March 16, 2011


Susan Jacoby, Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age (New York: Pantheon, 2011) ("I am about to present a portrait of advanced old age that some will find too pessimistic and negative. The entire subject of old age is now surrounded by a fog of emotional correctness--a first cousin of political correctness and religious correctness--in which they very world 'old' is seen as an expression of prejudice rather than a factual description of a stage of life. . . . Aging is a particularly stupid euphemism for old, because while we are all aging, we are not all old. On the emotionally correct version of old age, superior wisdom supposedly compensates for any losses--whether of a beloved life partner or of one's own mental and physical powers. Dwelling on the inevitable losses of old age is considered a form of depression, to be treated in every case rather than respected, in some instance, as a realistic response to irremediable trouble, pain, and loss. . . ." Id. at 5-6. "There is also a vast class disparity between the thinking of relatively well-off professionals about retirement and that of people who have spent a lifetime in low-paying, often physically taxing jobs. . . . There are people--many, many people--who need to retire because their bodies can no longer bear the strain of what they do for a living. We cannot 'fix' Social Security by deciding that all people ought to work into their seventies or eighties and if they can't, well, they must have done something wrong to be in such bad shape. One wonders whether people would be so enthusiastic about extending longevity of they remembered that adults in midlife (at least in the United States) are generally expected to work more than forty hours a week." Id. at 20-22. "The myth of young old age, which simultaneously overestimates the earning potential and underestimates the needs of the dependent old old, also poses a major impediment to any serious, reality-based discussion of social justice for both old and young. Healthy old age is costly, and unhealthy old age is even costlier, If, as a society, we see longevity as a good thing, then we're going to have to pay for it, But all we are hearing from public officials . . . is how to pay less to support longer lives. If there really were such a thing as a radically new brand of old age in which everyone can take care of himself or herself, there would be no reason to worry. Society would be off the hook. The boomers--healthy beneficiaries of this wonderful new old age--would surely be able to tote that barge and life that bale until the very end." Id. at 179 "Still, I continue to derive a certain amount of hope from the dose of economic reality that boomers have received over the past three years. Memories of the unbridled economic growth of our formative years . . . have been tempered by the reality of lost homes, lost jobs, and lost health care and by the insecurity of those who are struggling to pay for them--to keep working as long as possible. Only a thoroughgoing fool in his or her fifties or early sixties today can fail to grasp the fact that we are going to need every penny of our Social Security checks, and every bit of coverage from Medicare, to maintain a decent standard of living even if we have substantial saving and even if longevity does not increase significantly in our lifetime. And if we recognize the possibility that we will need public help in our old age, how can we turn a blind eye to the needs of those who must pay the bill? The chief obstacle to renegotiating America's intergenerational contract is not boomer narcissism or shortsightedness but the historical distaste all Americans--in the recent and distant past--for any proposal that they should sacrifice a good deal more of their personal money in the furtherance of public good." Id. at 277-278. Must reading for any American above the age of fourteen. Also see, Ted Fishman, "It Gets Worse," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 2/27/2011. "In her latest jeremiad, [Jacoby] fights to slay the conspiracy of ignorance and greed that she believes conceal a single, and indeed irrefutable, truth: extreme old age can be nasty, brutish and Long." Id. Or, you are born, you live a little and, if you are lucky, you die before your body, your mind, or your money give out.).