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.