Last Friday I had the great pleasure of participating in a panel at the Federalist Society’s National Convention with Chris DeMuth of the Hudson Institute, David Weisbach of the University of Chicago Law School, and Judge Frank Easterbrook on intergenerational equity and old age entitlements, like social security. My talk had two parts. I first rejected a common claim about old age entitlements: that they transfer resources from a poor generation to a richer one, because young people today will be less well off than their elders. I, then, nevertheless showed that old age entitlements as presently structured raised substantial problems for the young and old. In this post I summarize the first part of the speech.
The history of economic growth in the United States suggests that, as they age, the young today will be much better off than the old are today. Since 1950 – less than a lifetime – real GDP per capita in the U.S. has tripled. And economic growth continues, even if the statistics suggest that it is slowing down. But this slowdown is to a substantial extent an illusion, because it fails to fully account for the two greatest ongoing revolutions of our time—the improvements in health care and the exponential increases in machine intelligence that are rapidly expanding throughout the economy.
First, take improvements in health care and longevity: they do not even show up in the GDP. And yet they are massive: as Larry Summers once remarked, it is not at all clear that one would choose to have the health care of 1950 and the income of today rather than the income of 1950 and the health care of today.