Partial Transcript: Episode 70 (Gerontocracy)

Andrew: Gerontocracy means old people ruling?

Virginia: Yes.  So let me back up and tell you the rest of the story.  Jared Diamond has a new book out.

Andrew: Is he old?

Virginia: Yes, very old.

Andrew: Seems self serving.

Virginia: It’s a comparative culture book about how different cultures (hunter-gather societies and privative farming societies) live compared to us.  There’s a chapter on age, and it basically goes something like this: Hunter gatherer societies generally have either honor killings where they put the elderly out of their misery or they just let them go out into the wilderness on their own.  Contrast that with today’s society where we spend a lot of money on nursing homes.  His point is that we have a gerontocracy whereby the ownership structure incentivizes us to take care of our elderly.  Society is run and governed by old people.  Young people have to be nice to them until the old people die off and then the younger people control society.

Nick: I read an article talking about shifts in corporate structure that was similar.  Fifty years ago, it used to be all about single owners of businesses.  But now we have big corporations in charge, and they are not investing in innovation.  That’s one of the reasons that our economy is in a stalemate is because no one is doing any innovating.  We’re just trying to lessen wages and maximize the revenue stream.

Virginia: I can see that.  When I read Jared Diamond’s book, I had a “aha” moment about AARP being the biggest special interest group in the country.  The members have enough time to advocate on their own behalf.  Whereas people in their 20’s and 30’s are working, having kids, and they don’t have time for that.

Andrew: One of the biggest things they advocate for is young people subsidizing their living, even though they’ve sold us down the river with massive debt and failing infrastructure.

Virginia: The alternative really sucks.  You don’t want to send somebody out into the wilderness to die.

Nick: I’m fine with everybody’s else’s grandparents, just not mine.

Andrew: My parents can take care of themselves.  They’re doing a pretty good job.

Nick: But how much of that is due to the subsidies they get?

Andrew: Theirs is because they started a company.

Nick: They’re probably making a pretty big kickback from Social Security as well.

Virginia: It’s technically not a kickback.

Andrew: It’s a Ponzi scheme.

Nick: It only works as long as there’s more young than there are old.

Virginia: A Ponzi scheme collapses because it runs out of people to consume.

Andrew: Collapsing isn’t part of the definition of a Ponzi scheme.  It is just a system where it’s dependent on new people coming in.

Katie: I think this is a really fascinating topic.  I’m in Wikipedia.  It’s talking about how the Greeks came up with the idea.  In Sparta, they had a council made up of people aged 65 and up who served for life.

Virginia: As a younger person, it makes me so mad that there’s a conspiracy by old people to rule the world.

Nick: It’s not really a conspiracy.  It’s reality.

Andrew: They’ll blatantly say, “You don’t have the experience.”

Nick: Don’t you have to be 35 to be a Senator?  What about to be President?

Andrew: 35 is the age.  How is that fair?

Katie: I’m really glad you brought this us.  I think about it consciously.  I received a statement from a company that I do business with and was looking at the board of directors.  They were all older, white men.

Virginia: You’ve heard my theory, right?

Katie: Remind me.

Virginia: My theory is that the main benefits that older people have are: their experience and their network.

Nick: Not always better experience, but probably a better network.

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