Friday, September 9, 2011

2030 not that far away

After reading "2030" I have been verbally recommending it to friends and associates more than most books I have read, even the most enjoyable ones. The underlying topic, the war between the generations is very apt to heat up and requires a lot of thought. As a member of the baby boomers, but also the father of two children (no longer actually children) I can understand some of the forces at play and they are a bit scary.

The author Albert Brooks, fortunately is a comedian and is able to make you laugh at various stages as he points out a very possible future scenario.   It is much like satirists pointing out the injustice of bigotry so that as you laugh you see the truth a little more clearly.  So although much of it is frightening a few laughs will lessen the sting.

There are trends the author stretches to possible conclusions that we need to understand better now. One of the causes of confict is something we all hope will happen--a cure for cancer. Albert Brooks points out that that would exacerbate the generational conflict.   As it is, us baby boomers have had things our way for so long we assume it is the right way and will continue through to our deaths in the very distant unforseeable future.  As a few pundits point out we are progressing to a time when fewer people will be working and more people will be living in normal retirement years and beyond. As lives are prolonged and more people expect to enjoy retirement more stress will be created.

It is easy to predict some general trends. Human nature resists change even as everything around them is changing.  A feature of modern day government is that powerful entrenched interests have influence beyond their numbers.  An example in 2030 is that one of the most powerful entrenched interests is the AARP (short for American Association of Retired People). One thing that is accepted as general wisdom is that older people vote more than younger people and they will vote for their own narrow interests. "2030" suggests their influence will actually increase and that it will intensify conflict with younger generations.

We follow a number of characters that you wonder how they will be connected. The different characters illustrate the whole American society. You meet powerful people and those who suffer the consequences of historical decisions. Some of the people are thoughtful and good and others are either victims or exploiters.  Some are frustrated and determined to change things to what they think is more fair.

Medicare comes under fire. The author projects increasing cost pressures and that many people will not be able to afford it. At the same time others will live much longer and healthier. There will be the young who have to one way or another pay for the extra expenses of "retired" elders. One theme touched on by the author is machines to prolong life in an almost vegetative state.

Chinese creditors are likely to become even more critical in our future. Like many of us you may have wondered why they would keep on giving Western institutions low interest loans. In fact it is one way of fueling their manufacturing. The author conjectures how we might move to a different financial arrangement which does seem plausible.

A lot of "2030" is frightening and I am sure the author hopes we will take a hint and change our current ways.  Some of it is encouraging and we can hope those parts actually happen. Some of us boomers are trying to understand and be fair. All of it is thought provoking and I think needs to be talked about more.

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