The Universal Notebook: Good, old Maine
Of all Maine’s dubious superlatives, from being the most heavily forested state to having the most out-of-state land ownership and least racial diversity, the one that is getting the most ink these days seems to be fact that Maine is the oldest state in the nation.
No, not the first state admitted. The state with the oldest median age. At 64, 43.5 doesn’t sound that old to me, but some folks seem to believe getting old will be the death of us.
The Bangor Daily News recently ran an article about good old Charlie Colgan’s doomsday predication under the headline, “Economist: Without huge changes, Maine’s aging population could lead to financial ruin.”
The Portland Press Herald, which seems to think our median age is 42.7, is publishing an ongoing series entitled “Aging in Maine” that is full of dire warnings about the impact of old people on health care, transportation, housing, and the economy. Reading all this, one might get the impression that Maine is a redoubt of senile, drooling, toothless old white folks. Oh, wait, that’s the Republican Party. Still, you get the idea: old is bad, young is good.
What really got me thinking was the subtitle of independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler’s new campaign manifesto, "A State of Opportunity: A plan to build a healthier, smarter, stronger, younger and more prosperous Maine." Wow, vote for good old Eliot and he’ll make us all younger. Now that’s some campaign promise.
“We’re old and getting older,” Cutler reports, and then warns that “Unless Maine gets younger, our economy will not grow.”
The problem, as he sees it, is “an aging population that is less likely to start new businesses, less likely to generate new tax revenues long-term, more likely to be living on fixed incomes, more likely to need expensive health care and more likely to be dependent on a social safety net.” Cutler therefore proposes creating conditions that will attract young people, forgiving student debt for college grads who stay in Maine, and recruiting educated and skilled immigrants.
Cutler is a man with a plan, and I’m all for it, but I’ve also been around long enough now to understand that bold visions of the future tend to come and go with the political winds and economic tides. The beauty of having lived in one place for more than 60 years is that, if you haven’t seen it all, you’ve at least learned there are no political solutions to most problems. Most problems just disappear over time.
The answer to Maine’s aging population is death. Our huge Baby Boomer cohort will soon result in a huge die-off that will then open up all sorts of opportunities for those in line behind us. They can have our jobs, our houses, our old clothes, our calcified political system and our failed economy. The fact that Maine will still be a sparsely populated state with lots and lots of fields and forests will be our greatest legacy.
The future of Maine, old friend, lies in the past in many ways, especially in the old ways.
Our children and grandchildren, if they are wise, will reject the boom-and-bust cycles of phantom progress, meaningless success, and short-term material gain, and pursue the slower, steadier, saner way of life that our forebears led. They will live simply, produce much of their own food, use minimal amounts of energy, and turn their backs on virtual realities in favor of more homely, sustainable realities in a do-it-yourself local economy. They will live better with less, the way it once was in good old Maine.
No, I am not romanticizing the harsh realities of the hard lives people in Maine lived from time immemorial to not that long ago. What I am suggesting is that generations to come should be able to appreciate and even enjoy the austerity to come, having seen that our excesses got my generation nowhere in a hurry. Now we just have to get out of the way.