Page last updated at 03:55 Asia/Manila, Tuesday, 18 February 2014 PH
Some time in 2011, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Bergoglio had a conversation with Jewish Rabbi, Abraham Skorka, about what is happening to the aging people in economically advanced economies. I assume that it was farthest from the mind of the future Pope that just three years later, he would be the Supreme Pontiff of more than one billion Roman Catholics from all over the world. At one point in the conversation he remarked casually: "Now that I am seventy four years old, I am about to start my aging years. I am preparing myself and I want to be good wine, not one that is about to turn into vinegar." The rest is history. At the age of 78, he has just begun the most hectic and demanding phase of his earthly life. It is obvious that at 78, he is far from thinking of retiring from active life. We wish him many more years of good health.
To a remark of Rabbi Skorka that nowadays old people are being put aside and neglected by society, he prefaced his observation by saying that in the past we used to talk about the oppressors and the oppressed. Then he added the categories of those who are included and those excluded. In fact, in Philippine society today we often hear about "inclusive growth" to make sure that the much-vaunted high growth of the Philippine economy is "inclusive", i.e. that the poor are also benefited by economic growth. Finally, Archbishop Bergoglio complained that things have become more brutal and now we have to talk about those who fit in and those who can be discarded. Unfortunately, among those in the last category are the aging parents and grandparents.
As an economist, I am fully aware of the implications of these observations of then Archbishops Bergoglio. A recent article by Charles M. Blow entitled "Radical Life Extension" that appeared last August 7, 2013 in the internet summarizes what is happening in the U.S. and all advanced economies without any exception: "The United States--and indeed the world--is straining under the weight of an aging population, and that strain is only expected to grow. Life expectancy at birth in the country at the turn of the 20th century was nearly 50 years. According to the United States Census Bureau, it's now over 78. And by 2050, it'll be over 80. Others estimate it could be even higher. A 2009 report by the MacArthur Research Network, on an Aging Society estimated that by 2050 'life expectancy for females will rise to 89.2 to 93.3 years and 83.2 to 85.9 years for males.'...The Census Bureau projects that the number of Americans over 65 will more than double by 2060. And this top heavy population pyramid may only become more warped. A 2009 study published in The Lancet predicts that more than half of babies born in 2000 in 'countries with long life expectancies' will live past 100 years old." We will be back to the times of Moses who lived to 120 years old. I can identify easily with these data because my mother, who was born in 1909 lived to be 102 years old, retaining all her faculties until the last moment of her life. I have no doubts that her great grandchildren born in this century, having her genes and the healthier environment we are now enjoying, can live much beyond 100 years. (To be continued)