Won’t somebody think of the old people?

by John Q on January 17, 2024

Continuing my discussion of the recent upsurge in pro-natalism, I want to talk about the idea that, unless birth rates rise, society will face a big problem caring for old people. In this post, I’m going to focus on aged care in the narrow sense, rather than issues like retirement income, which depend crucially on social policy.

Looking at Australian data on location of death, I found that around 30 per cent of people die in aged care, and that the mean time spent in aged care is around three years, implying an average of one year per person. Staffing requirements in Australia amount to aroundone full-time staff member per residents. So the “average” Australian requires about one full-time working year of aged care in their lifetime, or about 2.5 per cent of a working life. This is, as it happens, about the proportion of the Australian workforce currently engaged in aged care.

But what if each generation were only half the size of the preceding one? In that case, the share of the labour force required for aged care would double, to around 5 per cent.

If you find this scary, you might want to consider that children aged 0-5 require more care than old people, and for a much longer time. Because this care is provided within the family, and without any monetary return, it doesn’t appear in national accounts. But a pro-natalist policy requires that people have more children than they choose to at present. To the extent that this is achieved by subsidising the associated labour costs (for example, through publicly funded childcare), it will rapidly offset the eventual benefit in having more workers available to provide aged care.

And that’s only preschool children. There’s a significant childcare element in school education, as we saw when schools closed at the beginning of the pandemic. And school-age children still require plenty of parental care. (I’ll talk about education more generally in a later post, I hope).

Repeating myself, none of this is a problem when people choose to have children, more or less aware of the work this will involve (though, as everyone who has been through it knows, new parents are in for a big shock). But it’s clear by now that voluntary choices will produce a below-replacement birth rate. Policies aimed at changing those choices will have costs that exceed their benefits.

The JPP saga — and the way forward

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 17, 2024

This is a post that will mainly be of interest to academic political philosophers, as it concerns what happened to The Journal of Political Philosophy, and I’m assuming readers know what happened to that journal recently (if you don’t, you can read first this, and then this piece on Daily Nous).

Earlier today I attended a meeting that Wiley organised at the Eastern Philosophical Association meeting, and want to share my impression as well as share the three conclusions that I draw from this session. [click to continue…]

The Hayakawa Question

by Kevin Munger on January 17, 2024

I love writing. The medium is excellent for communicating ideas, or a narrative history. But writing is one-dimensional, and it’s much worse at communicating the history of ideas in higher dimensions.

My meta-scientific interest in understanding how ideas travel, how their fate waxes and wanes, has frequently pushed me beyond my preferred medium. Traditional historiography is extremely time-consuming: you have to read and compare various histories of the same topic over time and across perspectives.

An inductive, data-driven approach won’t provide any conclusive results — but it might tell us where we should look. My goal is to find ideas that at one point seemed promising—perhaps, with modern technology, we can explore branches of human development that were prematurely or arbitrarily cut off. The cybernetic socialism of Stafford Beer is one of my favorite such examples; what else can we find?

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