January 07, 2004

Two of the Most Benificent Transformations in Human History

The Financial Times's Martin Wolf writes about how the crisis of Europe's social-insurance state is but the flip side of an extraordinary revolution in human welfare:

FT.com Home US: We are enjoying two of the most beneficent transformations in human history: a revolution in life expectancy and the liberation of women.... [H]ow do we respond? We mope about imploding pension schemes. The worries are not unjustified. But let us for a moment enjoy the achievement. Two centuries ago, life expectancy in today's high-income countries was 36 years; today, it is nearly 80. In the early 19th century, French mortality in the first year of life was 181 per 1,000; today, it is four. Today, parents can expect their children to survive them and both men and women have hopes of living lives that are long, varied and fulfilling.

We can even hope for that comfortable extended holiday we call retirement. Or can we? What has been liberating for individuals creates challenges for collectives. The nature of that challenge was spelt out by Adair Turner, former director-general of the Confederation of British Industry and currently chairman of the UK's commission on pension policy, in a lecture last autumn.*

Europe, observes Mr Adair, is experiencing a profound demographic shift as a result of two forces: increasing longevity and declining fertility. Neither development is news. But some of the details may be. In the first place, increasing longevity is much more than a matter of declining mortality among the young. The old are living longer than ever before. The rise in life expectancy of the old has been accelerating over the past two decades (see chart below). In 1980, male life expectancy at 60 was just over 16 years in the UK; today, it is nearly 20 years...

Posted by DeLong at January 7, 2004 09:43 AM | TrackBack

Comments

Good post! This is important: >>What has been liberating for individuals creates challenges for collectives.<<

Agricultural societies are still going strong after thousands of years even though they still offer little more than malthusian misery. Industrial societies have enjoyed a free ride from immigrants from not too distant rural areas and women still true to agricultural traditions.

We have indeed *challenges for collectives*.

Posted by: Mats on January 7, 2004 10:18 AM

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... and people are going back to U. I knew a WB economist several years ago who was talking about retiring and going to school again for a diploma in architecture. Look, this guy was practicing ballet (OK, maybe sissy, but no easy task physically, I imagine) and mountain climbing as well. I mean it is going to be a different society and the conventional wisdom of either conservatism or liberalism just won't apply to it. We have got to be prepared for new kind of thinking or we just won't be able to manage the change that is upcoming anyway.


(I wonder if Condi Rice or Paul Wolfowitz ever give a thought to this sort of developments... and Mr. Rumsfeldt? I doubt it. But look what kind of influence they have over the main coordinates of the course that the nation has been taking... I get a feeling that something is wrong here...)

Posted by: bulent on January 7, 2004 10:33 AM

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"I get a feeling that something is wrong here..."

What makes you think that starving Social Security and racketing dwidling oil supplies - at least relative to world demand - is not the answer? ;-)

Seriously, Marin Wolf is a superb economist.

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on January 7, 2004 10:38 AM

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"I get a feeling that something is wrong here..."

What makes you think that starving Social Security and racketing dwidling oil supplies - at least relative to world demand - is not the answer? ;-)

Seriously, Marin Wolf is a superb economist.

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on January 7, 2004 10:43 AM

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Conventional wisdom of conservatism may lead to problems. When people drift from religous laws and traditions towards markets and economic rationality - nativity inevitably decreases, changing society too fast for conservatism to apply.

Take the old argument for excluding all other - i.e gay marriage - family types than the "traditional" one: they can't have babies of their own.

Today, more and more "traditional" families can't have babies withouth lots of help. A lesbian couple could well be regarded as equally fertile tp a heterosexual couple which have postponed childbearing up to a certain age.

How could conservatism work in a low fertility society? It has to be in a much different way, hasn't it?

Posted by: Mats on January 7, 2004 10:50 AM

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In traditional China, part of the extraordinary emphasis on filial piety (respect for parents) was due to a real problem -- near subsistence, some sons were tempted to neglect and abuse their parents when they became useless (especially their strict and distant fathers). You have to read between the lines of the canonical writings, but one son is praised for never telling his helpless father that there was no more food. Presumably there was some other son who was budgeting food, to his useless father's disadvantage.

