At least on the subject of aging, Canada’s national weekly newsmagazine, Macleans, appears to be conducting a relentless drive not to be taken seriously. Last year, a Macleans cover breathlessly warned us that the Baby Boomers were “doomed”. Now a new front cover declares that seniors are “old,” “rich” and “spoiled”…and that it’s “high time they paid up.” The supporting article presents a blend of intellectual dishonesty and incompetent reporting that would be hilarious if it weren’t so downright nasty. But I should be grateful, I suppose, for two reasons:
1. It validates exactly what I described in Beyond Age Rage (p. 6): “Generational warfare is definitely becoming an established shortcut for the media, which bang on about the selfish, greedy older generations engineering a war against the young. There are so many examples of this kind of language that it’s almost a cliche.”
2. Macleans has furnished me with the raw material for several posts, as I take this piece apart, which I propose to do with great enthusiasm. This story will be the gift that keeps on giving for a least a month on this blog, so stay tuned…it’s going to be fun.
Here is the cover:
Some of the underlying premise is reasonable – even as mangled by the author, Tamsin McMahon, who seems to have a talent for presenting the blindingly obvious as if it were a moral injustice that she alone has just discovered and that no one ever recognized before. It’s certainly true, for example, that Canada has done a great job of reducing seniors’ poverty, and that “older” people have accumulate more money than “younger” people (duh). It’s also reasonable to argue for reallocation of resources, or means testing to insure that scarce dollars go to those most in need (at any age).
But it is one thing to argue that new realities require adjustments in policy, or in spending allocations. It is quite another to present the situation as being the result of something unfair and unjust. If it is indeed “high time” that seniors “paid up,” does this mean that they have been free-riding all along?
What’s more, there are natural imbalances of spending and receiving that have always been true, when comparing the different generations, and that are inherent in aging itself.
For example younger generations always contribute more, in tax dollars, toward health care than they typically receive back immediately, for no other reason than they tend to be healthier. Then, when they get older, they typically receive back more in benefits than they are contributing in immediate taxes. They accept the imbalance when younger in order to maintain a system that will benefit them when they are older.
Yet the article offers a chart comparing what the “Canadian government” spends on the different age groups, which shows $12,758 in per capita spending on “medical care” for the 65+ age group, compared to…well…zero for those 45 and under. Is it really zero? Is McMahon counting only direct federal payments for health care (the main federal responsibility being veterans, who would naturally skew older) and not counting all the federal transfer payments to the provinces to pay for health care in general? The chart doesn’t say. Clearly, if we counted provincial and not just federal spending (which we should do, given how the health care system is structured) there is no way that zero is spent on the under-45 population.
I guess the fact-checkers were away that day.
Here’ s another joke in that same chart. Look at that green box near the guy’s foot: “42% of Canadian millionaires are 65 or older”
Yikes! What a scandal!
But what does McMahon imagine the ratio was when today’s 65+ were themselves twentysomethings?
In every generation, the richest people tend to be concentrated among the older populations for no other reason than that they’ve had more decades in which to acquire that wealth. In that same way, if we project ahead 40 years, we can confidently predict that there will be more millionaires among people who are today twentysomething, than among people who are today…um…newborns. This should be stunningly obvious and not particularly alarming. Yet it’s presented – both on the cover and in the article – as something unjust: “It’s high time they paid up.”
This article is a treasure trove of dishonesty and meanness and the trivialization of legitimately important subjects. In coming posts, I’ll dig into more examples.