Saturday, June 28, 2014

Secular stagnation and the Beveridge curve - the role of frail boomer parents

American unemployment, as economist’s measure it, is back to our post-2000 “norm”. On the other hand economic growth is low; our last quarter would make a fine start to another recession. Krugman et al debate the cause of “secular stagnation” in general, and strangely low labor force participation and Beveridge Curve shift in particular.

The usual suspects are globalization and “IT” (increasingly “AI”, politely referred to as “robots”). I also suspect the dominance of the dysfunctionally powerful modern corporation plays an important role along with the related the rise of economic parasites.

Income inequality is inducing economic distortions that likely also contribute, though I think that effect is partly offset by corporate power. Slowdowns in scientific discovery and technological innovation aren’t helping.

That’s a long list - as one would expect in an eco-econ world where we have to treat economies as ecologies. It takes a lot to change a self-correcting system.

I think we can add more though - including the intersection of demographics and medicine.

Once upon a time, as “recently” (cough) as when I started medical school in 1982, parents died in their 60s and 70s. They weren’t as vigorous as today’s 70 yo’s but they weren’t particularly frail either. They ate poorly, smoked and exercised little — but that’s not enough to make someone frail. It just means that elders died relatively quickly of cancer, heart disease, and organ failure. Dementia was starting to become more common, but it wasn’t universal.

Today’s Boomer parents are different. They stopped smoking 20 or 30 years ago. They’ve had more education and they’ve benefitted from bypass surgery and far better medications for lipid and blood pressure control. Their diets are lousy and they never exercised much — but they’re not nearly as obese as we will be.

So they tend to last — into their 80s. Which is pretty much the end of the road for the human machine. So Boomer parents get to be frail - and demented. That’s an entirely different care burden than any previous generation has known - and it’s hitting the boomer peak of today’s demographic curve. As always, the burden falls largely on women.

The frailty burden is genuinely new. It’s not big enough to explain all of our economic transformation, but I think it plays a significant role.

Fortunately, there’s an obvious fix - and an investment opportunity.

I expect to see massive solar powered robotic dementia care facilities opening across the empty spaces of America — probably as extensions of Google’s data centers. With robotic caretakers, waste water recycling, soy lent green synthetic protein, and high bandwidth connections to companion AIs and VR-integrated remote children this should be quite pleasant.

I’m looking forward to my pod. (Oh, sh*t, I’m in it right no…..)

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