Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Elderly People are Expensive

A few posts ago (Population and Contraception, Part 2) I brought up the idea that capitalism/industrialization drastically increases the cost of raising a child. That would be one instance of a more general principle, which I have already mentioned, that capitalism increases the cost of the base requisites of living. For people of the underdeveloped Majority World, this means that the effects of being paid less than the value of their labor are greatly magnified. For those in the industrialized core, where consumption is very much more pronounced, it means that people can hardly afford to provide for much more than the costs of their own individual existence (stay tuned for upcoming post on individualism). Not only does this affect attitudes toward children, but it also shapes the relationship between the working generation and the elderly.

Simply put, most people cannot bear all of the costs of caring for their elderly relatives. In non-capitalist societies, this is not the case, and in fact, elderly folks are not responsible for their own provisioning. In industrialized societies, on the other hand, particularly to the extent that the more employer-based pension system has eroded in favor of plans that require contributions from employees (more on this in the next couple posts), individuals are responsible for accumulating the resources for their own retirement in advance. Where individuals cannot provide for themselves, they have recourse to public funds via social security, medicare, and so forth. These government services diffuse the costs incurred by elderly people in a way that makes it more manageable at the individual level.

However, what this means is that, as individual and public resources dry up, industrial societies are faced with their own inability to bear the costs of their elderly population.

Of course, I am not saying anything particularly new or earth-shattering. Yet, even as this predicament is publicly discussed, and with great concern, there is no acknowledgement that the whole situation is, in fact, caused by the inherent principles of capitalism. It is capitalism that makes elderly people too expensive to care for.

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