Princeton University History Professor Hendrik Hartog's op-ed in yesterday's New York Times, "Bargaining for a Child's Love," begins in this way:
ECONOMIC malaise and political sloganeering have contributed to the increasingly loud conversation about the coming crisis of old-age care: the depletion of the Social Security trust fund, the ever rising cost of Medicare, the end of defined-benefit pensions, the stagnation of 401(k)’s. News accounts suggest that overstretched and insufficient public services are driving adult children “back” toward caring for dependent parents.
Such accounts often draw on a deeply sentimental view of the past. Once upon a time, the story line goes, family members cared for one another naturally within households, in an organic and unplanned process. But this portrait is too rosy. If we confront what old-age support once looked like — what actually happened when care was almost fully privatized, when the old depended on their families, without the bureaucratic structures and the (under)paid caregivers we take for granted — a different picture emerges.
The concluding line is "We may not love the bureaucracies and the institutions that shape our lives today. But would many of us really want to live in a world without them?" The rest is here. Hartog's op-ed draws from his new book, Someday All This Will Be Yours (Harvard, 2012), which I suspect will appear on the reading lists of a number of classes next year -- perhaps including my trusts and estates class.