Archive for October, 2007

Pondering the stellar growth rate of the US economy in the third quarter

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Tyler Cowen says…

The housing sector is down twenty percent and the price of oil is flirting with $90 a barrel, maybe $100 to come. Yet the quarterly growth rate was just reported at 3.9%, led by surges in consumer spending and exports. It is wrong to think we have turned the corner, but it is also wrong to think the doomsayers have been giving accurate predictions.

I personally believe that part of the explanation for the high growth rate is that the government’s inflation statistics are flawed. Some of the shenanigans that go on with the inflation numbers are described here. If you don’t make the proper allowance for inflation, your real GDP figure is going to be artificially high.

But even by my reckoning, this can only be a small part of the story. At best, I can see it knocking the .9% off the growth rate. So I have to admit that the growth rate for last quarter was way higher than I ever would have expected.

Before I go any further, I should share another quote with you. This one comes from the Federal Reserve….

The Federal Open Market Committee decided today to lower its target for the federal funds rate 25 basis points to 4-1/2 percent.

Economic growth was solid in the third quarter, and strains in financial markets have eased somewhat on balance. However, the pace of economic expansion will likely slow in the near term, partly reflecting the intensification of the housing correction. Today’s action, combined with the policy action taken in September, should help forestall some of the adverse effects on the broader economy that might otherwise arise from the disruptions in financial markets and promote moderate growth over time.

As was predictable, oil hit a new high as a result of this cut. At this rate we will see oil being priced at 100 dollars a barrel before the end of November.

So tell me; if the economy is doing so well, why are we cutting rates? The Fed’s explanation just won’t wash. Given the strength in the economy last quarter, you should hope that the economic expansion would slow down a bit. Otherwise commonly accepted macro economic theory would indicate that you run the risk of overheating.

Some people argue that the Fed knows something that it is not telling us and it is running scared. Maybe this is true. But if there is some kind of secret knowledge, it did not convince all the Fed governors. One of them (Thomas Hoenig) publicly dissented. That almost never happens.

If there is anything clear in all this it is that nothing is clear. Cowen is right to point out that things have not been unfolding the way Bears thought they would. But he is wrong to single out the Bears. If the Bulls were to be believed a few short months ago, all the problems were going to stay contained in sub-prime. No one believes this any longer.

Now a lot of people who used to be bulls (including most of the fed board of governors apparently) are worried about serious problems cropping up as a result of problems in housing. But why haven’t they already started taking their toll? And where did all of last quarter’s spending come from?

Don’t get me wrong, I did not expect GDP growth to turn recessionary last quarter. Employment is still too good for that to happen. But I did expect to see GDP growth slow down, not speed up. If housing is going to cause problems down the road, it just does not make much sense for GDP growth to speed up just as the housing problems are taking their toll.

How do we account for the fact that financial companies are losing billions of dollars and the Fed is taking extraordinary steps to reassure the markets and yet nobody else seems to be having any problems? Is there really no connection between the financial world and the real world?

Maybe this story from the Baltimore Sun can help us figure the problem out…

But cards are now the bank growth product and consumer lender of last resort. Some households are almost certainly meeting mortgage obligations by borrowing against their credit cards, although it’s impossible to tell how many, says banking analyst Bert Ely of Ely & Co. Millions of mortgages issued at low, teaser rates will reset over the next two years, adding to pressure on household finances.

“I wonder how many people are out there right now getting new credit cards and just preparing for that day,” says Ely.

As growth in home equity balances has fallen almost to zero, credit-card balances have increased at a 17 percent annual rate over the past six months, according to a report by Merrill Lynch economist David Rosenberg. And the trend, he writes, “is clearly accelerating.” A year ago card balances were shrinking.

A 17 percent growth in credit card balances over the last 6 months could certainly help explain why consumer spending was so strong last quarter. But it does not resolve all the mysteries. If consumers were being forced to turn to their cards because of economic distress, the rise in credit card balances should have been neutral in terms of GDP growth. In other words, if consumers turn to their cards to replace income streams that they lost when they stopped being able to withdraw from money from real estate then there should have been no net rise in consumer spending.

On the other hand, if consumers were not hurt by the fall in the real estate markets, how come they decided to pile on the credit card debt all of the sudden? It just does not make any sense.

Life is full of mysteries.

How much can New Urbanism evolve and still be New Urbanism?

