February 22, 2004

Grim NY Times article on the effect of a society not having enough children, as well as the harshness of old age:
For Laurence Kotlikoff, a Boston University professor who pioneered an economic analysis known as generational accounting, some aspects of the future have little to do with feats of the imagination and everything to do with the certainties of addition (how much the country will earn in the future) and subtraction (how much we will spend). ''You know what Florida looks like?'' he said. ''The whole country's going to look a lot older than that.'' His soon-to-be-published book, ''The Coming Generational Storm,'' predicts that the average American will be crippled by skyrocketing taxes imposed to balance an already outsize fiscal gap, as well as by the inevitable crush of health care costs coming down the pipeline for such an enormous aging population. In 2030, he maintains, the number of retirees will have doubled, but based on current birthrates, the number of people working -- the ones who pay payroll taxes -- will have increased by only 18 percent. Kotlikoff estimates that the fiscal gap will be $51 trillion, most of which will result from the high costs of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

Rectifying the situation would be so painful that it's almost impossible to imagine the politician who could start trying. If both personal and corporate federal income taxes were increased permanently by 78 percent, maybe -- only maybe, Kotlikoff says -- we could close the gap. Otherwise, he foresees a black market tax-evading economy, widespread poverty, slow business development (with high taxes, there's low incentive), as well as potential social tensions between the old, which would be mostly white and relatively wealthy, and the young -- mostly poor blacks and Hispanics, heavily burdened with the financial cost of caring for a class of people to whom they have little allegiance.
More recently, Audry has been harder to get off the phone, either missing the cues of a conversation or ignoring them deliberately. She seems afraid of finalities, whether it's ending a phone call or a finishing a book. For months, she has been lingering over the best-seller ''The Lovely Bones,'' which is told from the vantage point of a young woman in heaven -- only she keeps calling it, mistakenly, ''The Lonely Bones.'' ''It's taking me a long time to read it,'' Audry said during one of our many phone catch-ups, ''because I tend to read a page, and then I have to put it down and think about it.'' The lonely bones: loneliness, it turns out, is the only thing Audry has ever really feared. ''When my husband died, I was terrified of being alone, and all my children wanted me to come stay with them,'' she said. ''But I said, no, let me face it right away, don't put it off.'' Particularly reflective that afternoon, Audry shared a point of wisdom she picked up over the course of her unusually lengthy, happy life. ''The longer you put something off,'' she said, ''the harder it is to face it.''

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