The Palimpsest of Sawbones Surio

Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will

Live long, not work longer: Final Thoughts

with 5 comments

This post is the third post on the series about “Old age vs. Retirement age”. The earlier posts can be read here and here.

The posts revolved around my thoughts on retirement ages with increased longevity. I had the pleasure of interacting with ermine and HSpencer in the blog comments on this topic and had an interesting exchange of views in the ERE forums as well. I would like to bring the topic to closure by summing up the conclusions from all those comments.

In previous posts, I had not touched “health” as a concern because the post was getting quite long already. I shall address that one here briefly:

A health aspect concern

When the pension policy was formulated, it was supposed to pay out for a period of say 20 years. And the average age expectancy matched that payout. So far so good.

Brief History: Instead of dismantling the world-war industrial complex after the war, it was decided to put that framework to use in food production, specially the chemical weapons part. The Army Corps were also put to use for building those massive dams. These two technologies and man-power were loaned out to the rest of the world (whether they asked or not – The Indian Green revolution was a by-product of this part of world history). So, food supply became abundant and more nutrition simply meant longevity and less infant mortality. The fact that this setup is beginning to show its age and expose many more problems than its initial show of strength is getting more evident now, but I do not want to digress. The net result of all this is longevity! People who were expected to pop their clogs by 75 are living into their 90s.

Meanwhile a few points to consider:

  • The pension policy assumed for a higher mortality and that calculation has gone boink!
  • The nature of jobs in economies with pensions have also changed. Varietyof jobs are missing; sedentary desk-based jobs (service jobs) became the norm.
  • The jobs carried more stress and unpredictability because they farmed out, re-organised, made redundant… etc…
  • This has led to other forms of ill-health than the previously thought life-threatening ones. New types of illnesses that often involves invasive surgery, presription medicines and major lifestyle changes: blood pressure, cholestrol, heart disease, insomnia, diabetes, etc…
  • Meanwhile, all this sedentary lifestyle (office and home – TV!) has caused a spurt of joint failures, lack of functional fitness and poor motor coordination in an entire generation.

As an aside, old people are not as mobile as the young to look for jobs. So the kind of jobs old people can hope to find for themselves is usually jobs around the cleaning services sector, jobs in supermarkets, some community volunteer services (e.g., lollipop man), guides, museum guards… OK, this list is getting tiresome, but you get the general idea. Basically, these are tied-to-a-location jobs. Often there’s competition with young people for these jobs too.

But the critical moot point to remember is this: Living long and being functional for your entire lifetime are two radically different things.

So, while they may be living longer, a coupling of all the above means: In terms of finding them a job, there are several riders attached to the clause. 9 out of 10 may have undergone heart surgery which makes jobs with lifting and lugging a liability for them (so, bread-loaf stacker job in a supermarket is perhaps ideal in such a case). But here’s another problem, if there are too many goldie oldies, how many bread loaf stacker jobs are likely going around at any given time? Therefore, even if there is a compulsion to put them to work, they are not functionally fit enough for any job. Rather they can be matched to only a very few jobs. That’s the sad part.

I will not belabour this point any more. I hope it brings out the general picture.

Summarising the interactions and conclusions over the posts

  1. The consenseus was that the tenet of “putting them out to work since they live long anyway” “may not be/is not” the humane/correct way to approach this.
  2. While I had deliberately neglected the workforce’s part in this ongoing story for the simple fact, it would have hampered my “highly charged” narrative, the comments left in the blog more than compensated for it. (thanks ermine/HSpencer. In one sense the comments complete the post 🙂 )
  3. There’s a lot of slash-and-burn attitude that’s entered people’s attitude to living… instant gratification has replaced prudence or calculating the cost and affordability of the same. iFads, granite kitchentops, top of the line furniture, that ‘must-have’ holiday… well the comments are fun read on their own!
  4. Realisation of the fact that things aren’t hunky dory with them, their lives or their finances is not at all clueing people to wake up to their reality. People are resorting to magical thinking of “wishing”, “hoping”, ….. anything but asking themselves long, hard, practical questions about solid actions to take. (I shudder to think of the stories from the AARP magazine ;-))
  5. While it may be too late for the older generation, any incentive (even the (shudder) lottery scheme) to entice and involve the younger generation into a savings culture is welcome. This should also set the trend where Govt. pulls out from the Florence Nightingale business and passes the baton of responsibility back to the people for pensions and healthcare.
  6. A thought revolving around increasing the pension/social security tax contribution from its current levels found no favour with anyone. This is mainly because of a distrust with the Governments because, in the past they have been naughty with their squandering of this resource. Again, the comments in the posts put it eloquently.
  7. Ominously, both commenters (UK and US) were independently unanimous in hinting that the retirement age would be put up and the tax bracket won’t be raised within the next 2-4 years. In all sincerity, one has to defer to the “experience of life” that speaks the same truth across continents!

