Washington’s focus is now on the U.S. budget process and Congressman Paul Ryan’s deficit reduction proposals, first seen in his “Roadmap for America’s Future.” But to address the longer term cuts in health programs for the elderly and to solve the Social Security challenge, there may be some unlikely places to look for answers. While we’re about to see a huge shift in economics in this country— 77 million baby boomers will feed the deficit over the next two decades—worldwide there are 450 million in this boomer category. Americans might look globally for ideas and maybe even solutions.
In the private sector, more and more companies are stepping up to the challenge. Intel’s “Business of Ageing” approach in Ireland is representative of the genre, as it prepares businesses to better adapt their products and services to the growing aging demographic. In this formulation, aging can yield economic value creation, not just increased burdens on the debt, which political discussions on health care and pensions always presume.
Over on the East River in New York, the United Nations is also in the game on solutions for global aging. This coming Tuesday, the United Nations Economic and Social Council and AARP are jointly holding two days of briefings on population aging. It’s a warm-up for the much larger Non Communicable Diseases summit in September. As the U.N. General Assembly opens in 2011, aging should feature prominently as one of the significant cost issues associated with 21st-century health challenges, such as Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
Back in Europe, the Centre for European Studies (CES) has been undertaking research, convening stakeholders, and helping to drive reforms at the European Union level precisely connected to aging demographics. The CES event in mid March starts with “the latest projections of the European Commission demonstrating the serious [fiscal] risks that countries face when they don’t reform.”
Fiscal sustainability as it relates to aging populations is a growing and common concern all over the world. While there will surely be different solutions according to specific conditions and particular politics, it’s useful to know there are common lessons from which we might benefit.
Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is managing director, the High Lantern Group, and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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