David Brooks is a strange animal. In today’s column, he asks his elders to either forego their pensions due to their heretofore unrecognized elderly capacities, or he’s asking them to go die on an ice floe. I’m not sure which.
First, I had no idea David Brooks was an ontogeneticist. The Times must pay him a pretty penny for all of his untold scholarship. No wonder they are going broke. As this century’s Piaget of the elderly, Brooks tells us that all previous thinking and research about the elderly is bunk. Dr. Brooks informs us that instead of being accurately characterized as a general functional decline, old age is positively bursting with juvenile alacrity that finds its greatest happiness in service to the young (and social hermaphroditism?), the “generativity” of which creates its own happiness. Sweet and comforting narrative, Dr.
However, there are political “downsides” to elders, namely that the happy-go-lucky, adept old-timers are meanwhile taking money, freedom, and opportunity away from the youngsters, like the agile, alert, and knowing fucking geezers that they are!
The odd thing is that when you turn to political life, we are living in an age of reverse-generativity. Far from serving the young, the old are now taking from them. First, they are taking money. According to Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution, the federal government now spends $7 on the elderly for each $1 it spends on children.
Second, they are taking freedom. In 2009, for the first time in American history, every single penny of federal tax revenue went to pay for mandatory spending programs, according to Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute. As more money goes to pay off promises made mostly to the old, the young have less control.
Third, they are taking opportunity. For decades, federal spending has hovered around 20 percent of G.D.P. By 2019, it is forecast to be at 25 percent and rising. The higher tax rates implied by that spending will mean less growth and fewer opportunities. Already, pension costs in many states are squeezing education spending.
In the private sphere, in other words, seniors provide wonderful gifts to their grandchildren, loving attention that will linger in young minds, providing support for decades to come. In the public sphere, they take it away.
Old people are truly the fork against humanity: good on one tine, bad, bad, bad on the other. You think government can help? Forget it, says Dave. The old folks should start a spontaneous political movement to make the “unthinkable” “thinkable.”
It now seems clear that the only way the U.S. is going to avoid an economic crisis is if the oldsters take it upon themselves to arise and force change. The young lack the political power. Only the old can lead a generativity revolution – millions of people demanding changes in health care spending and the retirement age to make life better for their grandchildren.
In short, the elderly are okay people, but they are fucking net takers!
David Brooks will be escorting his grandparents out to the ice floe later this afternoon, for ritual, mutually beneficial parracide. Dave will make a buck, and his elderly kin will feel good knowing they helped.