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

This was originally going to be a response to a comment that Mr. Corbusier left on this post. But I got a little carried away so I decided to make it a post of its own.

Mr. Corbusier,

The quality of your response was far more than my off-the-cuff comment deserved. I only wish that I was more capable of upholding my end of the bargain.

You are quite right to observe that my term “commercial architecture” refers to architecture that was not conceived of by architects. That was my whole point in bringing “commercial architecture” up. I should have made that more clear.

If you can bear with me, I shall try to elaborate on that point a little more. Hopefully that will give you a better idea of what I was trying to get at.

As I see it, the post-war architecture of this country was shaped by Eisenhower and Sam Walton. This is a little bit of an oversimplification, of course. But the point is that we did not become a nation of suburbs and big box retailers because architectural theories of the time called for those things. In fact, such things were the exact opposite of what the Modernist theories called for.

Now the fact that professional architects have had very little influence on how this country developed is not surprising. Architecture the world over has developed organically with professional architects only serving as bit players in a larger drama. The structure of how we live is too complicated to be controlled by one profession.

But the post-World War II period does seem unprecedented in one architectural respect. I can’t think of any other time in history when the ideas governing the minds of the professional architects were in complete hostility to what was actually taking place in the vast majority of construction. Granted, the architecture that the professionals design has always been different from what the common man was building. But the difference was in kind, not in principle.

For example, (more…)

Replying to Corbusier

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Corbusier and I had (or are we having?) an exchange of views over at Articture + Morality on New Urbanism. I am re-posting something that I wrote in his comment section for the benefit of those who like to keep tabs on what I am up to.


Thanks for the reply. I am sorry that it has taken me so long to reply, but life has a way of intervening in unfavorable ways.

As usual, I am struck by how much I agree with what you say while at the same time marveling at how much our perspectives differ. If you see Modernism as the natural thing to compare to New Urbanism then everything you say is spot on. But it never even entered my little blue collared mind to use Modernism as a scale by which to measure New Urbanism.

I hate Modernism with such a passion that comparing it to another architectural style seems like an unnecessary insult. Furthermore, the very nature of the Modernism ideology means that it can never be the style of the masses as you rightly point out. It is economically impossible, not to mention that most common people have better sense than to want one of those white elephants.

On the other hand, it is at least theoretically possible that the principles of New Urbanism could become a realistic type of architecture for the average person. To my mind, then, the natural comparison for New Urbanism would be to the commercial architecture that is being put up where most Americans live. In other words, can New Urbanism replace strip malls, subdivisions, and Mc-mansions?

The problem I have with New Urbanism is not the theory that underlies it, but how it works out in practice. I don’t see where New Urbanism has any benefits in practice that normal old commercial architecture does not have. Thus, I have a hard time imagining that developers are selling anything more than a chance to be hip when they build New Urbanism structures.

Slapping the New Urbanism label on a development might increase the appeal to the upwardly mobile yuppies that are willing to pay for a cool idea. But how can it have any real staying power if fails to deliver anything different than what commercial architecture has already achieved? In other words, the day that I see yuppies walking to take care of their business in their neighborhood will be the day that I acknowledge that New Urbanism has staying power.

I wish this were not so. Commercial architecture ranks just above Modernism in my book. I would love it if people stopped building sub-divisions and strip malls. I would love it if America would go back to an architecture that was more community based. But I don’t see any sign that most Americans want to live in real communities. What good is a theory that makes possible a lifestyle that nobody wants?

Aging infrastructure comes along with an aging demographic

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

If you have been keeping awake as the talking heads drone on, you have probably heard of America’s problem with aging infrastructure. After all, we have had the levees break in New Orleans. We have had a bridge collapse in Minnesota. We have a major dam threatening to blow in Kentucky. Since all of these problems are related in one way or another to America’s aging infrastructure you ought to be dimly aware that the problem exists. But I don’t think most people know how bad the problem really is.

In order to understand the scale of the problem, you need to understand that the reason that so much of America’s infrastructure is reaching old age all at once is similar to the cause of America’s baby boom generation. In the years following World War II, America got busy doing all sorts of things. Not only did the Greatest Generation produce one heck of a baby boom, but they also built much of America’s infrastructure. And lot of that infrastructure is going to start failing at the same time the baby boomers start to retire.

The scale of this problem is obscured by the fact that the experts discovered some kind of design flaw in everything major that has failed so far. I think that this gives people the impression that the only thing we have to worry about is the dodgy work. But while the poorly designed infrastructure will be the first to fail, everything is going to fail in the long run. And given that so much of America’s infrastructure was built within a couple decades after World War II, quite a lot of it is going to need to be rebuilt all in a similar time period. The challenge for my generation will be to duplicate the Greatest Generation’s construction feats while supporting Baby Boomers’ retirement. On top of all that, we will be dealing with increased environmental and labor regulations.

Naturally, the optimists of this world will argue that this should be very doable. After all, the Greatest Generation raised the Baby Boomers and built all of the infrastructure that we are going to have to rebuild. What is so different about handling the Baby Boomers’ retirement and rebuilding the old infrastructure with all the new technology available to us?

My short and snarky answer is that the Baby Boomers couldn’t vote when they were kids. Now they can, and they are going to want all kinds of goodies from the taxpayer. A wealthy Baby Boomer requires more government funds than a welfare mom on crack.

But I will leave the analysis of the likely burdens of the Baby Boomers’ retirement for some other time. Right now, I would like to focus on the scope of the problem that our aging infrastructure presents.

For starters, there are the bridges. The average age of the bridges in this country is a little over 40 years old. This is why so many bridges are failing to make the grade….

Of the country’s nearly 600,000 bridges, 26% were found structurally deficient or “functionally obsolete” in a 2006 U.S. Department of Transportation report. The condition of heavily used urban bridges like the one that collapsed this week is even worse: one in three are classified as aging or unable to accommodate modern vehicle weights and traffic volume.


What does success mean?

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

While Corbusier and I have some similar criticisms of New Urbanism he takes issue with my statement that New Urbanism is doomed to failure. He argues that New Urbanism should be considered successful because of its commercial success. As he puts it…

Although I’ve expressed skepticism on some of the results promised by proponents of New Urbanism, I would still declare it successful precisely because it is a market-driven movement led by developers and financial institutions rather than by an academic elite with their allies in government bureaucracy. The arguments against New Urbanist developments are compelling, since I share many of them myself, but other major alternative paradigms in urban planning are not nearly as appealing to those who take the risk in building with their own private funds. Add to that the preferences of average people on the street and in city councils with regards to urban spaces and New Urbanism promises more potential to expand and evolve into a more sophisticated strategy in the future. There is an organic quality to it that is compatible to an American culture that celebrates private real-estate, community participation (among private property owners) and an overall modesty in building scale. In spite of New Urbanism’s resemblance to the Modernist CIAM movement in its high level of organization and mobility in advocating ideas, there is an appealing anti-elitism that the latter uses as the starting point of their philosophy that harmonizes well with the ingrained skepticism of intellectuals and the academy shared by many Americans (it might go a long way in explaining the relative retrograde character of new construction in the U.S. compared to the aggressive Modernism more easily embraced by the rest of the world).

I agree with what Corbusier is saying, but I think we have a different perspective. As a professional designer out in the field, it is natural for him to judge success in monetary terms. If I were in his shoes, I would evaluate competing design philosophies in the same way. You have to pay your bills if you want to eat. And I like eating.

But I am not a professional designer. I am a savage who is philosophically inclined. As such, I evaluate the success or failure of design philosophies by how well they succeed in furthering their ideals. On such a criteria, New Urbanism is a failure and likely to stay one for the foreseeable future.

As Corbusier himself admits in his post, New Urbanism has consistently failed to put people on the streets. Heck, you will see more people walking in a Wal-mart parking lot than you will on a New Urbanism inspired main street. And yet, one of New Urbanism’s central tenets is that urban areas would be healthier socially and environmentally if people walked more. The complete failure of New Urbanism to generate any more pedestrian traffic than existing strip malls is a pretty damning indictment in the terms of its own ideals.

Don’t get me wrong. I like most of the ideals behind New Urbanism. But the whole philosophy is akin to the neo-con’s idea that you could change the Middle East by imposing democracy. Without an underlying value system that binds a community together, both democracy and New Urbanism are nothing more than gilded facades.

To put it another way: everyone wants to be fit, but people have made more money selling fast food then they have selling gym memberships. More to the point, everyone who buys fast food eats it. But most people buy gym memberships because the thought makes them feel virtuous and not because they are actually going to put in the effort to get in shape. In the same way, people will say that they would like to live in a New Urbanism type world. But they will spend more money in the strip mall.

