Blogs > Liberty and Power > Refuting Today's Miserabilist View of the Human Success Story That Is Longer Life

Mar 11, 2007 8:13 pm

Refuting Today's Miserabilist View of the Human Success Story That Is Longer Life

As you would expect, I don't advocate state provision of pensions and medical services for the retired. Of course, this is not to say that I support the idea that individuals be _required_ to direct some part of their Social Security contributions into private investment vehicles to provide for their retirement. Nor do I wish to identify with the hyperbole, dishonesty, lapses of logic, and factual errors that all too often characterize this proposal.

For this reason I offer a qualified welcome for Phil Mullan's writings on the implications of an ageing population. As you might expect of someone who was once a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party and a contributor to the now defunct magazine Living Marxism (LM), and who, along with his erstwhile comrades, now advocates an agenda that is skeptical of many mainstream leftist positions, Mullan remains an advocate of socialized provision. His analysis of the situation is, however, careful, informed and perceptive. His The Imaginary Time Bomb: Why an Ageing Population Is Not a Social Problem was published by I. B. Tauris in 2000 with a paperback reprint in 2002. Over the years he has written several articles on the subject and his most recent essay advances three key propositions that we should all bear in mind as we think about and discuss these issues.

"Firstly, society is getting wealthier all the time. Whatever the extra costs associated with an older population, the trend of rising productivity means that we will have even more resources in the future, so we can bear these costs easily."

"Secondly, a narrow 'telescope' view of the future tends to mislead when broader social consequences are drawn. Focusing on one particular feature of the future can fail to incorporate offsetting factors."

"Thirdly, the future is one of transformation and adaptation, not extrapolation. This is the statistical distinction between 'projections' and 'forecasts', which invariably get mixed up in everyday discussion. This confusion is a boon to those who make fearful speculations about the future. A statistician can make a projection about the future based on certain present-day assumptions and extrapolating from them. But every serious professional statistician will add the warning that this is not a forecast of the future, because things will change - society progresses - and therefore the assumptions made for the projection will become invalid."

The entire essay is well worth reading. I encourage you to take the short time necessary to read this article.

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