the troubles of aging become increasingly deadly.

But of course that's insane. Nobody should hope that the antibiotic resistant infections problem gets worse.

This is why I oftentimes find the reification of purely fiscal lenses on demographic issues frustrating. It's usually much clearer to talk about the real world. If you imagine a person retiring with some stock of resources (personal savings, emotional claims on descendants, political claims on public services) at his disposal then that person's per-year living standards are going to be in part a function of his life expectancy. The longer he lives, in other words, the more stretched those resources become. But it's perverse to phrase the "lives a long time" scenario as the bleak one, unless we're positing some additional facts about quality of life. The same basic issue with the demographic pyramid arises in private contexts and public ones. It even arises if you entirely leave money out of things. One problem we're going to face in the future, is that grandparents tend to want phone calls and visits from their grandchildren. But thanks to declining birthrates, the ratio of grandchildren to grandparents is falling creating increasing demands on grandchildren's time. This problem grows more severe if grandparental life expectancy grows and it's much less amenable to technological amelioration than the much-hyped problems with Medicare.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Amazon Is Launching a Serious Run at Apple and Samsung

Television

Slim Pickings at the Network TV Bazaar

Three talented actresses in three terrible shows.

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

We Could Fix Climate Change for Free. Now There’s Just One Thing Holding Us Back.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 7:03 PM Once Again, a Climate Policy Hearing Descends Into Absurdity
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 7:23 PM MIT Researchers Are Using Smartphones to Interact With Other Screens
  Health & Science
Jurisprudence
Sept. 17 2014 4:49 PM Schooling the Supreme Court on Rap Music Is it art or a true threat of violence?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.