Posted by: Zizka on January 7, 2004 11:17 AM

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Attention, s'il vous plait! Moi, j'ai dit;

"... the conventional wisdom of either conservatism or liberalism just won't apply..."

Operative words are: conventional, either, or.

And I don't see why a left-wing person could not or should not advocate Catholic style marriage and family as the building stone of the society.

That means I think conservatism and liberalism would need to be redefined -- dialectics will always be there, as a requirement of mathematics.

Also, this statement of yours, I find intrigueing:

"We have indeed *challenges for collectives*."

Whadayamean "collectives"?


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"What makes you think that starving Social Security and racketing dwidling oil supplies - at least relative to world demand - is not the answer?"

"Answer" to what question?;)

Posted by: bulent on January 7, 2004 11:49 AM

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Mats,

If we simply broaden the old legal notion that "the husband is the father of the child", lesbian couples could easily be twice as fertile as heterosexual postponers. Why should we care that the lesbian partner isn't the biological father if the law doesn't care whether a traditional husband is? In most cases, both partners in a lesbian couple can bring more souls to god's banquet.

Posted by: K Harris on January 7, 2004 12:11 PM

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I guess this is the Adair Turner lecture:

http://cep.lse.ac.uk/events/06112003.asp

Posted by: bulent on January 7, 2004 12:23 PM

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I encountered an interesting info-fact the other day. Apparently Iceland has the highest fertility rate in Europe, and the highese rate of women's participation in govt and is exceptional wrt how fathers share the work of raising children. The point was highly educated countries in which fathers share the labor of the family have higher fertility rates. Scandinavians in general have more babies than Italians.

Posted by: camille roy on January 7, 2004 12:27 PM

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That sounds logical. At any rate, I have a hunch that becoming highly educated societies is the only way to go especially for western industrial countries.

And that's a hint to some contributors who think America should not spend any more public funds in education!

Posted by: Bulent Sayin on January 7, 2004 12:38 PM

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Harris: >>Why should we care that the lesbian partner isn't the biological father if the law doesn't care whether a traditional husband is?>...advocate Catholic style marriage and family as the building stone of the society.<< No, no, as long as one important building stone is individual propriety rights, wouldn't it be strange to have a collective propriety institution as another? BTW, how does the catholic selling and buing of forgivness really comply with individual propriety rights? Note also that Catholic style recently have proven very harmful to many children, at least in the US (let's hope to a much lesser extent in other parts of the Catholic world).

Posted by: Mats on January 7, 2004 12:51 PM

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The extraordinary revolution in human welfare is going to heat up soon - read Chris Mooney on the upcoming race for antiaging drugs at http://www.chriscmooney.com/blog.asp#508
(full article is at
http://www.sagecrossroads.com/news.cfm
for a few more days) "...predicts that more than one antiaging drug will make its way to the market within 10 or 20 years and that such products could do more than extend life span. They might also prevent the onset of diseases of aging..."
and keep in mind - "Democracies don't prepare well for things that have never happened before." - Richard A. Clarke

Posted by: Anna on January 7, 2004 12:52 PM

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This is completely unrelated to this particular topic, but just in case someone hasn't seen it, take a look at this:

luskin (v.): 1. to secretly desire the status and intelligence of one's opponent while engaging in a systematic misrepresentation of him/her. 2. to stalk

http://stommel.tamu.edu/~baum/ethel/atrios-dictionary.html

Perhaps Professor DeLong could post this on the main page.

