The Culture of Entitlement

Some thought-provoking sentiments on aging, politics, social policy and human nature were offered earlier in the week in a Christian Science Monitor article. (As an aside, one of the best things about Google News is that it finds good articles in places that you'd never normally think of trying). I think that the point of the article is well expressed in the first paragraph:

As a baby boomer, Ken Dychtwald knows the value his generation places on staying youthful, energetic, and active as long as possible. At the same time, as a gerontologist and bestselling author on retirement and aging, he sees a looming paradox.

"Boomers want to get old at 90 but get old-age entitlements at 65," he says.

Human nature is an essentially selfish thing. Give people free reign and they'll take what they can get. Long term planning doesn't come naturally to any of us - we have to think about it.

"We have created the wrong model of maturity in this country," Dychtwald told an audience at the American Society on Aging conference in San Francisco last week. "Instead of saying 'More, more,' we need to get involved."

At each stage of life, he explains, "people have things to take and things to give." Although the average age of retirement was 62 in the 1990s, he adds, "At 62, you are not exempt from giving."

What Americans need, Dychtwald insists, is a "new map of aging" to reflect the heartening new reality that people are not old at 65. Explaining that people make plans and assumptions about their careers and their later years based on the current timetable of retirement at 65, he argues that old age needs to be redefined as occurring much later.

I'm encouraged that at least some people are thinking this way. If unimpeded, medical science - and the healthy human life span - will advance in leaps and bounds in the decades ahead. The current sprawling systems of enforced retirement and pyramid scheme social security payments must be abandoned or changed radically.

A culture of entitlement is damaging for everyone, at every age: we are all, ultimately, responsible for our own lives, health, wealth and happiness. If ever-larger capable, healthy, active portions of the populace continue to engineer our society to obtain resources for themselves at the expense of others, the system will collapse.