I was reading something scary the other day. Obviously it was from an economist. He said the real problems haven’t started yet. Wait until the Baby Boomers start retiring. Their nest eggs are tiny and there won’t be enough Social Security and health care money in the universe to keep everyone in cat food and diapers.
I’m an optimist so I think society will find a way to adapt. But I wonder what that will look like? It might be an improvement.
For one thing, I think you’ll see more sharing. The Internet can make it easy to know where you can find resources to borrow. The most obvious example is carpooling. But it could get down to who has food in the fridge that will go bad because someone will be out of town for a week. Or maybe it becomes easy to find a reliable grandma who will babysit for free if you agree to feed her cat next Tuesday. The market for sharing is totally untapped.
I just bought two tickets to a show, for an upcoming trip. I’m sure I will like the show. But I won’t like it more than watching a good TV show with family or friends while eating popcorn and sitting on the couch. It’s just different. Most luxury expenses are entirely unnecessary in terms of happiness.
I eat a lot of meals out, but it’s mostly for convenience. After most restaurants go out of business, which should happen in the next five years, people might start cooking group meals. It makes a lot more sense for your family to make a big pot of mashed potatoes and meet the neighbors for a group buffet. That’s relatively little work for each family, and relatively cheap. Again all you need is the Internet to help you organize that sort of thing. Plus you need a good dose of poverty to eliminate the alternatives.
The new poverty is likely to be different from anything that came before. Imagine a world where even the poor have good Internet access and universal healthcare. If you were healthy and could use the Internet to find everything else you needed, from borrowing a tool to organizing a Scrabble game, you’d be pretty much set.
The other way the future could go is that out of economic necessity the government will approve some sort of feel-good pill that makes your external situation less important. You won’t mind sharing a one-room apartment with 20 people if they are all on the same pill. And you won’t require much in terms of entertainment. So long as the pill is cheap, which it could be if the government declares it so, then people won’t need much to be happily retired. The pill could be outlawed for anyone under 65, just so the wheels don’t completely fall off the economic engine.
It would be impossible for the government to approve a pill that simply made you feel good. Society frowns on that sort of thing. But imagine the inventors of the pill being smart about how they describe the pill’s impact. Instead of saying it makes you happy they could say it makes you less fussy. You won’t mind eating that cat food instead of steak because you’re suddenly less fussy when medicated. Even the most religious person would agree that living like a monk can be a good thing. Fussiness is the influence of the devil. The government would surely approve an anti-Satan pill.
Which way do you think it will go: more sharing or more medication?