How to behave when you’re old

Bryan Caplan presents us with his dilemma:

When I’m old, I want to be the octogenarian that the Young Turks
come to with their crazy new ideas. I don’t want to be the senior
professor that the whippersnapper assistant profs avoid. Above all
else, I never want to be a lunch tax – I like lunch too much.

Unfortunately, by the time I’m 80 I’ll probably be too befuddled to
figure out how to do any of this. So I want to figure it out now, tape
it on my office wall, and refer to it when the time is ripe.

Not mentioning any names, what
are the biggest social mistakes elderly faculty make? What are some
simple strategies for them to ingratiate themselves to the next
generation? If you’ve got some good advice, I’ll thank you when I’m 80.
If I remember!

I remain a fan of Richard Posner’s book on old age, one of his best.  I ask Bryan: would he still take the advice that his 12-year-old self might have taped to a door?  Neurological changes aside, the elderly simply have less incentive to be deferential and to court their younger colleagues; Aristotle knew this too.

Bryan’s best lunchtime bet is that, when he is eighty, I am still around at ninety.

An alternative strategy is to find — today — the eighty-year olds who are still fascinating and run your new ideas by them.  Most of them will gladly receive you.  I used to fly out to Ann Arbor occasionally to meet with the great Marvin Becker, but in general I haven’t done much of this in my life.  Call that my failing but it’s another reason why so many eighty-year-olds don’t bother to appeal to Young Turks as a constituency.

Overall I am struck by how little beneficial trade there is between the generations.  I find this one of the most striking stylized facts of the social sciences; one simple model is that people don’t want to leave groups that produce fun and high relative status for them, and that is what switching across the generations usually entails.

Do you all have any other advice for Bryan?


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