Posted by: Brian on January 7, 2004 01:02 PM

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I missed one: Obsession with Irrelevant Context - That's when we get to claim that people were "quoted out of context," when the missing context is completely irrelevant. I'd say Mick the Hack probably wins this one hands down, though self-proclaimed Krugman stalker, and my good friend, Don Luskin is providing some pretty tough competition. Another version of this is the Chewbacca Defense - which is to throw so many irrelevant details into the discussion that is ceases to make sense. (Atrios)

http://stommel.tamu.edu/~baum/ethel/atrios-dictionary.html

Posted by: Brian on January 7, 2004 01:05 PM

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My above post was meant to start like:

Harris: >>Why should we care that the lesbian partner isn't the biological father if the law doesn't care whether a traditional husband is?>>
Exactly my point, I only wish I had put it that sharp and clear.

bulent>>...advocate Catholic style marriage and family as the building stone of the society.<< No, no...

(don't really know what happened to it)

Posted by: Mats on January 7, 2004 01:05 PM

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Words fail me:

Look, this guy was practicing ballet ...
(I wonder if Condi Rice or Paul Wolfowitz ever give a thought to this sort of developments.)

Posted by: jda on January 7, 2004 01:09 PM

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jda:

Hufs! I meant big changes are coming up with increased life expectancy and all and I wondered if Ms. Rice, Mr. Wolfowitz etc ever gave thought to such trends... I mean these guys keep declaring war on the whole world and they REALLY seem to think they are REALLY shaping the world!

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Mats:

Once again, I said:"...conservatism and liberalism would need to be redefined ..."

The left wing person in advocating Catholic style marriage would obviously not take it "as is", especially as regards the women's status, both in family and in greater society.


Posted by: bulent on January 7, 2004 01:43 PM

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Where is the problem? As the progressive freeing of roles for women has enriched countless lives, the aging of countries in which large numbers of women and men can be productive in ways they choose for far longer than ever before offers all sorts of opportunity. Why should we become less productive at 50 and 60 and 70 and 80 and more?

Posted by: anne on January 7, 2004 02:06 PM

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bulent >>Also, this statement of yours, I find intrigueing:

"We have indeed *challenges for collectives*.">>

Thanks for your interest, I was trying to be short for mutual convenience. The challenged collective in question is at least in the way I think of it the ageing western world.


Posted by: Mats on January 7, 2004 02:08 PM

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Iceland also has more horses per capita than any nation except Mongolia (similiar breed, too), and most people believe in fairies. Their main products are sagas, fish, and musicians. How they survive I don't know. They're a geneticist's dream, with geneologies going back for centuries and few immigrants, and the Icelandic gene pool is in the process of being rented out to a biotech company.

For a place with ~200,000 people (about the size of Bakersfield), Iceland has a bigger footprint in the world than it should.

Posted by: Zizka on January 7, 2004 02:28 PM

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I think Anne's question is somewhere close the very core of this topic: >>Why should we become less productive at 50 and 60 and 70 and 80 and more?>> It's far too complicated for me. But in the Swedish debate we've really had during recent years these worries about trends for many types of empoyees to retire earlier. Gunnar Myrdal had a theory back in the 30's about the role for young emplyees to try to learn from the older but also to experiment and try to reform their workplace. The role of the olders would then be to teach but also to defend the old production methods.

As bulent says - we're talking about change here. It seems to me though that most living systems - changed or not - in some theoretical way have principles of generation change, where the older individuals represent knowledge of what has historically worked (survival of the fittest), and the younger represent trial-and-error learning experiments.

Posted by: Mats on January 7, 2004 02:33 PM

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The 2 "beneficent transformations in all of history" increased human life expectancy and liberty for women.
Can we pare this back a tad to mean 'western European history'? Can we exclude those young black males that Bulent was talking about a little while back? Don't tell me they had an even shorter life span 20 yrs ago.
And the newly liberated ( western Europeon of course) women have indeed come along way ( baby... as Virginia Slims once said). Now they really are in charge of their makeup. And the occassional CEO office too (HP, Lucent...).
I'm waiting for Dubya to hold his news conferences with The First Lady next. And then, given that she will prove herself to be a more competent speaker, she can just do the reading and spare us the pain of her husband. I can see it now. People will look forward to the Fed's quarterly pronouncements because Mrs Greenspan will be there to tell us what Big Al really did say.