Finally, I want to close this by drawing attention to this newly released book by Sage Publications, UK.

Aging: International Perspective

Brief summary of the book:

Community-based carer support programmes such as low-cost respite, and day and night in-home help options are a part of a larger array of community-based services that already exist, but the policy challenge here is to determine the mix of universal and targeted community-based programmes to be more effective. Virtually all countries, with the exception of Africa, have experienced or are on the verge of experiencing a marked growth in their aging population.

India occupies in the ‘Percentage increase in elderly population – 2000 to 2030,’ after Thailand and Brazil, but ahead of China, each with a 150-plus percentage increase(*), even as European countries are expected to experience a smaller percentage increase in their elderly population over the next 30 years.
(*) Likely explanation: For India it is mass immigration of young people in a “flat world” that has tipped the balance wildly out. For China it was the one child policy.

A grim fact brought out in the book is the impact of greying on the budget. The authors highlight how the question about how much to spend on aging social policies can be framed. Public policy debates tend to be about what we value, yet most debates eventually narrow to the question of what we can afford.

This anecdote stood out for me:

Former US defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s appearance before the Senate Committee on Appropriations to testify on the president’s emergency supplemental budget request for $87 billion for post-military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. “In his prepared remarks, Secretary Rumsfeld posed a rhetorical question: ‘Is $87 billion a great deal of money? Yes. But can we afford it? Without question.’ His point was that this request was of such high value that the money was not an issue. This request was ‘the price of freedom.’ Funding this request would send a clear ‘message to terrorists that we are willing to spend what it takes.’” Alas, such an importance does not usually get accorded to aging social policy issues.

If you are interested, read the rest of the review here. And Thank you for staying with me through the story.

Written by Surio

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5 Responses

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  1. Surprised to read India has issues with ageing demographics! Perhaps I didn’t read that right?

    The UK has specific issues because historically companies had final salary pension schemes, which worked well for those that stay with a company for a while. I have one of these, with 20 years + contributions, so I am reasonably happy with that. However, if I had children, they would not probably expect to work for one company for over half their working lives, and that is where the French model would work better, where you pay into a pension operated by the government accroding to your metier.

    Part of the problem is a generation of twaddle of the ‘you can have it all’ variety. Raising a family has always meant making significant compromises of self-determination for the sake of responsibility, and my generation and those coming after seem to be singularly unfit to get this.

    You can’t have it all, but you can often have something worthwhile, if you are prepared to work out what your values are and what matters to you. Saving for the future is part of that.

    The degaradation of work and the hollowing out of the middle classes hasn’t helped either.

    As one of the potentially decrepit old gits, I would remind you that not everything about getting older is negative. Experience helps make fewer hotheaded mistakes amd gives the perspective to hold one’s head in a crisis at times, and young people’s commitment and timekeeping can be rotten compared to older folk 😉


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    • @ermine,
      No you read it right on ageing. But the ageing has been brought on by two things: 1. deracination in rural areas (one of the factors being major mining) where the young end up abandoning the old for greener pastures, and 2. immigration for work, which leaves a disproportionate pocket of ageing parents behind.

      Re: pension schemes: That was the case with my father’s generation too, and if he did not have health issues, his pension would tide him very well indeed. In fact, Indians were always mistrusting of the Government run EPF (the likes of Indira Gandhi and her policies didn’t help either) and contributed the bare minimum to it. However, ironically, this EPF has paid diligently, not done any of the things people feared it would and ironically pays out the amounts on time. 🙂

      Share your sentiment on the “Reach for the stars” B.S. Huxley was a visionary when he pointed out to “infantilisation of the populace”!

      Delayed gratification doesn’t come naturally to all, and sadly too many have given into their irrational desires, only to repent in leisure! 😦

      Degradation of work is already here, and I want to be able to be free, before the hollowing out of our “middle classes” commences! 😦

      Will try to remember your points about the nicer subtleties of getting old before getting upset with my father the next time 😐


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  2. I think you make a good point about fitness to work in old age. For some who drift financially and expect to be able to plug into whatever the state offers this will be a problem. I don’t see how not working longer can be avoided for most, though.

    The support ratio in any country is the principal determinant of what pension can be afforded. I would have thought that, in the medium term, India was in a better position than, say, China here.

    • SG,
      Thanks for leaving a note. Inflation and economic volatility (let’s not even start with poor governence here!) makes it much worse than it should be at times (a grassroots activist reports on PDS here).

      > support ratio in any country is the principal determinant of
      > what pension can be afforded.
      It’s for insightful sentences like this that ermine (and I) applaud you for. And yes, viewed that way, we are somewhat better than our neighbours, even though the ignominy of abandoning the old (culturally speaking, to begin with) seems just as rotten here as it is there 😦


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  3. […] effect on population age, and Government capriciousness in the face of it. Especially, since I had written something on ageing myself, not so long […]

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