Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Age and capacity: the strong shall be weak

The NYT has another story on age, diminished capacity and fraud. It's an echo of last year's story of InfoUSA marketing mailing lists of the vulnerable elderly to criminals.

The story is mostly routine. Independent elderly male is easy prey for traditional predators, Realtors, bankers and the like. Yes, as the pool of vulnerable boomers grows, the predator pool thrives as well. We studied these predator-prey models in my simulation classes; what's good for the wolf is good for the less attractive human equivalent.

The new twist is elders litigating for their money back using 'diminished capacity' defenses. Ironically the litigants argue that they should be considered both full capable to make their own decisions, except for the bad decisions they made. This reasoning, of course, is proof of diminished capacity.

The legal argument is arising now because the modern predator pool includes some deep pockets, such as banks and Realtor companies.

The last paragraphs of the NYT article have the most interesting comments:
Shielding Money Clashes With Elders’ Free Will (NYT 12/24/07)

...We know that, statistically, seniors are at enormous risk for fraud,” said A. Kimberley Dayton of the Center for Elder Justice and Policy at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. “It’s foolish to ignore that. But there’s also a huge dilemma in determining when someone is just being eccentric, versus someone who is a victim of undue influence.”

Mr. Tomer, as he prepared to join his wife on the dance floor, said that over a lifetime, people like Mr. Pyle were supposed to learn from their mistakes.

“Nowadays, I have a few memory problems — senior moments, I call them — and I know my limitations, what I can and can’t do,” Mr. Tomer said. “Bob was special, but he was susceptible to scam artists, and that was probably as true when he was young as now.

“Life isn’t perfect,” he added. “Even when you’re old.”
Mr. Tomer is the kind of elder buck the wolves prefer to leave for last, but there's no doubt about the reality of age and diminished capacity. That's not to say that the strong become weak when we pass our "peak" of 45 or so; heck with some luck we may be as effective at 60 as we were at 30. Further down the road though, most of us will have the effective judgment of a 16 year old (though the pattern of weakness differs).

That's bad.

So, where is this going to go in the age of fraud, post-50 boomers, and the reality that the strong shall become weak?

I don't know of course, but I'm hoping it will lead to a different (wiser?) understanding of the duty the strong owe the weak. There are a lot of wolves out theres (sorry wolves, you're just such a great metaphor), and diminished capacity, by definition, occurs at every age.

We're only beginning a very important intellectual and philosophical journey.

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