Thoughts on turning eighty
This commentary was broadcast four days after I turned EIGHTY. I want to reflect a bit on that.
First, I must express my disgust with Presidential Candidate Nikki Haley’s idea that all public servants over 75 should be subject to a competency test. She tried to be clever by stating that she was concerned about Senator Bernie Sanders being “crazy” and President Biden being “too old,” but everyone knows she used it as a way of taking a swipe at former President Trump. Despite the political gimmickry of the “proposal” the ageist element is quite outrageous. And of course, given the ageism of too many of our fellow citizens, it appears that a significant percentage of the population answered “yes” when polled about this proposal.
But think about it. The entire premise is ridiculous. Yes, airline pilots and some other very physically demanding jobs that also require very fast reflexes should be subject to regular testing as one gets older, but members of Congress? Age is no predictor. There are plenty of mentally incompetent 40 and 50 year olds. (And some of them are in Congress right now!)
Luckily, Congress abolished mandatory retirement decades ago. For a time, tenured college professors were exempt from that abolition --- colleges and universities had a few years before they had to end forced retirement. By the time, I was eligible for Social Security, there were no limitations on how long I stayed on the job. I retired not because I thought I could no longer do the job, but because I wanted to do other things. (I also have to confess that my university had an incentive program --- We will pay you a chunk of change now if you retire --- but you lose the chance to collect that money if you keep working. Thus, if I had chosen to stay on the job, during those next two years I would in effect have been working for free having given up a generous “bribe.” I worked for four more years at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York before finally grading my last essay! [My original employer, Western New England (then) College offered that incentive because it was in their financial interest. Longer serving professors were paid much more than new hires.]) As listeners to my broadcasts (and readers of the expanded versions online) can attest, I did not retire because of age created incompetence --- I can still do this kind of intellectual work! (And WAMC will be able to tell me to stop whenever they determine that my commentaries have ceased to be coherent, etc. There is no such thing as “tenure” for commentators!)
As I look back on 80 years, I have a lot to be thankful for. Yes, I had three VERY rough years in my childhood --- my parents were murdered by the United States government in 1953.
[For my brother’s and my personal stories see Meeropol, Robert and Michael, We Are Your Sons, the Legacy of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg (University of Illinois Press, 1986) and Meeropol, Robert, An Execution in the Family, One Son’s Journey (St. Martin’s Press, 2003). For details about my parents’ case, see Meeropol, Michael, “ ‘A Spy Who Turned His Family In,’ Revisiting David Greenglass and the Rosenberg Case” (available at https://doi.org/10.1080/14743892.2018.1467702). See also Schneir, Walter, FINAL VERDICT: What Really Happened in the Rosenberg Case. (Preface and Afterword by Miriam Schneir) (Welville House, 2010)]
However, since joining the family of Anne and Abel Meeropol at the age of 10, (the adoption was finalized four years later) I have had a wonderful life. I had an outstanding education, some of it (my Ph D) courtesy of a US government fellowship. (You can’t make this stuff up --- I was awarded a NDEA [National Defense Education Act] fellowship for three years of graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Obviously, it was the University who made this decision, not the Department of Defense!)
I married my darling wife, Annie, at 22 and was happily married to her for 53 years before her untimely death in 2019.
[My commentary celebrating Annie’s life was delivered in November of 2019. It is available from the WAMC website.]
I have two children -- 54 and 53 – both married with rewarding careers. I have two wonderful grand-children that my wife and I got to see regularly because we lived in the same town – and I continue to see them regularly. Since January of 2022, I have been very fortunate to be in a new relationship with a wonderful woman.
I worked over 40 years at a job I loved, doing what I was trained to do, teach college students in subjects I found intellectually stimulating – economics and history. I had health insurance for myself and my family from the moment I began working till I switched to Medicare.
Health insurance paid for open heart surgery in 2007 which saved my life and extended it. Annie was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and had the best medical treatment in the world courtesy of first our family’s health insurance and, after 2014, Medicare. She died at home peacefully being serviced by home hospice care, also paid for by our health insurance. From a personal and standard of living standpoint, I and my entire family have been most fortunate.
On a most basic level, neither Annie, nor I, nor any of our children or grandchildren have EVER had to worry about where our next meal was coming from, whether we would have shelter for our next night’s sleep, whether we would be warm enough in the winter or cool enough in the summer. We are indeed among the most fortunate group of humans on earth.
That’s the good news. The bad news of course is that the vast majority of people living on this earth do not have anywhere near the standard of living of myself and my extended family. Many do not know where their next meal is coming from. Many have no access to preventive medical care. Many have been driven from their homes by war, by climate change, or by economic destitution.
And as if the condition of hundreds of millions of our fellow human beings weren’t bad enough, there is the impending catastrophe barreling down the “road” of history threatening the very survival of humanity on planet earth. Worse, despite clear knowledge of the dangers posed by global warming --- dangers scientists have been warning about for over 50 years – the political economic system of modern-day capitalism has proven incapable of taking the steps necessary to prevent catastrophe. Actually, our capitalist system has been unwilling (because of the power of those who sit at the apex of power) to take those necessary steps.
[My first introduction to the “problem” of global warming was in 1974 when I read An Inquiry into the Human Prospect by the economist Robert Heilbroner. Scientists like Barry Commoner worked tirelessly in the 1970s showing us ways to make what he called “the solar transition.” I still think his book The Poverty of Power, Energy and the Economic Crisis is an outstanding discussion of how solar energy is the way to continue to power our world without burning fossil fuels or building more nuclear power plants. I also think his Making Peace with the Planet is an outstanding book as well. Unfortunately, the warnings of Heilbroner, Commoner and many others went unheeded as the world’s capitalist countries rushed headlong into what seemed like decades of prosperity (the 1980s and 90s). President Reagan unceremoniously took the solar collectors off the roof of the White House repudiating former President Carter’s efforts to focus the attention of the public on the need to get away from dependence on fossil fuels. I have many times recommended the dystopian fictional version of the future: The Collapse of Western Civilization by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. It purports to be the history (from the vantage point of 2093) of how global warming destroyed much of the world’s economies during the 21st century. It is strikingly scary. A more optimistic (also fictional) treatment that I have also recommended is Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future.]
One of the undeniable facts about turning 80 is that I know I have lived more than 80% of my life --- perhaps 90%. In other words, I do not have much time left. Because of my concerns about the future, I hereby re-dedicate myself to supporting those who are working to transform our political-economic system. I believe it is essential to overcome the power of capitalist special interests so they can no longer thwart efforts to adopt the technologies that will stop warming. Yes, folks, we MUST overcome. And borrowing from that great anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, “We Shall Overcome!” ---deep in my heart I have to believe --- that we shall overcome some day. And damn it, that someday from the song better be soon!
Michael Meeropol is professor emeritus of Economics at Western New England University. He is the author with Howard and Paul Sherman of the recently published second edition of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies
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