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‘The Real Story of What Happens to America’

Marketplace Staff Jul 1, 2011

‘The Real Story of What Happens to America’

Marketplace Staff Jul 1, 2011

Tess Vigeland: We are subjected pretty much daily to scary stories about what will happen if this country fails to raise the debt ceiling. The financial armageddon warnings don’t stop there. There’s the deficit. Health care costs. Warnings about baby boomers draining Social Security. Makes for an interesting plotline.

And comedian Albert Brooks ran with it. His new novel, “2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America,” is a hilarious yet thought-provoking take on what life looks like 20 years on. I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially since it deals with so many of the subjects we talk about right here on the program.

Albert Brooks, welcome to our studios.

Albert Brooks:Thanks for having me.

Vigeland: In the book, $3 trillion is going just to pay the interest on the national debt. And what that means is, basically, government can’t do anything. No new programs, they’re barely paying for things like Social Security and Medicare. Are you sure this is fiction?

Brooks: I wrote it as fiction, and normally when you write about the future, you know, they call this “dystopian,” which I don’t think it is. Because the future is not going to be all good or all bad. Even in a disaster, there’s good that comes out of it. And even in a beautiful wedding, three people are sick, throwing up in the hall. So, I try to present a future that has both.

Vigeland: So, government is not only dealing with this debt, but cancer has been cured.

Brooks: Yes.

Vigeland: Which sounds like a godsend — who doesn’t want that right? But the knock-on effect is that people are living longer and longer and they’re sapping resources.

Brooks: Yes.

Vigeland: So much so that the younger generation is near full rebellion.

Brooks: Right, I have these gangs…

Vigeland: Resentment gangs.

Brooks: Yeah, they’re called resentment gangs. And they’re not violent; they’re just angry. But you know, the violence is ramping up, but it’s not prevalent at this point.

Vigeland: Well, health care obviously plays a large role in all of this. And it really comes to a head with one of your characters who ends up in the hospital of hundreds of thousands of dollars, because he stopped paying into the national health system. He ends up dying. His daughter is saddled with the bill. There was a conversation that she’s having with someone who is very interested in this movement against the “Olds,” as you call them.

Brooks: The Olds, everyone over 70.

Vigeland: So I wondered if you would read through part of that conversation with us.

Brooks: I’d be happy to.

Vigeland: It’s on page 141.

Brooks: Yeah. This is Kathy, the daughter of someone who has now racked up a huge amount of debt in the hospital. And she’s talking to this man, he’s leading this movement for the younger generation.

She says, “I keep thinking how unfair it was that my dad didn’t get a chance to enjoy any peace. He was always worried.”

“Of course he was. He was the first generation that wasn’t being coddled. And I’m telling you, and you mark my words: When we get to your dad’s age it’s going to be ten times worse. These old f—– will still be alive. We’ll be paying for one-hundred-and-twenty-year-old people to be carried to the toilet.”

“So what can we do?”

“We can kill them all.”

Kathy stared at him and then smiled. “That’s a joke, right?”

“I guess. I guess that would be impractical. But we certainly can present the case of the younger generations in a more forceful way.”


Vigeland: This is so bleak.

Brooks: No, it actually isn’t. Well, you know, there’s a lot of humor in the book. And I don’t call it bleak. First of all, we’re still here.

Vigeland: Good point.

Brooks: I could show you five scenarios I rejected. That was bleak.

Vigeland: On a lighter note, I want to ask you how and why you came up with some of these fun developments. All cars come with breathalyzers, GPS is embedded in everything… Did you just sit around one day and just think big?

Brooks: No, it wasn’t one day; it was over a period of two years. But one of the things I really like is what is now floating around the world in 2030 or what I call these “retirement ships.” And some people call them “nursing homes on water.” But it’s a different way of people retiring. I thought a lot about that, because what we’re seeing now is the beginning of that. You know, where you lease a huge condo on a ship and it’s yours to live there if you choose. Right now, it’s for the very rich. But it hasn’t come down to basic yet, and I think it’s going there.

Vigeland: In the book, you spend a lot of time exploring the notion that people live really really long time. Can you imagine a world where people don’t die?

Brooks: It’s one of the biggest issues that we face. Because I mean, I do have them die; they’re not living forever. I can’t imagine a world where people live forever, because I don’t know we’d do at 300. But if people are going to live longer, they need to find a way to add back into the younger generations.

Vigeland: You don’t think the older generation does that now?

Brooks: They don’t know how! I think they would want to. But we have been set up to retire and… you sort of sit. It was never set up to be productive. So if we’re going to start having people live a long time, they need to feed back their knowledge, energy and their expertise. It’s like, remember when the Peace Corps was founded? It was such an original idea, gee, we send people over there and try to help people. Well, we need an Old Corps. We need to plug people back in.

Vigeland: White House, are you listening?

Brooks: That’s one thing I would suggest.

Vigeland: Albert Brooks is the author of “2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America.” It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for coming in.

Brooks: My pleasure. Thank you Tess.

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