And I think most people buy into New Urbanism-style developments because it makes them feel virtuous, not because they actually intend to change the way they live.

Observations on a poem

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Every now and again, a poet will ask his audience for thoughts on his poem. This has always struck me as a vaguely indecent proposition. It’s rather as if someone stood before you fully clothed and asked for a commentary on their body. Technically all modesty is preserved, but it’s still a rather awkward request.

My feeling of awkwardness is further compounded by my dogmatic insistence that good poetry conveys something that is beyond the ability of prose. Naturally, I feel inadequate to talk about good poems with mere prose. And when I do talk about poetry with prose it almost seems like an implied insult.

This problem has a simple cure. I try to avoid answering all questions relating to a poem’s interpretation even if the questions come from the poets themselves.

But an occasion has arisen where such tactics will not suffice. In this case, the unfortunate occasion is Joel Dueck’s request for observations on a poem he wrote. Normally, I would ignore such a request for the reasons that I have already elaborated on. But this is not a normal situation.

For one thing, Joel Dueck’s poem was added to the august list of Poem of Week over at The Ethereal Voice. More to the point, a couple of the residents here in the Ethereal Land took Mr. Dueck up on his offer and sent him their observations. I happened to see these replies and as is my habit I offered up some criticism. This has created some pressure on me to put up or shut up, as it were.

Moreover, it was Mr. Dueck’s blog that inspired my essay site and indirectly this site as well. Before my brother showed me Mr. Dueck’s site, I did not believe that a blog could be anything other than useless drivel. But upon reading Mr. Dueck’s inspiring example, I ventured off to make a fool of myself with the rest of the blogging crowd. Given that, I think it would be churlish of me to ignore a simple request from the man.

Since I don’t intend to make a habit of voicing my thoughts on a particular poem to the world, I am going to turn this into a two for one deal. I figure that this would be a good time to explain how I approach a poem. I happen to suspect that there might be one or two people in my audience who are interested in knowing such things.

But enough blather. I have put my analysis of Mr. Dueck’s poem below the fold in order not to scare off those who have no interest in pondering poetry.

Three things in the news that I am wondering about

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Is the drop in shipping rates charged by oil tankers in the Middle East a sign that OPEC is not able to meet its production targets?

Is the low amount of shipping traffic coming into America’s ports just noise in the data or is it a sign that we are going to have a really bad Christmas? (h/t Calculated Risk)

How far into Northern Iraq are the Turks going to go? And how aggressively are the Iraqi Kurds going to respond?

Why New Urbanism is Doomed to Failure

Monday, October 8th, 2007

This was cross posted over at Watching the Trades

Over at Architecture + Morality (they changed the “and” to the plus sign) Corbusier has a new post up called “What Makes a Community: The Problem of Property Ownership and New Urbanism.” As usual, Corbusier’s post is excellent and long overdue. (How come all the good writers take so long to post on their blogs?) But I want to elaborate a little bit on his post.

As much as it might surprise the people who know me, I have to admit that I am sympathetic to core idea that lies behind the New Urbanism. As best as I understand it, New Urbanism is basically an admission that the historical way to design a city was the best and the post World War II departure from this historical standard was a big mistake.

Of course, the proponents of New Urbanism can’t just leave it at that. They have to throw in a heavy does of ecological and social justice concerns. And to top it all off New Urbanism people tend to have a big time god complex. Read too much of their stuff and you will want to clutch both your wallet and your pistol every time you hear the word “New Urbanism”.

Still, if you ignore their methods, you have to concede that ideas of New Urbanism have some merit. Since the time that man has first settled cities until World War II, cities were a place where people’s living quarters, the places where they shopped, and the places where they worked were all closely intertwined. In the medieval period the craftsmen and their families would live over their place of business. Even after the Industrial Revolution was well under way, small shops and residential areas were closely intertwined.

But after World War II, some dingbats got into their heads that commercial areas, industrial areas, and residential areas should all be strictly separated. So cities started imposing all kinds of zoning and other sorts of codes to make sure that happened. And that has stayed the controlling idea behind city planning all way until quite recently.

As any proponent of New Urbanism will tell you, the post World War II changes were all a big mistake. The whole point of cities is to have things close together. If some stuck a gun to your head and made you live in a city, which would you choose; an old style city or a modern one?

