Since January, President Bush has been trying, unsuccessfully, to convince the country that because the numbers of older people are increasing, we must "save" Social Security by creating private accounts. Sounding a similar note, the media wrings its hands ever more frequently about the burden an aging population will place on the world’s economies.
Simultaneously, anti-aging proponents tout every kind of snakeoil that will, they insist, prolong life, while legitimate scientists are busy mining the bug and rodent populations for longevity clues. A year or two ago, it was fruit flies that they said could make us all Methuselahs. Last week, it was mice who, apparently, have a gene that can extend their lives by 30 percent. Scientists hope to apply what they have discovered to humans.
Does anyone else see a contradiction here: "Oh dear, we’ve got too many old people; let’s see if we can create even more by getting everyone to live an additional 25 or 50 or 100 years."
There is another way of looking at this:
“Far from being ravenous locusts determined to consume an ever-increasing share of resources, our elders represent an unprecedented windfall…
“In terms of political power, they form one of the most powerful political advocacy forces in our society. The amount of life experience they can bring to bear on the important problems that face our society is huge and will only grow as the decades pass…”
- - What Are Old People For?, William H. Thomas, M.D.
Instead of spending billions of science dollars on increasing life spans (even if it were successful, it will take many decades to accomplish), we could apply that money to improving health in the old age we’ve already got and spend some effort to bring older people into the mainstream of public life where their experience, judgment and wisdom can be put to effective use in helping to solve the really important problems of the world.