Home
One of the things that make me feel good is imagining a brighter future. I think that's why I spend a weird amount of my time thinking up creative solutions for the world's biggest problems. In my fantasy world - the place to which I escape when I need a shot of hope - I often come up with an idea that makes the entire world - at least the imaginary one - a better place. As long as it's a fantasy there's no reason to think small. How cool would it feel to fix the entire world? Pretty good, right?

Interestingly, our brains are wired in such a way that we can experience the sensations associated with our fantasies almost as if they are real. That's why you cry at movies and get attached to characters in books. You can know something is fiction and still get moved by it.

Today I give you some feel-good fiction in the form of a fix-the-world fantasy. You might see some wrinkles in my plan, so to speak, but no matter. Simply imagining this awesome future will feel good even as you reject it with your rational mind.

Are you ready? This will feel cool. Here we go...

In the long run, the last thing I'm worried about is national unemployment levels. At the moment, unemployment is a nightmare for lots of families, and it will stay that way for a few years no matter who gets elected. So I'm certainly worried about unemployment in the near term. But eventually so many boomers will leave the workforce because of retirement, health problems or death, that employers will be begging for workers. We'll be importing talent from other countries like crazy. Wages will climb.

Long term trends don't help if you're unemployed today. But in terms of government policy that looks far into the future, or should, projections about the future make a difference for allocating resources today. When I talk about government resources in the context that follows I mean jawboning, leadership and any form of non-monetary influence.

When you make your list of national priorities, one that should be near the top is the unprecedented number of seniors racing toward retirement without sufficient savings to support themselves. Addressing the challenge of an aging population requires a multi-prong strategy.

First, you need a doctor assisted suicide option. If that sounds cold, I assure you that I'd like the option for myself in case I need it someday. It feels like compassion to me. Doctor assisted suicide gets rid of the expensive and brutal final year or more of life that many people prefer not living.

The second prong is figuring out a system of senior living - a community structure and a physical building structure - that takes advantage of everything we've learned in the past fifty years about psychology, health, and technology. Surely we can find ways to keep independent seniors happy at far lower costs than today.

Obviously job one is fixing the existing economy. It's hard to make any kind of long term change without the flexibility of some free cash. Let's stipulate that the current economy is the top priority. But is there a way to juice the current economy by long range planning?

Suppose the government encouraged society to prepare for the issue of the aging population and start serious planning now. We all want to control government spending, so imagine the only direct role of government is appointing a project leader who would organize the planning through an open source model.

Subgroups of the project might have narrow scopes. For example, one group of volunteers - perhaps graduate students or industry volunteers - might be in charge of figuring out the best air conditioning system for the city of the future - a city that is designed with senior living in mind.

The city of the future need not be senior-only. One proposed solution might involve equipping every family home with an in-law apartment above the garage. That would work well with the assisted suicide strategy too because if a senior signed up for the service over the Internet, the doctor would just need to pull into the garage and keep the engine running.

Anyway, I would think that in three years the open source project would have enough of a plan completed to attract financing, find a location, and start building the prototype. It probably makes sense to wait on the second location until the bugs are found in the first, after a year or two of operation.

Here's the clever part of the plan, according to me: If the planning for these future cities starts now, people will soon get a good idea what sort of job skills will be in demand in three years. That allows states to decide if they want to encourage job training in the appropriate fields, or at least encourage companies to start funding training if they want to participate in the coming construction boom. Government's role could be as small as promoting the transition to a senior-friendly economy by setting up the planners, kicking off the project, and keeping the public informed of how it's going. Government just needs to be the mouthpiece and the cheerleader, i.e. leader.

I could imagine the next global economic wave to involve the transition to a senior-friendly civilization. Done right, the new living arrangement would be an order of magnitude better for the environment and be a direct benefit to climate change management. And I would imagine many of the ideas developed during this economic wave would apply to retrofitting existing homes and communities. Every community would get an economic stimulus because everyone is directly affected by the aging population.

