Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Old and stupid

NYT reported Eight years ago, when Robert J. Pyle was 73 years old, he had about $500,000 in the bank and owned a house in Northern California worth about $650,000. He was looking forward to a comfortable retirement. Today, at 81, he has lost everything. Mr. Pyle, a retired aerospace engineer, now lives in his stepdaughter’s tiny, mountainside home in a room not much larger than his bed. By his own admission, Mr. Pyle willingly made every decision that led to his financial problems. He gave away large sums to people he thought were friends, and then, in need of money, sold his house at a deep discount to the first person who offered to buy it. Even so, he claims in a lawsuit that he should be compensated for some of his losses for a simple reason: he is old, and should not bear the full responsibility for his choices.
Does he want to give up the right to make stupid choices, or just have someone else pay for them?
“I still make pretty good decisions about most things,” said Mr. Pyle, who shows no signs of dementia. “But for others, I guess I’m not as sharp as I was before, and people take advantage of that.”
One is never too old to learn, but education costs money.
In the last few years, thousands of older Americans like Mr. Pyle have filed suits against companies and salespeople who have promoted dubious offers and schemes. These suits are unusual because the victims typically do not say they were intimidated or lied to, and they concede they freely made what turned out to be unwise decisions. But because the plaintiffs are older, they argue, they should be less accountable for their mistakes.
They can always choose to turn the management of their funds over to a trust department in a bank, but these people don't want to do that. They want to go on making their own decisions, but have someone, either the courts or the government, bail them out when they make stupid decisions.
These lawsuits raise controversial questions: In the eyes of the law, should the elderly be treated like adolescents, who are not entirely responsible for their poor decisions, but are also barred from making certain choices on their own? Or should they have autonomy, and therefore be accountable for their blunders?
They want to be able to make the stupid decisions, but not have to live with the impact of those decisions.
Minors, for instance, can typically cancel a contract without penalty, unless it is co-signed by a parent. But the law also prohibits most teenagers from making major financial decisions. “Figuring out how to protect senior citizens from victimization, even when it’s caused by their own mistakes, is one of the most important issues facing us right now,” said Sharon Merriman-Nai of the National Center on Elder Abuse. “If we don’t solve this, millions of older people will suddenly be reliant on their families or the government.”
That is the role of Family, not Government.
.... For instance, Mr. Pyle’s suit contends that mortgage brokers and banks defrauded him by helping him take out loans they knew he could not afford,
He was stupid for taking out any loan if he did not have an income bringing in money to pay for it.
and that the person who bought his house deceived him by paying far less than its market value.
He sold it to the first person that offered to buy it. That was his decision.


Anonymous said...

Who are "these people"? You would not be pigeonholing elders would you? I hope not. That would also be stupid.

Don Singleton said...

"These people" refers to people that want to be free to make stupid decisions, and then have the courts or the government make up for their stupidity.