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Volume 87 Issue 43 | p. 4 | Letters
Issue Date: October 26, 2009

Considering The Consequences

Department: Letters

Everyone wants to live as long as possible in decent physical, mental, and financial health. Readers of C&EN know better than most people about the spectacular developments in the capabilities to extend life. Not all of these developments involve new medications, equipment, surgical techniques, and so on.

One C&EN article describes the remarkable delay of aging by altering the diet (Aug. 3, page 36). This successful drive toward lengthening life has led to the conflict of how to pay for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. As someone who has recently turned 83 after working full time to age 68 and a half and then consulting for about 10 years, my wife, age 76, and I have a vital interest in these problems.

One major problem is that economists proceed using 19th-century problems resolved with 19th-century economics based on 19th-century life spans as a template for 21st-century problems requiring 21st-century economics based on 21st-century life spans, which are lengthening rapidly. It does not work.

Many people in the developed world do live well past 67 or 68 and do need money and medical attention, although most of them are unable to find meaningful remunerative occupations. An op-ed essay that I wrote in the local newspaper offered, among other suggestions, raising the retirement age immediately to 70 or 72 while getting all youngsters into some sort of service for two to four years, not necessarily military, to allow older people to work longer and have more money and a better financed health system when they do retire.

There are plenty of tasks young people can perform in the national interest. On completion of the service, the youngsters could receive any academic or trade school education they wished, the length depending on the length of service. Barring any major catastrophe, current 20 year olds can probably expect a life span of 100–125 years.

Printed response to my essay has been zero. It would seem to me that those involved in all scientific/technical/medical research should spend part of the funds allotted to any project to considering the consequences of successful completion of the research. Success in research that lengthens lives has led to chaos.

William A. Swarts
Denville, N.J.

 
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