Is my plan politically feasible? Ask yourself who votes. I'm advocating a transfer of resources toward the most important category of voters - older citizens. But I'm doing it in a way that should create jobs for the young. And I'm doing it all with government leadership as opposed to direct meddling and financing. Which politician hates that plan?

I know I'm full of shit. But I'll be interested to read your comments to see if you agree on exactly why.

 
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +9
  • Print
  • Share

Comments

Sort By:
Sep 10, 2012
Thanks - my bedroom is above the garage and now I have to worry about the beneficiaries of my will getting ideas...
 
 
Sep 10, 2012
Two word answer:
Soylent Green.
 
 
Sep 10, 2012
Seems to me the biggest problem here is the premise that the main thing we have to figure out about the growing senior population is how to handle the increased costs. Why not focus energy on how they can also be more productive members of society and thus offset those costs? (It scales better.) Two areas come to mind: 1. Figure out ways to take advantage of their experience in this world to make it better (e.g. add accumulated knowledge and wisdom to the system), and 2. Figure out how to practically extend their more physically productive years (the 'going to work' period of your life).

Handing back to Scott to run with this one...
 
 
Sep 10, 2012
The Chinese have a huge stake in the continued health of the American economy.

I'm sure the Chinese could win the low-bid contract for manufacturing the next batch of flu vaccine. Then if they "accidentally" made it ineffective, a whole bunch of old people would die of influenza, saving the US government billions in medicare and social security costs.

Bye Grandma!

 
 
Sep 10, 2012
The problem with seniors is that they're miserable and make people around them miserable (I'm speaking in general, as we all no-doubt know older people who are wonderful). Many of them are in pain, and our best medication keeps the pain "under control," without stopping it. Many of them have reduced autonomy and mobility, which they resent. Many of them are physically and mentally challenged and constantly frustrated by it. Many know that they're close to death, and they're afraid.

You can put my wife's grandparents in a vast mansion with 100's of servants, and it wouldn't change the fact that they're sick, feeble, have trouble following a train of thought, are perpetually scared, and nobody wants to hang out with them because all they can talk about is their poor health and impending death.
 
 
Sep 10, 2012
[I know I'm full of !$%*! But I'll be interested to read your comments to see if you agree on exactly why.]

Your wish, Master Scott, is my command.

[We all want to control government spending, so imagine the only direct role of government is appointing a project leader who would organize the planning through an open source model. ]

Here you've hit the big problem with this plan on the head, as well as the big problem with government today, without realizing it. We all want to control government spending. Everyone has their own idea about what the government should be spending on. More to the point, congress isn't going to give the project leader that kind of blank slate to spend how they want. They're going to do to their project leaders what they do now; tell them how to do their jobs and what to spend on.

[Obviously job one is fixing the existing economy. It's hard to make any kind of long term change without the flexibility of some free cash. Let's stipulate that the current economy is the top priority. But is there a way to juice the current economy by long range planning?]

Would you like to hear MY fantasy on how to fix the economy? Its simple really; take control over government finances from the people who have proven themselves unable to manage it with the intelligence and speed necessary in todays whorl (politicians) and give it to people who either know better what the tax rate and deficit levels should be (economists) or will after they've learned from their mistakes. Too bad my first point more or less negates that possibility.

[I could imagine the next global economic wave to involve the transition to a senior-friendly civilization.]

Am I the only one here who thinks investing in folks who are on the way out is a bad investment in the future? That a better investment would be in folks who are entering the workforce/will soon enter the workforce/have many years left in the workforce? And before you send me hate mail about how Im prejudiced against the old I will add that Im closer to being a senior than a youngster.

[The second prong is figuring out a system of senior living - a community structure and a physical building structure - that takes advantage of everything we've learned in the past fifty years about psychology, health, and technology. Surely we can find ways to keep independent seniors happy at far lower costs than today.]

...How? Seriously. Practically. I know this is a fantasy but you did ask us to poke holes in it, so heres another hole: if this part of the plan was so easy why hasn't it been done yet? And how do we overcome that reason it hasn't been done yet?