In an old style city you could walk around a couple of blocks, do all your shopping, chat with all your friends and half your family, and still make it back in time to make supper. In a new style city, you have to take your car through city traffic or fight your way through the crowds so that you can use the public transportation. Once you get to where you are going, you will be shopping in these big impersonal places where nobody knows your name and there are even more faceless crowds.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which kind of city is more livable. Such stupidity is one of the reasons why all the middle class people started moving out of the cities. They figured that if they were going to have to take the blasted car everywhere they might as well live in the suburbs where it was easier to get around. The end result is that most of the residential-only areas turned into slums where only people to poor to escape live.

Now that most of their middle class tax base has got up and walked, cities are starting to wonder what they should do differently. This is where the New Urbanism people run into the room saying “Your problems are solved. We have all the answers.”

But as Corbusier points out, New Urbanism does not have all the answers. You can’t change a culture just by building differently.

The center piece of Corbusier’s essay is a project he is working on out in the Rockies that tries to reproduce the old European city style. Most notably, residential housing built over retail space, though there is more to the development than that. Corbusier muses on some of the problems that this is likely to bring in this modern culture by saying…

And naturally there are blocks and blocks of housing on top of street level retail, much like traditional town life anywhere outside post-war suburbia, but with a distinctive twenty-first century twist: almost all the units will be condominiums instead for-rent apartments. My more experienced colleague had objections with that particular part of the programs declaring that all sorts of problems emerge when people who own and live in dwellings above retail stores. Noises, smells, and the coming and going of service vehicles are often too much for condo boards, which have been the institutional vanguard of NIMBYism. I can image nothing more unpleasant than squabbles between the hundreds of residential owner, the handful of retail tenants and the commercial landlord.

Corbusier goes on to blame these problems largely on prejudices against people who rent and on the financial realities of large scale development. While I think he is right as far as he goes, I think he is missing the larger issues.

In the first place, the old way of doing things would have the workers in the retail outlets below living upstairs. But the people who work in retail outlets are primarily working class people such as sales clerks, bank tellers, and waitresses. In this country working class people can not afford to live in new buildings that are up to code. Instead, they must live in older building because they are the only ones they can afford to live in. Thus, in the development that Corbusier is working on, the workers in the retail outlets will not be able to afford to live upstairs. If they can’t, who else would want to?

I think that the upstairs would be too expensive for working class people even if Corbusier got his way and the space above was rented instead of being made into condominiums. New construction is just too expensive for working class people to afford no matter how you offer it. You can’t make a profit renting it to working class people anymore than you can make a profit selling it to them.

But even aside from that, there are broader cultural issues standing in the way of New Urbanism. The old styles cities worked because the culture of the time interwove family, work, and community. Just because you build old-style buildings does not mean that you can bring back mom and pop stores, children who follow their parent’s trade, and close knit communities. But without that kind of culture, I don’t think that New Urbanism will ever work.

Unions need responsibility if they are to have power

Monday, October 8th, 2007

This from the Brussels Journal….

In Belgium, unlike anywhere else in the world, the three official trade unions, not the state, pay unemployment benefits. Each year the government gives them the necessary funds and also pays them a fee for every unemployed person they cater for. The perverse result is that it is in the unions’ interest to have high unemployment: the more people without a job, the richer the trade unions become.

Actually, the whole problem with unions is that they have every incentive to increase the benefits of currently employed members and no incentive to look out for the people who don’t have jobs. The situation in Belgium is just an extreme example of a common problem.

This problem is the reason that high rates of union membership in society tend to go hand in hand with high rates of unemployment. The fact that unions exclusively pursue the interests of the currently employed raises the price of labor relative to price of capital (like robots, or other means of automation). Thus, unionization naturally produces capital heavy industries that employ as few people as possible.

If capital and labor need to be in competing camps and if we have to have things like unemployment insurance; let us require that every company that has over 100 employees to employee only union members. And let us require the Unions to pay the unemployment benefits for everyone, even those people who do not belong to a Union. But let us make them raise the money to do this from their members, not from the government.

This would give the Unions a lot of power but it would also give them some responsibility. They would have to temper their demands for the presently employed workers with needs of those who are looking for work. Maybe then unions would serve a useful function in society.

They shall die alone

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

A while back an anonymous commenter tried to get me to react to this article in Slate. In the words of my anonymous commenter, “I just posted that to see your reaction to the educated class contemplating encouraging species suicide.”

I don’t know why this person wanted to bait me. I have posted numerous posts on demographic decline and on the ideals that lie behind it. My reaction to the educated class contemplating encouraging species suicide cannot be too hard to predict.

That is not to say I could not write more. In my mind with its secret places and many voices I store many unwritten essays that touch on this subject.

In one such unwritten essay that goes by name “We have become like gods” or “The Removal of all Restraint” (it depends on my mood) I explore the constraints that biology and physics use to place on societies. I then go on to explore how the great technological advances of the last hundred years have freed us from those constraints. In this hypothetical essay, I then argue that as societies become freed from constraint they invariably start to emulate the attributes of the pagan pantheons. I then show that the logical culmination to this trend is some kind of Ragnarök.

In another unwritten essay tentatively titled “The Earth Cries Out” (I have got to think up a better title for this one. Perhaps “The Alienation of Man”? ) I talk about the paradox of people who do not believe in a God or any absolute standard of right and wrong and yet believe that man is fundamentally evil and deserves to be wiped off the face of the earth. From there I go on to explore the apocalyptical sensibilities of many atheistic ideologies and how they have a common theme that mankind deserves a horrible fate. I then ponder what it is in mankind that leads them to believe that their own race should be destroyed.

Maybe I will put both of those essays up on my essay site someday. But neither of those unwritten essays seems like an appropriate response to the prodding of my anonymous commenter. They are filled with too many references to things most people do not bother to read. They border too much on the mystical. Those unwritten essays strive too hard to make people think to be a proper response from a simple ape man.

But as I was reading through those things that are on the Ethereal Voice, the proper response to the educated class came to my mind: they shall die alone.

It came to my mind as I read this post on Karisa’s blog expressing her anger that an old widow went 120 hours in isolation. It strengthened as I viewed this slide show on the demographic imbalances in Europe, with its charts showing that old people in Europe outnumber the children. I could not get the vision of millions of old people dying alone out of my head.

I see them dying in a heat wave because no one came to check up on them like this…

Scientists at INSERM, the National Institute of Health and Medical Research, deduced the toll by determining that France had experienced 14,802 more deaths than expected for the month of August.

The toll exceeds the prior government count of 11,435, a figure that was based only on deaths in the first two weeks of the month.

The new estimate includes deaths from the second half of August, after the record-breaking temperatures of the first half of the month had abated.

The bulk of the victims — many of them elderly — died during the height of the heat wave, which brought suffocating temperatures of up to 104 degrees in a country where air conditioning is rare. Others apparently were greatly weakened during the peak temperatures but did not die until days later.

I see them clinging to robotic dolls to keep themselves from dying of boredom like this….

TOKYO (AFP) — Japan’s growing elderly population from will be able to buy companionship in the form of a 45-centimeter (18-inch) robot, programmed to provide just enough small talk to keep them from going senile.

Snuggling Ifbot, who is dressed in an astronaut suit with a glowing face, has the conversation ability of a five-year-old, the language level needed to stimulate the brains of senior citizens, its software designer said.

If a person tells Snuggling Ifbot, “I’m bored today,” the robot might respond, “Are you bored? What do you want to do?”

To a statement, “Isn’t it nice today?”, the robot could say, “It is a fine autumn day,” by detecting the season from its internal clock.

This is the future the educated class is bringing about. This is future they think they want. This is the future they think they are ready for. They talk about how they are going to be the healthiest generation of old people yet. They talk about how they will work far longer than their parents did and how they will stay active well into their later years.

But the technology they think will save them from the demographic problem, the technology that enables people to live longer and thus work longer, will turn on them in the end. For just as they lived longer than their parents, so, too, will they linger longer in that space between life and death for longer then then their parents did.

That is the place where you can still think and talk, but have difficulty walking from your bedroom to the bathroom. That is the place where you can not see well enough to drive. That is place where your social circle will constrict to those young enough to come and visit you.

For most of them, there will be no one healthy enough who wants to come visit. There will be no one who wants to deal with the burden of the elderly in exchange for their stories. There will be no one who will help them through the long years that they will spend between life and death.

As befitting a pagan generation, some will probably kill themselves as they see the isolation coming on. But most will cling to their robotic dolls until they die alone.