Handbooks of Research on Public Policy series
Chapter 16: Sustainability and intergenerational justice in age-related transfers
The idea that modern economies have developed a modus operandi that is not environmentally sustainable is by now a familiar one. The depletion or degradation of various natural resources is proceeding at a rate that is storing up massive problems for the future, and the problems look increasingly serious if we extend our time horizon to include future generations – people who have not yet been born. If we carry on like this (so the thought goes), their ability to secure decent lives for themselves will be seriously compromised; and even if it is not in our interests to change our ways and exercise restraint, we owe it to future generations to do just that (Broome 2008; Caney 2008). There is an analogous argument to be made about the development of government spending on social welfare in rich liberal democracies. Welfare systems have evolved to do much more than provide minimal safety nets to the most disadvantaged members of their populations, and population ageing is threatening the sustainability of these systems (Meier and Werding 2010; European Commission 2009; Bengtsson and Scott 2011). Spending on universal benefits as well as means-tested or targeted benefits has increased massively, and the most important of these universal benefits are the provisions made for health care and income security in old age. The upshot is that there is more redistribution from young to old and from healthy to sick than from rich to poor.
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