Old People: a Burden to Society

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For much of the last half century, public discussion of population issues has focused on the proposition that the world faced a population explosion. Many predicted dire consequences as population growth rapidly used up supplies of exhaustible resources such as metals and petroleum. The standard of living would decline as certain essential resources became ever more scarce and costly. This pessimistic view was not new. In 1798, Thomas Malthus, in his famous Essay on the Principle of Population, argued, "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man. Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second." Thus, in Malthus' view, population growth will inevitably outstrip the earth's capacity to produce food, resulting in widespread famine, disease and poverty. Modern concern over population growth shares with Malthus the view that population pressures will have dire consequences. However, the Malthus view that these consequences are inevitable -the view that earned economics the label "dismal science"-is not shared by informed observers today. For some, advocacy of rigorous methods of population control has replaced resigned pessimism. For others, a worldwide decline in the birth rate seems to be solving the problem without further government action. If you ask people whether we must continue to be concerned about a population explosion, it is likely that many would respond that the problem will become extremely important in coming years. Yet, experts who study these issues say that the odds that population growth will cause real difficulty in the foreseeable future have receded. We do, however, face with certainty another population problem that will be at hand very soon-a rapidly aging population. This article focuses on one implication...
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