[When you make your list of national priorities, one that should be near the top is the unprecedented number of seniors racing toward retirement without sufficient savings to support themselves. Addressing the challenge of an aging population requires a multi-prong strategy. ]

I am reminded here of something you wrote in The Dilbert Principle about how employees can judge their importance in an organization regardless of managements claim that they were the number one priority. I believe I made the case a couple paragraphs ago about how the young should be a higher government priority priority than seniors and I imagine a lot of folks out there can imagine other things which should be high priority too. They can't all be high priority.

[Here's the clever part of the plan, according to me: If the planning for these future cities starts now, people will soon get a good idea what sort of job skills will be in demand in three years. That allows states to decide if they want to encourage job training in the appropriate fields, or at least encourage companies to start funding training if they want to participate in the coming construction boom. Government's role could be as small as promoting the transition to a senior-friendly economy by setting up the planners, kicking off the project, and keeping the public informed of how it's going. Government just needs to be the mouthpiece and the cheerleader, i.e. leader. I could imagine the next global economic wave to involve the transition to a senior-friendly civilization. Done right, the new living arrangement would be an order of magnitude better for the environment and be a direct benefit to climate change management. And I would imagine many of the ideas developed during this economic wave would apply to retrofitting existing homes and communities. Every community would get an economic stimulus because everyone is directly affected by the aging population.]

Why stop with climate and senior friendly cities? No doubt there are dozens of other criteria we can have for these cities that will be important to SOMEONE (kid friendly, minority friendly, union built, etc). Unfortunately the more criteria one adds the harder it becomes to do it all well. And I rather doubt that all this will 'add' anything to the economy, it will just take resources from one part of the economy and give it to another like most government programs.

[Anyway, I would think that in three years the open source project would have enough of a plan completed to attract financing, find a location, and start building the prototype. It probably makes sense to wait on the second location until the bugs are found in the first, after a year or two of operation.]

Am I correct in thinking you got this part of the idea from open source software funding? And am I correct that the reason such projects get funded is that folks have already made millions off of them? To my knowledge noone has yet made millions off of open source construction projects so I can't help thinking financing would be a bigger problem than you think.
 
 
Sep 10, 2012
Scott, you are such an optimistic technocrat. Nothing wrong with your basic impulses fro societal improvement.

But, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, you still seem to believe that it is even possible to have a benign, rational government that has the intelligence & foresight to pick the best of all possible solutions and will know how to fund them without any political machinations or generating any unwanted, unintended consequences.

Isn't it possible that it just might be that we have made way too many attempts to determine the one "right" answer for each & every problem. Maybe we just need to, as Mao said, "Let a thousand flowers bloom", instead.
 
 
Sep 10, 2012
"Addressing the challenge of an aging population requires a multi-prong strategy. First, you need a doctor assisted suicide option..."

Second, we need to invent a method for turning dead bodies into edible wafers. We may want to keep the ingredients list hidden from the public for the time being...
 
 
Sep 10, 2012
I remember our early American history books in school talked about indentured servants. I think they were immigrants who voluntarily traded several years of personal servitude in exchange for achieving citizenship down the road.

My father-in-law spent the last 3 years in a nursing home. It seems that the majority of the service they provide is performing non-medical tasks for residents, such as feeding them, rolling them over in bed, helping them to the bathroom, etc. Perhaps we could staff your senior centers with a new form of indentured servant, and provide that as an alternative method of immigration vs. crawling under the border fence and hiding for the rest of your life.
 
 
Sep 10, 2012
You owe me a new keyboard for "leave the engine running". There's tea everywhere.
 
 
Sep 10, 2012
What about the debt? The long term risk to this country is either inflation leading to the collapse of the currency or people not collecting the money that they put into the system that they rely on. Any long term solution that doesn't involve paying down the debt is not a good solution. Maybe you reduce some long term care costs for the elderly, but at the end of the day the government STILL spends too much. Instead of giving the government more responsibilities and more spending, how about we decide which of the roles the government is currently managing could be better managed by ourselves.
 
 
 
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog