December 26, 2013

"In a happy coincidence, the grandmother hypothesis comes along just as Americans enter what might be called the Age of Old Age."

"America's biggest generation, the baby-boomers, began retiring in 2011. This gerontocracy is expected to drain our wealth."
By 2060, more than 20 percent of all Americans will be 65 or older, up from 13 percent in 2010. More than 92 million oldsters will roam the land, if roaming is within their power. People who fret about the federal budget point out that, by 2011, Social Security and Medicare were already eating up a third of it. Looming in the near future is the prospect that both programs' trust funds will vanish as the number of workers paying into the system goes down.

But are senior citizens really "greedy geezers" (a term made popular by this magazine in 1988) about to bankrupt us? The grandmother hypothesis suggests not. It suggests that we should see the coming abundance of over-65-year-olds as an opportunity, not a disaster....
We Boomers must get out in front of the death panels. "The grandmother hypothesis" — whatever the hell it is — is the kind of propaganda we need. And, young people, did you scoff at my use of the term "death panels"? I hope so! It means our propaganda is working. But how well will it work when more than 92 million oldsters will roam the land, if roaming is within their power. If you young people decide you're tired of funding our pensions and our health care, capacity to roam will not be enough. We'll need to run.


El Pollo Raylan said...


Inga said...

Well, that's one good reason to be nice to one's grown children and make one'sself useful. Those young Ayn Rand followers won't abide useless eaters.

Richard Head said...


What Wealth? The Boomers have only left debt as the legacy to their children and grandchildren.

The age of old age will be a very short age. Enjoy it while you can.

Bob R said...

Christopher Buckley's novel Boomsday may have to be re-shelved with the nonfiction.

alan markus said...

I don't necessarily see all gloom and doom - all that money being sucked out of the economy (transfer payments) will flow right back in (eldercare will be big business). It's not as if your typical senior citizen will be banking all that Social Security money that they receive. And if there is any accumulated wealth remaining, it has to go somewhere - we won't be taking it with us.

Shouting Thomas said...

Seems to be working out to the opposite for me, as has been the case throughout my life.

My daughter asked me last night if I would be nanny to two grandchildren, if she and my son-in-law decided to have another child.

Grandpa doing the babysitting means Mom can go to work and the kids don't go to institutional care.

And, lots of money stays within the family that would otherwise have gone to daycare. The kids get an attentive, fully involved grandpa to take care of them while mom goes to work.

I pull out the guitar and my sketchbook when the kids take a nap.

David said...

I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Are you listening?


Bob Boyd said...


Mattman26 said...

The year 2060 is oh, about 46 years away. Whoever these folks are, their ability to estimate the percentage of the population over 60 is highly questionable. The Baby Boomers, who by definition would be at least 100 years old by then, can safely be expected to be all but extinct. So I call BS on the whole enterprise.

madAsHell said...

I pull out the guitar

I think you're going to buy a couple of small guitars.

John Lynch said...

Oh, this crap. Scientists should not be writing just-so stories to explain things that we simply do not know.

We don't know why we are the way we are. We evolved this way somehow, but exactly when and how isn't known.

When I see stories about why monogamy or polygamy exists, or some crap like this about what old people are for, I cringe inside. We don't know and can't know. All we can do is observe what people actually do. Who we are know is what is important, not justifying our choices by referring to pseudoscientific crap.

Social Darwinism and eugenics started the same way- logical sounding evil that referred to science as justification.

John Lynch said...

Shouting Thomas-

That's exactly what my mother did. Kid is taken care of, my wife and I both work, and grandma is taken care of. We get three incomes because of her pension, too. Everyone wins, and the family advances.

If there is going to be an intergenerational wealth imbalance, let's take advantage of it.

David said...

What kind of economy do they project for 2060? Of course they have no idea. Go back to the 1970's and see if anyone was predicting that deflation would be an issue now, that China would be the second largest economy or that technology and innovation would increase private wealth at the top end to today's high levels.

The economy is the wild card here. The potential includes a vast expansion of wealth to larger numbers of people, and a societal wealth unimaginable today. It also includes stagnation and decline.

Do we dare to increase the creative power of the private economy, or will we slog around in the government centric swamp we are now in? That's the issue.

TosaGuy said...

It's not the Ayn Rand's useless eaters of Inga's fervent imagination that should be considered, it is that progressives will return to their traditional values of eugenics and extrapolate it to old people who have no more wealth to mine.

madAsHell said...

if anyone was predicting that deflation would be an issue now

So, you're paying less for goods and services??
The SEIU is clamoring for $15 minimum wage.
Quantitative easing keeps the printing press running.

yeah....deflation......that's the problem!!

Find a good dictionary.

Sorun said...

Hmm, predictions about 2060... I predict flying cars and sexbots.

The grandmother hypothesis makes sense to me. Like the tubor-digging old ladies in the article, I saw old Nepalese women hauling bales of hay on their backs up mountain trails. Amazing. There's a lot of potential horse power in an old woman.

chuck said...

We'll need to run.

Good luck with that. Already at thirty I noticed that those teenagers were darn fast around the bases in softball games. Only thirty, and I felt like a doddering old man.

The standard trick in these scenarios is to hire young folks to defend oneself from young folks. Divide and conquer I say. It also helps to make it a family business so as to ensure a bit of loyalty.

jimbino said...

Part of the problem is that spouses and children of FICA contributors, though indolent and non-working themselves, as well as the "disabled," also feed at the SS and Medicare (not to mention Medicaid) gummint wealth-transfer trough.

This wealth-spreading policy provides a great incentive to marry and breed instead of work.

rhhardin said...

Raise the SS retirement age.

More workers, fewer retirees.

Clyde said...

By 2060, the youngest Baby Boomers born in 1964 will be 96 years old. Barring huge advances in life expectancy, the Boomers demographic will no longer resemble an elephant being swallowed by a snake. They'll be the end of the snake's tail, like World War II veterans are now, a fading relic of a different age.

mccullough said...

Draft dodgers with high divorce rates will be easy to say no to.

Henry said...

There's a lot of potential horse power in an old woman.

Just what grandma needs for Christmas: a utilitarian argument that justifies her existence.

Forward to 2060. Young Charlton Heston spots windmills turning on a breezeless day. In a windowless room at the top of a tall circular staircase he discovers the horrible truth:

Green energy ... is ... grandmothers

Freeman Hunt said...

I dunno. My relations will need to be much better at digging up tubers than I imagine they are now to be a significant source of groceries. Also, we will need to start eating tubers more often.

Oh well, I think we will keep them all around, tubers or no.

damikesc said...

Remember how much the Left condemned Bush for "blowing a surplus" and leaving debt?

The Baby Boomers have done this to a level unmatched in human history. They took a great country with great institutions, fucked all of them up, and then won't even leave them to allow others to clean up the mess they made.

n.n said...

Social security policies have its merits. Shifting responsibility from family, friends, and neighbors was not one of them. But, that's all right. The population control protocols are in place and people have embraced the Dodo Dynasty.

PB Reader said...

We've an accounting problem - certainly a proper understanding of accounting. Either we have trust funds and SS/Medicare payments are coming from those funds (until they run out) OR we have no trust funds and payments are coming out of the budget.

The truth is, we have no trust funds, just some special government debt because we've already spent those SS/Medicare tax payments as they came in. SS/Medicare payments are part of annual expenditures. Also, that special government debt is not debt held by people who have "contributed" to SS/Medicare.

We might as well start admitting that a great fraud has been performed on the citizenry and government officials who insist on talking about "trust funds" should be arrested and tried for running a Ponzi scheme.

There is no "trigger" point when the "trust funds run out". The expenditures are what they are until the government decides to change them.

We should stop calling them "trust" funds. We should call them "confidence" funds, because this is all a con(fidence) game.

n.n said...

PB Reader:

No trust funds and no budget. How long can they continue to print wealth before the consequences become pervasive and undeniable? Detroit managed to hide the corruption for... what was it, over 30 years.

rhhardin said...

There isn't a trust fund and there can't be a trust fund.

The government has to put every dollar it takes in back into the economy right away, lest the money supply fall.

The accounting gimmick isn't a gimmick so much as a way of doing this, namely the treasury issues an IOU to SS and spends the money, and the trust fund holds the IOU.

Anything else you did would wind up with the same effect, namely the money spent and the trust fund holding an IOU.

Joe said...

The problem is that baby boomers spent all their money on things other than saving for retirement and will be shocked when they don't get the retirement they feel they are entitled to. So, they will head off to Washington and demand more and fuck everyone under 40. However selfish and self-centered 20 somethings often appear to be, they have nothing on boomers, who are beyond self-obsessed. Besides, fucking over the young has now become the way things are done in Washington. Just don't be surprised when the younger people get in charge, say "fuck you back" and burn all the retirement homes to the ground.

David said...

madAsHell said...
if anyone was predicting that deflation would be an issue now

So, you're paying less for goods and services??
The SEIU is clamoring for $15 minimum wage.
Quantitative easing keeps the printing press running.

yeah....deflation......that's the problem!!

Mad as hell, you have not been paying attention. The reason the federal reserve has been keeping interest rates at such low levels has been fear of deflation. While we have a mildly inflationary economy right now, fear of deflation is what has been driving our economic policy since 2008. Both the high deficits and low interest rates are specific responses to the prospect of deflation.

Check out house prices. See what that has done to people. Realize that when prices are declining people defer spending, thus lowering economic activity and accelerating price declines. Check out the 1930's, which is still the great fear. We are not out of the deflationary woods yet, and we really do not know how to deal with the risk, or how to exit from the policies that are designed to minimize the risk.

Carol said...

they have nothing on boomers, who are beyond self-obsessed.

I've yet to talk to any retiree who wasn't obsessed with his benefits. Noticed it with my parent - don't talk about the fiscal viability of SS around her or she'd go ballistic. WWII gen, Silent Gen, doesn't matter.

Cross that line to 65 (Medicare) and objectivity goes out the window.

wildswan said...

This granny hypotheses is part of the new form of eugenics called biodemography. In this eugenics the older person WHO HAS A FAMILY is the cause of evolution. So the person WHO HAS FAMILY must be preserved. But the huge numbers of older boomers who have no children or who deserted them will have no value under eugenics social values. The childless and the family deserters - that is who will have to run if Christianity is replaced by secular utilitarian values.

You think that's utopian fantasy? The demographic fact is that the majority of the next generation is coming from the families who had three or more children. These adults are 25% of the current generation and so are outvoted but their children will be a majority. These children will not vote to disadvantage their own parents in favor of childless people who called their parents "breeders" and spent their money on adult toys.
Nor will they want to knock off grandparents who are helping out. It's selfish uncle Boomer who will face the death panels which now he thinks will not exist. The panels will exist however unless Phil Robertson's values prevail. These values Uncle Boomer is earnestly working to undo.

gadfly said...

Here we go again with another New Republic group grope. All Geezers are not cut from the same cloth nor do all Mexicans sing Felice Navidad.

Kirk Parker said...

John Lynch (@10:42am):

Blessings on you!

I, unfortunately, am living the reverse of that, with a mother-in-law now resident with us after exhausting her Medicare convalescence benefits; who resisted every subtle and not-so-subtle suggestion to hedge her independence in light of her coming aging, and is now here. No longer the loving and interesting person she once was, and with us saddled with trying to care for her in her possibly TIA-induced increasing dementia and infantilesque demandingness, without having had any of her golden years with us and her grandchildren, and with all the weirdities of tax policy and ACA-inspired medical doom upon us.

It certainly gives me pause as to how I want to plan for my old senescence (if I don't go out in some Big Bang.) Meanwhile, I'm trying to contain my growing resentment against my MIL, who was a wonderful woman in her time but made not the slightest provision--indeed, resisted with greatest indignation against any such thing--for the time when she might become a burden upon others.

Kirk Parker said...

Oops, make that "my OWN senescence"...

Andy Freeman said...

> There is no "trigger" point when the "trust funds run out".

More to the point, the "trigger point" happened a couple of years ago, when the yearly SS payout first exceeded the taxes collected. At that point, SS started to consume other tax revenues.

Yes, the "SS Trust Fund" still has IOUs, but the key point was when they started to be cashed in, not when they run out. (If you disagree, do you also think that the problems with SS would be delayed if they suddenly found another $100T of IOUs? After all, $100T covers many years of SS payouts.)

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