Memo To: Junior Citizens
From: Jude Wanniski, 65
Re: Becoming a senior
I was born on June 17, 1936, in a Pottsville, Pa., hospital, which means I turned 65 yesterday. Iím not going to dwell on the subject for more than a moment or two, but for me the event is on the margin, so it is appropriate to comment on it. A lot can happen in 65 years. As I am now officially a senior citizen, transferring to Medicare from my private medical plan at Polyconomics, I have been thinking about what it is like to get to this benchmark, in ways I did not consider when I turned 40 or 50 or 60. Sixty-five is the traditional retirement age, which leaves five years of retirement life until we expect to reach the biblical life span of three-score years and ten. Iím of course hoping I will live beyond 70, to at least 75, which is why Iím going to work almost full time for another few years. When Iím 70, for sure, I will relax, away from the daily demands of Polyconomics, and devote a few years to writing another book, traveling to see some parts of the world that Iíve not yet seen, but will continue to offer free advice to the economic and political establishment on how to improve the lives of ordinary people.
Patricia asked me yesterday morning what is the first thought that comes to mind on how I look back on the 65 years. I thought for only a moment and kind of surprised myself with the thought that surfaced: I have come to really believe in God. Patricia wondered if that wasnít simply a function of getting older and worrying about the possibility of divine retribution on the horizon. No, I explained that when I was little, I was taught to believe in God, in general, and the Holy Trinity, in particular, but that learning was abstract. Like I was taught about the existence of California and Alaska and Moscow and Paris, and I believed my teachers that they actually existed, but actually being in those places took the idea of them out of the abstract. So it has been living these 65 years, from time to time actually feeling the presence of a Creator who seemed interested in what I was doing, nudging me in different directions when my intellectual choice went elsewhere, or was indifferent to the paths open to me. These episodes have occurred through the last 25 years of my life, especially from the point of my first insights that led me to write The Way the World Works.
The other discovery Iíve made over these 65 years is that although there are now more than 6 billion people on earth when there were fewer than 2 billion in 1936, the available pool of political leadership is not necessarily any greater. Before I arrived in Washington, D.C. in 1965 to work as a reporter for the National Observer, a now defunct Dow Jones newsweekly, I believed that our national political leaders knew what they were doing and I could trust in their judgment. Life is not that simple. In the years since I have come to realize what Jonathan Swift was getting at in Gulliverís Travels, when he found a nation bitterly divided over the political question: Which end of the egg should you break when cooking it? The big end or the little end? Swift has the citizenry warring between the Little Enders and the Big Enders. The answer may be somewhere in between, but as long as the issue is undecided, those citizens who do not line up on one side of the egg or the other will have no say and may have to be killed or wounded in the process, or at least impoverished by the taxes collected to wage the war. These days, for example, I find Global Warming the issue of choice among the Little Enders of the left and a National Missile Defense the issue of choice of the Big Enders of the right. The former stands in the way of Prosperity and the latter in the way of Peace, and it really does not matter at this point that both seem ridiculous to me, the Teams are assembled on those lines and that is that. I think back to 1952, when I went door to door in Borough Park, Brooklyn, campaigning for Adlai Stevenson, handing out leaflets. One lady asked me why she should vote for Stevenson and I told her, ďBecause he is against the oil-depletion allowance.Ē I did not know what it was and neither did she, but as long as we knew The New York Times and the New York Post were against it, that was good enough for us. It sounded downright evil. The longer I have lived, the less I have believed in reading the newspapers, preferring to do my own reporting to get to the big end or the little end, or somewhere in-between.
Frankly, I never expected to live to be 65. When I was a boy not yet in my teens, I began thinking about the end of life, going to confession at St. Catherineís almost every week to make sure if I were struck by lightning I would go to Heaven. In the 1940s, there was enough news of Death from War and atomic bombs that little boys had good reason to doubt staying alive until the new millennium would arrive. From my early teens, I had it in my mind that my number would be up before I turned 35, which was a constant reminder that I could not waste time!! I did become fanatical about not wasting time, especially after reading Thomas Mannís Magic Mountain, when I was 16. It persuaded me that chronological time is less important than life experience, that I could live to be 100 if I were to cram enough experience into 35 years. So everything in the last 30 years has turned out to be gravy. Looking back at all Iíve done with 65 years, I feel like I have packed in a good 200 years, so I no longer feel like I am cheating God on the talents he arranged for me when I take a week off to play golf with my brother Terry in Las Vegas. Five years ago, when I turned 60, I took a week off, and on the day I turned 60 I shot an 80, my best round in 30 years. What happened? A stranger joined us on the first tee at Angel Park (can you believe it?). On at least a dozen of the holes, when my ball finally got to the green, the strangerís ball was on the same line, but just a little further from the hole than mine. I would watch his 30-foot putt curl one way or the other, learning the precise line, and drop mine for a par. I told the stranger that he had been sent by God to reward me for my good works. We all laughed.