It is highly likely that sometimes, in your Facebook feed, you came across a headline that horrified you: the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, recently allegedly declared that “the elderly live too long” and that, as a result, something needs to be done.
One of the sources of this information, Gandeste.org, received no less than 23,000 reactions to this article, which was published on February 11, 2020.
I previously wrote about Gandeste.ro here. The owner of this internet domain is Dan Alexandrescu, a business man from Suceava, who owns the bookstore chain known as “Alexandria.”
In the fall of 2015, the site hosted a video that eventually went viral. In the video, several students were sending critical messages to NATO and the European Union. It turned out that these students were members of a theater club in Botosani and had been paid to appear in the video. The text did not belong to them.
Let us get back to the subject at hand.
Gandeste.org obtained the “news” about Christine Lagarde’s off of a blog that frequently publishes articles found on foreign sites. For example, the blog recently published information about Nigerian immigrants in Italy who had fried a dog on a grill. The source is breitbart.com, an American opinion and commentary website that is known to publish conspiracy theories.
The article quotes Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, who apparently said that the elderly live too long and this results in a risk for the entire global economy.
José Viñals, head of a department in the IMF, is also quoted as drawing attention to the risk of longevity, in other words, “living longer than expected”.
The sensation impressed upon the reader is that the head of the IMF would be suggesting or even indicating a kind of pogrom against the elderly.
Let us examine these one at a time.
The most recent text in which Christine Lagarde addresses the risks associated to the aging population dates back to the beginning of March 2016. She focussed on this topic in a presentation she gave at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, considered to be the best technical university in the world.
Lagarde’s presentation is posted on the IMF’s website and has nothing to do with the interpretation that was posted in the sources listed above.
More specifically, what she points out is a problem that all countries with performant economies are currently facing: an aging population amid a declining population.
The problem is not that “the elderly live too long” but rather, that the structure of the population tends towards an imbalanced situation: the taxes that fewer and fewer young people pay will not support more and more pensions.
The head of the IMF does not present this data in a manner suggesting that we should get rid of the elderly, as the article in the Romanian language might imply. She states that from now on, governments must come up with strategies to counter the imbalance.
“If we do not act, public pensions and health insurance systems will become unsustainable in the long run. Our grandchildren will have to bear an unsustainable amount of public debt and steep tax increases, which will ultimately reduce their economic well-being,” states Christine Lagarde in her 2016 presentation.
In fact, this demographic decline is a reality that the Romanian government should be much more concerned about. Professor Vasile Ghețău warned about this phenomenon in 2012, in the book entitled “Our Demographic Drama.”
According to his estimation, there will only be about 16 million people living in Romania. The most disastrous scenario would be one in which only 14 million people will be left in Romania.
On several occasions, Ghețău warned that at this moment in time , there are about 100 active citizens to every 25 inactive citizens. In 2050, the ratio of active citizens will be dramatically different: for every 100 active citizens, there will be 50 inactive ones.
In other words, the issue that Christine Lagarde discusses in her presentation is a real and pressing one. She also places a certain amount of emphasis on the decrease in birth rates, which is a component of the demographic decline.
The measures proposed by the head of the IMF include raising the retirement age, noting that in this particular case, public systems must now begin to create safety nets for the sick who will not be able to work.
In regards to the economist, José Viñals, who was quoted in the article on Gandeste.ro, there is a debate available on the IMF’s website, which took place in Washington DC in 2012. Here, he discusses the risks that longer lives pose on the balance in the financial sector.
First of all, we are invited to consider the fact that this longevity is the result of an increase in the quality of life. José Viñals also proposes the creation of a financial instrument that helps us support public pension and health insurance systems.
In other words, neither Christine Lagarde nor her colleague call for the extermination of the elderly, as the Romanian website suggests. Some of the comments on the bottom of the page classify their declarations as being “satanic” or “Antichristic.”
What they do, in fact, is open up the floor towards a discussion about the grim reality that lays ahead of us, and about which the majority of public actors avoid addressing on a serious level: we are leaving our grandchildren with a poorer world than the one we are living in and in which they will have to work much harder in order to support us as seniors.