Your dreams of retirement are shot

Eric Garland Uncategorized 1 Comment

retirementFrank Swain, the chap who didn’t want to speak for TEDx for free, has good reason not to give away his talents for free: He’s a great writer. His article in Slate about the end of retirement tells some very hard truths about what aging will really look like for society.

The fabled Age of Leisure that the Industrial Revolution promised may not have transpired for a majority of working Americans, but a select group had hoped to enjoy something that looks an awful lot like it. As they approach retirement, American workers prepare to step back and enjoy their final years. However, the sheer number of retirees, and the cost of accommodating them, is likely to put an end to these dreams before they begin.

From 2000 to 2010, the number of over-65s in the United States increased to 40 million from 35 million, and this number is expected to increase a further 36 percent to 55 million by 2020 as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement. This glut of retirees will leave behind neither the economy nor the workforce needed to ensure a safe and secure old age.

The rest of the article is filled more with insight that gloom, so it’s definitely worth a read. Swain outlines the impact of aging on society as a whole, but he omits the effect on individuals. Retirement is terrible for your health. Medical data is beginning to show that depression, alcoholism and physical decline all tend to pop up after an official retirement – so why are we so bent on getting people to that point?

A couple of points spring to mind for me. First, this is not a negative story but a celebration of public health. Dude, there never used to be a thing such as “second heart attacks.” You were dead the day of or soon after. And cancer? It didn’t go into remission, you went into a box. People live longer all over the world. The “problem” of too many old people is a problem that we’ve been working towards for 10,000 years.

Second, this is a failure of forward-looking capital hoarding, i.e. investing. Well, that’s a totally new approach to old age as well. You used to live with your family in a multiple generational home – forever. The notion of elderly people living in a separate household is novel, and probably doomed to fail. You’ll be living with your crazy family, as people have done for millennia. Yes, a temporary glut of cheap petroleum let you avoid your mother-in-law for a while, but the party’s over. So make room for Grandma and Grandpa. Is it really that bad?

Comments 1

  1. Nope. Not that bad at all… In fact, my inlaws are staying over the past few days helping get our house in order. In exchange, our children have been enjoying days on end of special time together doing stuff they never do without them and can’t wait until they return. It’s the natural order of things, however much privacy suffers… Maybe that’s why people starting getting up in the middle of the night to make out…? All the older folks are unconscious.

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