Posted by: calmo on January 7, 2004 03:14 PM

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It isn't just that fewer children-per-woman are reducing the yound people available for healthcare work; it's that into the 1930s (though it was old-fashioned then) it wasn't abnormal for a family to expect an unmarried daughter to stay home and nurse her parents for no more than maintenance.

I have read that some birds apparently keep a few of their oldest offspring unmated, because those offspring help raise their younger siblings.

Iceland is all sorts of wierd; I have an Icelandic expat pal who says that they feel as though no-one has any siblings, because the birthrate dropped so precipitously in the last two generations, after being very high because mortality was so high. I think she said her grandparents had about a dozen sibs each, half surviving to adulthood, and her parents have four or five sibs each, all alive, but she only has eight or nine cousins. Also, she recently announced with glee that the first look at the DNA suggest that Icelanders have relatives from all over Europe and probably farther, what with having sailed so far & brought people back with them. Unwilling women, alas, but enough that they aren't just a pure rill of pallid meltwater.

Posted by: clew on January 7, 2004 07:04 PM

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Life expectancy: by this we mean what exactly? My thinking is the age at which half of the birth cohort have deceased- i.e. of the 5 million infants born in the US in 2000, 2.5 million will reach the life expectancy age of, say 85. Is this the correct understanding?

Posted by: tegwar on January 8, 2004 08:32 AM

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In Canada our new Prime Minister, the right-wing Liberal Paul Martin, and the new mayor of Toronto, the left-wing non-party (but probably New Democrat) David Miller, have recently climbed on the "no forced retirement at 65" bandwagon. One hopes that this is a prelude to something like the Moynihan Fix for Canada's old age pension payments.

Canada does not have nearly the USA's degree of imbalance between payments to the aged and services for infants, though the imbalance is probably there.

Moynihan's plan, to remind people, was simply to delay Social Security for three months every two years until it started to cut in at 68 rather than 65, 3 years increase * 4 quarters/year * two years per increase = 24, twenty-four years down the line.

A more radical notion might be to figger the post-social security life expectancy when Social Security started -- on average a number lower than 65 -- and set the new age to pay the same proportion of the population's aged survivors. I don't in fact advocate this, but the idea that Social Security was originally for only the few who were unusually old does rather put things in a different light.

What Americans should do about the fact that Social Security payments are a black Americans' subsidy to whites, because fewer blacks live very long after 65, is left as an exercise for the reader.

Posted by: David Lloyd-Jones on January 8, 2004 08:33 AM

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"I encountered an interesting info-fact the other day. Apparently Iceland has the highest fertility rate in Europe, and the highese rate of women's participation in govt and is exceptional wrt how fathers share the work of raising children. The point was highly educated countries in which fathers share the labor of the family have higher fertility rates. Scandinavians in general have more babies than Italians."

Interesting. Where did you encounter this? I'd like to read more.

The social security system is predicated on the assumption that society can continue to take a free ride on women's contribution to the production of people (ie, taxpayers, workers, consumers). It now appears that this assumption is unfounded. Now that women have other options, the opportunity costs of childrearing have been exposed. Not suprisingly, the more options a woman has, the less children she will have. The price is simply too high.

The conservative solution -- to hector, sermonize, or coerce women back into the home -- is morally untenable and in any case, completely unrealistic. The liberal solution -- Scandivanian type policies to reduce the price of motherhood by spreading the opportunity costs of childbearing more evenly -- won't fly in America because they sound too socialistic. Everybody wants the "product" (future earners and taxpayers), but nobody wants to pay for it.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct on January 8, 2004 12:15 PM

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-David Lloyd Jones:

"What Americans should do about the fact that Social Security payments are a black Americans' subsidy to whites, because fewer blacks live very long after 65, is left as an exercise for the reader."

I dare say they should do the same as Canadians do about the fact that Social Security payments there are a native's subsidy to whites for the same reason. The life expectancy for a Canadian native is almost 10 years shorter than the Canadian national average.
So what do you guys do? Decline the SS payment from them?

Posted by: calmo on January 8, 2004 09:45 PM

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