CONTRIBUTORS

An appetite for elderly Americans

Posted Nov. 14, 2011, at 5:43 p.m.

Look, Occupants of Wall Street and Washington and Portland and everywhere under the sun. It’s getting cold. It pains me to walk past your burgeoning tent cities, watching you bundle up and get ready to hunker down for the winter, like a herd of slightly early bears. And none of us is getting any younger.

In fact, that is true of the world generally. The population hit 7 billion a week ago. And a startling proportion of those 7 billion are old, as my colleague Joel Achenbach noted.

Which leads me to my suggestion:

We are probably not going to be able to alter the compensation of CEOs on Wall Street. Corporations are, after all, people (or something), and like people, they tenaciously insist on determining the amount of money they pay their workers without any outside input.

So what can we do?

I would suggest that we eat the rich. But the rich are so difficult to catch. Besides, they are wise to us. They seldom sport monocles. You never see anyone these days with a gold-tipped cane. It is hard to tell them from people who have just gotten a very good deal on bespoke suits from LivingSocial.

Perhaps there is a simpler way.

Eat the elderly.

According to the census, the wealth gap between young and old Americans has never been so huge. Households headed by 65-and-ups have 47 times the net worth of those headed by people younger than 35. Median net worth for 65-and-older households? $170,494. For us younger folks? $3,662.

This is more than double the gap in 2005. And it will only widen. It’s the upside-down pyramid, in which a smaller, comparatively overworked and underemployed younger generation has to slave double-time to support a massive aging population. “Peel us more grapes, future generations!” the elderly demand, lolling on their verandas in Fort Lauderdale. “And hurry up with that prune shake. “

Older Americans have everything we want. They have the wealth we crave. They have more replacement hips than we ever dream of having. They have leisure. Some of them have plates embedded in their bodies, just to add excitement to their lives when they go through airport security.

And do they contribute to society? No!

All they do is swig Metamucil, watch Lawrence Welk reruns and ask us to come reprogram their televisions. Occasionally they show up in ads to demand that we leave their Social Security benefits intact, because they have strength in numbers and they aren’t afraid to use it.

Why do you think we can’t get jobs working grocery checkouts?

“Because machines do that now.”

No! It is because the elderly are stubbornly marching around checkout aisles in their tennis shoes, with their friendly demeanor and old-timey “manners” and unfair advantage of being able to talk to people without consulting their iPhones midsentence.

Call it “earning a living” if you like. I call it “taking the jobs of deserving millennials.”

Meanwhile, look at this mess we will have to clean up.

Our society has a long-standing predilection for the old. You have to be at least 35 years old to run for president. Forty-six out of 100 senators were born in 1947 or earlier. And our national finances are a textbook example of the sort of system you would throw together under the assumption that you were going to die soon and would not have to worry where the money would be coming from .

But the trouble is that they won’t. That would be too easy. Instead, they are going to linger on well into the triple digits, at excruciating expense, if modern medicine has anything to say about it. And we’ll be stuck footing the bill!

Look, I have no personal ill will against the old. Except Helen Mirren, because she is better preserved than I am.

But they are easier to catch than those who are merely rich and, according to the census, it all shakes out to about the same thing. They have been so busy making sure that their lives will be better than the lives of their parents that they have forgotten to make sure that our lives will be better than theirs. And the longer they linger, the more we’ll notice.

So let’s move out of the streets and into the retirement villages, off Wall Street and into the gated communities.

Eat the elderly! Except Warren Buffett. He knows where they hid the money.

Sure, they’re old. They’re wrinkly and taste sort of gamy, with a hint of talcum powder.

But the alternative is to continue to allow them to devour us. And it’s getting cold outside.

Alexandra Petri is a member of The Washington Post’s editorial staff.

SEE COMMENTS →

ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business
ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business

Similar Articles

More in Opinion