Plumb Lines

September 23, 2009

The Fogey Economy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 6:00 am

old_people

From the Wall Street Journal:

Active-adult communities and assisted-living facilities exist to mitigate some of the drawbacks of growing old on a cul-de-sac. That said, the vast majority of older adults don’t want to move. Fully 85% of surveyed individuals age 50-plus told AARP, the Washington-based advocacy group, that they wish to remain in their communities for as long as possible. And those communities, invariably, want the same thing: a strong mix of ages, interests and abilities among residents.

Perhaps a better solution, and one finding favor in more circles, is the idea of “retrofitting” suburbia and developing, as seen on the drawing board in Fayetteville, “lifelong communities.” Such projects typically involve taking a neighborhood or site within an existing town or suburb and creating a compact, walkable community—one with alternatives to single-family homes, such as condominiums or row houses. Ideally, older residents in large homes will have the option of downsizing and remaining in a community where they can access restaurants, shopping and other amenities and services on foot.

I recently spent a week in the Mercat Sant Antoni neighborhood of Barcelona. It’s not hip, but it is wonderful. Responsible for both of these facts is the unusually high number old people. They are everywhere, and they effortlessly mingle with the young and middle-aged people one is accustomed to seeing about town. Interestingly, these elderly people perform an economic role essential to the life of the neighborhood that no one else can fill. They run small stands selling fruit, or meat, or cloth that do enough business to supplement a retiree’s income but wouldn’t be able to support most middle-aged persons. The old people enjoy the chance to interact with younger people as vital members of the community, and the community enjoys services that would not be otherwise available. This is what I like to call “the fogey economy.” The fact that it exists almost nowhere in America means fewer services and higher prices.

We conservatives have little business decrying euthanasia unless we also stand against the elimination of old folks from our everyday experience. This, not Obama’s health plan, is our society’s significant step towards doing away with the elderly. Even if our beloved geezers  aren’t in danger, we should not accept having them sequestered in nursing homes and “assisted-living facilities.” In some areas today, one is hard-pressed to find any old people at all other than the gentleman who welcomes you as you enter the local Walmart. He’s nice, but where are all his friends?

Perhaps I shouldn’t worry since I’m only in my twenties, but the communities that are built over the next forty years will be of two kinds: ones in which my friends and I are able to grow old while remaining part of society, or else ones from which we are ejected once we start wetting beds and breaking our formerly hipster hips.

Update: Joe Carter kindly links to my post but sees a problem in my claim that we “have little business decrying euthanasia unless we also stand against the elimination of old folks from our everyday experience.”

I’ll admit that I was a bit carried away by my enthusiasm for our elders. It is better to oppose the culture of death only in its late stages than not at all. That said, I want to start at the beginning and fight it all the way down the line.

-Matthew Schmitz

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4 Comments »

  1. “…the communities that are built over the next forty years will be of two kinds: ones in which my friends and I are able to grow old while remaining part of society, or else ones from which we are ejected once we start wetting beds and breaking our formerly hipster hips.”

    So as a declared conservative, “we conservatives,” will governments have a role in determining the type of communities built for your golden years? Should governments preference one over the other?

    Comment by Jude — September 23, 2009 @ 12:37 pm

  2. re: Jude

    I don’t think the federal government should be forcing its arbitrary preferences on local communities, which should be free to structure themselves in whatever way they see fit.

    While the government should not enforce essentially aesthetic preferences, it does have an interest in avoiding modes of building that are both costly and unjust. Right now our laws and economy are burdened with all kinds of subsidies, incentives and outright bans that require us to build in ways that adversely affect our communities. My claim is that we should simply make the government neutral and so promote greater freedom and choice between different kinds of living. More community, less government.

    Comment by Matthew Schmitz — September 23, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

  3. […] fallacy in the first sentence of this excerpt, Matthew Schmitz makes some important points in his post about the contributions—both communally and econmically—of the elderly: We conservatives have little business decrying […]

    Pingback by The Fogey Economy » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog — September 23, 2009 @ 3:01 pm


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