As Nations Age, another reason to work for economic equality

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[This is a Facebook comment left in response to a New York Times article by Ted Fishman, "As Nations Age, A Chance for Younger Nations", which the always fascinating and engaging Kara Andrade posted a link to.]

That article is quite oversimplified. It's really saying that we've set up a global capital system that allows – encourages, requires – corporations to seek workers who will work the hardest for the least compensation, and with the minimum needed societal infrastructure cost, anywhere in the world. The average age of people in places and countries is only a part of that.

The several-times repeated claim that paying for old age with dignity – which the U.S. for one doesn't really do anyway – is what costs us a global competitive advantage is never supported by numbers in the article. The trillions spent supporting global financial institutions, carrying out wars, and incarcerating an unprecedented percentage of the population surely weigh higher.

We have a global economy that barely can make use of the most able, most educated, most motivated, and most skilled. There is great need of work to be done and great numbers of people who want to work, but economic equality curses our chances for economic efficiency. Clearly, in this context, anyone who is not "young and able" will be only a drain. Acknowledging that the underuse of human ability is an endemic economic problem not limited to our treatment older workers would have opened up more space to consider the importance of health and activity and useful social roles into old age, which is one place this discussion needs to go. Not many people want to be dead weight spending down the hours in Florida, but when real unemployment and underemployment of at least 30 percent worldwide the seventy or eighty year old doesn't have much of a chance to contribute economically either.

I thank Ted Fishman for highlighting the importance of aging populations in how economic relations, but i don't think he provides a very useful lens for dealing with the challenges constructively. As mentioned in the article, global population is best kept in check by ensuring economic opportunities; if the world economy were made more fair decades or a century ago we wouldn't be facing 10 billion people now. If we made wealth more equal – a simple two to five percent equal redistribution of wealth each year would have a huge impact on people's lives – older people would have the resources to live and invest in their own and other's entrepreneurial ventures, and neither they nor younger workers would be dependent on the discretion of cost-cutting corporations to hire them. Whoever has a need, and whoever can fulfill it, and whoever can help make that happen with facilitation or education, would be able to, the way societies should be.

Another simple change brought to mind by the article, since it focused on jobs moving, is that much of the social and economic fragility and present and potential harm from producing goods on the other side of the world could have and can be avoided by putting the environmental cost of manufacture and transport into their price, and a pass-through duty (equally divided and given to all people) means a subsidy for those living more lightly on the earth. It also helps temper the potential environmental impact of greater equality.

Looking at the problems of an aging population without looking at underlying economic problems largely driven by grossly unjust inequality is like fretting about the stability of a large and poorly planned roof and widow's walk without also looking at the house's mudslide-damaged foundation.

We need to do better. Our media need to stop pitching every problem as us against them until every one of us is a lone person — with a unique age, nationality, education, wealth, religion, relationship status, parental status, location, political belief, and level of health — against the rest of the world. Our problems may change, but they are never going to be solved without working as a community, local and global. We have the technology to provide a good life for everyone and have for centuries and will for centuries to come; we need only to overcome the economic, political, military, and criminal barriers (these are overlapping categories) to organizing ourselves to properly take care of ourselves.