December 22, 2018

Welfare State apocalypsis


Too many people argue over the end of the welfare state. There are reasons for concern, but apocalyptic views are unnecessary. A new book reviews the ageing process and the implications for the welfare state. The message is a balanced perspective:
Upon closer inspection, available evidence suggests that caring for a growing older population may not be so costly to finance and that older people provide significant economic and societal benefits, especially when healthy and active:
– Population ageing has a modest and very gradual effect on health expenditure forecasts, compared
to traditional cost drivers such as price growth and technological innovation.
– Demand for long-term care is expected to increase substantially due to population ageing but it is coming from a low baseline currently. However, projected increases in long-term care spending do not account for the economic cost of informal long-term care, as this is not captured in international statistics (nor fully understood).
– Many older people continue to provide paid or unpaid work beyond official retirement age and continue to make a positive economic and societal contribution. The value of unpaid work provided by older people is considerable but not regularly quantified.
– While in Europe older people's consumption is mainly financed by public transfers, many older people pay for (part of) their consumption from private sources, including from incomes from their own continued work or from accumulated assets.
– Accumulation of asset wealth also benefits the economy indirectly through its contribution to productivity growth; health is a key predictor of asset accumulation.
– Older people, even if not in paid employment, continue to pay consumption and other non-labour-related taxes, and thus contribute to public-sector revenues.
 Mostly, I agree with this view. The retirement funding issue is the largest challenge for the welfare state and our politicians are playing with fire.