Central planners don't like old people

It’s disconcerting enough to see an article entitled “Why I Hope to Die at 75.”  When the author is Ezekiel Emmanuel, one of the architects of ObamaCare, it’s time for the Twilight Zone theme music.  Here’s a sample:

I am sure of my position. Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value.

But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life. I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown and in the midst of their own rich lives. I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions, important or not, I am going to make. And hopefully, I will not have too many mental and physical limitations. Dying at 75 will not be a tragedy. Indeed, I plan to have my memorial service before I die. And I don’t want any crying or wailing, but a warm gathering filled with fun reminiscences, stories of my awkwardness, and celebrations of a good life. After I die, my survivors can have their own memorial service if they want–that is not my business.

There are copious reassurances that he’s not talking about firing up the “Logan’s Run” Carousel and vaporizing everyone who makes it to 76… but this is accompanied by a good deal of criticism at those who selfishly refuse to accept his notion of when the Good Life ends, and people become unbearable liabilities to family and society:

I think this manic desperation to endlessly extend life is misguided and potentially destructive. For many reasons, 75 is a pretty good age to aim to stop.

What are those reasons? Let’s begin with demography. We are growing old, and our older years are not of high quality. Since the mid-19th century, Americans have been living longer. In 1900, the life expectancy of an average American at birth was approximately 47 years. By 1930, it was 59.7; by 1960, 69.7; by 1990, 75.4. Today, a newborn can expect to live about 79 years. (On average, women live longer than men. In the United States, the gap is about five years. According to the National Vital Statistics Report, life expectancy for American males born in 2011 is 76.3, and for females it is 81.1.)

In the early part of the 20th century, life expectancy increased as vaccines, antibiotics, and better medical care saved more children from premature death and effectively treated infections. Once cured, people who had been sick largely returned to their normal, healthy lives without residual disabilities. Since 1960, however, increases in longevity have been achieved mainly by extending the lives of people over 60. Rather than saving more young people, we are stretching out old age.

The American immortal desperately wants to believe in the “compression of morbidity.” Developed in 1980 by James F. Fries, now a professor emeritus of medicine at Stanford, this theory postulates that as we extend our life spans into the 80s and 90s, we will be living healthier lives–more time before we have disabilities, and fewer disabilities overall. The claim is that with longer life, an ever smaller proportion of our lives will be spent in a state of decline.

Compression of morbidity is a quintessentially American idea. It tells us exactly what we want to believe: that we will live longer lives and then abruptly die with hardly any aches, pains, or physical deterioration–the morbidity traditionally associated with growing old. It promises a kind of fountain of youth until the ever-receding time of death. It is this dream–or fantasy–that drives the American immortal and has fueled interest and investment in regenerative medicine and replacement organs.

By an interesting coincidence, the kind of top-down statist nightmare Emanuel helped inflict on American health care tends to be plagued by shortages of medicine and medical care, which invariably leads to rationing – the only way to manage scarce resources, once free-market capitalist competition is out of the mix.  Rationing is going to hit the elderly, who consume a disproportionate share of health care resources, especially hard.  Best get society on board with the idea that golden years aren’t worth living now, so they’ll be more accepting when the death panels make it mandatory!  We’ll start by making fun of the rubes who cherish fantasies of “immortality,” by which Emanuel means “living past 80.”

This isn’t even a new quirk of the Left with respect to socialized medicine.  They’ve always had big problems with the elderly, who frustrate the hell out of central planners.  Much of the coming entitlement crash is a result of people living far longer than the architects of Social Security and Medicare anticipated.  Not only does this allow Americans to collect benefits for far longer than the central planners figured into their fraudulent “budgets,” but it’s creating an imbalance between elderly beneficiaries and the young workers whose wages support the system.  None of these entitlements are the sort of self-funded “trust funds” Americans were tricked into viewing them as; they all milk current contributors to pay today’s bills.  

That’s a big problem when increasing lifespans cause the ratio of workers to retirees to dwindle.  Throw in a nice collapsing workforce and the conversion of full-time jobs into part-time work – thanks for that too, ObamaCare! – and the problem grows more acute.

Raising the retirement age is a temporary solution for the calcified old entitlement plans, although that can only be taken so far before people rebel against the idea of paying a share of their income into “benefit plans” they can’t collect on until they’re almost old enough for Zeke Emanuel to consider their lives unworthy of living.  It’s something of a wonder that rebellion hasn’t already grown more intense, especially since young people know perfectly well that those New Deal and Great Society programs won’t be there, in anything resembling their current form, when they get old enough to think about retirement.

And now the young are also expected to pay for ObamaCare, a redistribution scheme that loots young people with high premiums to cover older, richer customers, and squeezes subsidies for everyone out of the dwindling portion of the American electorate that still carries a net tax burden.  The books are already out of balance, and it’s going to get worse.  It would be very convenient for the central planners if people would check out at 75, or maybe even a little earlier.  If you don’t do it voluntarily, they’ll help you along by running those famed “quality of life” spreadsheets and letting you know when the State considers it too expensive to hold the Reaper at bay any longer.


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