Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, February 25, 2009





On Becoming a Bristlecone Centenarian




Now that Obama got what he was seeking from Congress, maybe it is time for the older folks to become aware of what might happen in the future. Larry Summers, the ex-president of Harvard, is the Obama budget man. He’s in charge of Obama’s first national budget, due in late February or March.

Summers promises that, as part of budget development, the President “is going to describe the kinds of approaches he wants to take to the entitlement problems that have been ignored for a long time.” Some options might include delaying retirement, stretching benefits and lifting the cap on taxable earnings.

Summers told a TIME magazine reporter that the strategic goal of all these moves is to render a massive fix for the economy but then muscle the federal budget back toward balance.

“It is absolutely essential,” he says, “and the President never lets us lose sight of this for an hour, that even as you do those things, you have to also be addressing the longer-range concerns. We inherited trillion-dollar deficits, and his budgets are going to show a path back toward fiscal health.”

The TIME reporter points out that on that front, Republicans could come to Obama’s rescue. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has told Obama in person that his party favors entitlement reform and would work for passage if both parties shared the risk.

Oh Boy! What a batch of scheming politicians we’ve got. The idea that the door to entitlement reform is opening has a lot of people concerned. Couple that with the fact that the human population is aging at an unprecedented rate while the birth rate is falling, resulting in an increasing imbalance between young and old.

This imbalance is the biggest perceived threat to our ability to maintain entitlements in their current form. Developing future public policy in light of the uncertainty of how these longevity and aging trends will play out is enormously challenging.

Now is the time to rethink some ancient thoughts. With the political climate being what it is, and with the aid of advancing medical science allowing us to see into a longer and longer future, we seniors have to be like the ancient minutemen of the American Revolution and be prepared for the long-term future.

Three primary components are crucial for the challenges to living to an advanced age: (1) strong social support systems, (2) good health and (3) dependable financial resources.

The complexity of this third component lies in planning for the provision of these resources for potentially 35, or even 40 years after retirement. This requires a much more sophisticated approach than, for instance, determining how to allocate savings amongst a portfolio of mutual funds.

In his poem, “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost describes coming to a crossroads in the woods of New England. Frost chose the road less traveled, a choice that he says “made all the difference.”

The poem could be referring to seniors’ ability to make the right life choices, manage the consequences of their choices and not be dependent on old outmoded models. As we all know, the right choices in life often are not easy or popular, and choosing them sometimes requires courage, effort and persistence.

We might take as our model for courage and persistence the long-lived Bristlecone pine. No matter what adversities a Bristlecone pine faces, it adapts to its harsh surroundings and lives thousands of years.

Seniors also need to be adaptable, growing and changing to meet their changing needs and changing circumstances. In that way, we can become Bristlecone Centenarians.

— Capitol News Service