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Author Ken Dychtwald Discusses 'Age Power: How the 21st Century Will Be Ruled By the New Old'

Aired September 28, 2000 - 1:31 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Turning to presidential politics, Republican candidate George W. Bush is refusing a challenge by Democratic candidate Al Gore to ban television and radio ads paid for with soft money. Soft money refers to unregulated donations raised by political parties and other groups that supposedly are separate from the candidates themselves.

The challenge originated with Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold, and Gore says he'll accept if Bush will. But Bush won't. The Texas governor says he doesn't trust the vice president to keep his promises.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: One of the very few things we can predict with some degree of certainty in this election 2000 is that older folks will have a huge effect on the outcome of the race. The so-called "elderly population" is the single most dedicated bloc of American voters, and it's growing all the time. Right now, folks 65 and up make up 13 percent of the U.S. population. By 2025, those numbers are expected to rise 200 percent.

Psychologist and commentator Ken Dychtwald calls these folks the "new old." In fact, Ken has written a book called "Age Power: How the 21st Century Will Be Ruled By the New Old."

Ken joins us here at CNN Center.

What is the new old?


WATERS: Oh no.


DYCHTWALD: You know, a couple of decades ago you hit your 50th or 60th birthday and you had really reached the beginning of the end. Now we see John Glenn going up in space at 77 and Lena Horne at 82 and Sean Connery at 70, and what we realize is that old age is being postponed. And the elderly population of today is more vital, richer and more politically influential than any other group in our society.

WATERS: Refusing to give up power. DYCHTWALD: No, in fact, my view is that if you're watching what's going on in these elections, that America's transforming from a democracy to a gerontacracy, that the elderly are taking the power, they are controlling the vote, they are controlling the political parties, because their needs are the ones that are being catered to by the politicians because they vote in higher percentages.

WATERS: What are the symptoms there?

DYCHTWALD: Well, the symptoms are that older people want to make sure that they get all that they feel that they need or that can make them more secure. But last year, for every dollar spent on a senior in this country, there was only 11 cents from tax money spent per child. And so there's a risk of having too much power. There's a risk of having too many benefits go to one segment of the population that's so strong in the polls without much attention being placed on younger generations.

WATERS: The younger generations don't seem to be getting fired up about this.

DYCHTWALD: No, not at all. In fact, it's sort of a "neglection 2000" what's going on. Only about 25 percent of young people vote, but 70 percent of seniors votes. And the candidates know this and so they're making sure to put the needs of the elderly top on their list.

WATERS: So they're out there now and prescription drugs is on the top of the political agenda, Medicare.

DYCHTWALD: Social Security.

WATERS: What is your analysis of that debate.

DYCHTWALD: To be honest with you, I feel that the elderly have now become, due to a great tiumph of the last quarter of a century, the richest segment of our society. We've got tens and millions of young people with no health insurance, no medical benefits, no drug benefits, nothing. And yet what we're talking about is not giving more benefits to the young -- much. We're talking about giving another $30 billion to $50 billion worth of annual benefits to the elderly. Some of the elderly really need those, but the largest concentration of millionaires in this country are now seniors. And my question is, is it fair to be giving so much to all the elderly, even those that don't need it, when so many young people are going without?

WATERS: So you're saying the political debate is misguided or skewed inappropriately?

DYCHTWALD: Yes, even if you look at the way the candidates are putting their ads on the air, they're not running ads on MTV or shows like "Friends" that target young people. They're going after the senior vote and they know that if they can win over seniors, they have a shot at the race. And my fear is that the elderly, my mom and dad, and eventually me, who are gaining all this power may not be using it with full thought about whether it's fair that they're taking so much out when so many younger generations really are getting so little. WATERS: Well, where will that take the political debate four years, eight years out?

DYCHTWALD: Well, it all depends on whether our candidates wish to be leaders or simply gain votes. I went on a rafting trip recently with my son down the Grand Canyon and the most important person on the raft was the guide because he knew what was up ahead and was willing to make the turns to get us there.

If we continue to have the old gain power, when the boomers become the old -- and remember that our generation already has a proclivity to self-centeredness if -- we could conceivably turn into a Gerassic Park, G-E-R-A-S-S-I-C, where the old run around like silver- haired velociraptors and just gobble up everything. And I -- it would be a shame if the boomer generation took so much power and was essentially unfair to the younger generations with that clout.

WATERS: Social Security. Privatized? Not privatized? Add it on? Leave it in? What do you make of that?

DYCHTWALD: Lou, I'll be honest with you. I think that for most boomers, Social Security is only a small part of the discussion. For seniors, it's a large part of the discussion because they're on fixed income.

Right now, the average savings rate among the boomers is close to zero. It's less than 1 percent. And while there's about 25 million boomers, you know, the yuppies that are doing great and making a lot of money, there's another 25 million that are flat broke, that haven't saved literally $1 for their retirement.

And so even as Social Security is solvent, you're going to have a third, 25 million members of my generation that are heading for financial disaster. We've got to beef up our savings, we've got to shore up our pension system. Eighty percent of the boomers, when it's time to roll over their 401(k)s when they change jobs, spend them.

And so even if we privatize a piece of Social Security, we have to make sure that future generations -- see, today's elders were very smart in their lives. They always saved, they didn't spend what they didn't have. The boomers have been living in a time of credit card madness. We've got to shore up savings, pensions, and I think we need to make Social Security secure for this generation. And I would argue that a small percentage of it be privatized under carefully supervised funds, like what's done in Australia and Europe, rather than giving the boomers, you know, a free pass to go out and invest in anything they want, which I think could be dangerous.

WATERS: What about our living longer? We're healthier, we're buffing up, we're taking our multivitamins, why not -- we'll just work longer.

DYCHTWALD: Well, the truth of it is is that the No. 1 issue that both candidates showed there, in my opinion, absence of courage on was when they said, we're not going to touch the retirement age. The truth of it is is we all know that you don't get old at 65 anymore. Sixty-five was chosen as the marker of old age way back in the 1880s in Germany when life expectancy was only 45. People today think they're young until they're 75 or 80, and even seniors themselves are proud of that, yet nobody wants to touch that age of eligibility.

What if we have a breakthrough tomorrow in biotech and you and I live to 120? Does it make sense to younger generations for us to be taking down all those entitlements for 50 years? Of course it doesn't. We're going to have to move back the markers of aging.

WATERS: Thanks, Ken. Ken Dychtwald.

DYCHTWALD: Thanks, Lou.

WATERS: You're still the master of the metaphor.


That canoe thing wins the gold.

DYCHTWALD: Thanks, Lou.



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