I was listening to a Sam Harris podcast the other day, when one of his guests said something along these lines. “There’s a global demographic bomb about to hit us. There are far too many old people retiring and they add nothing to society. Retirees don’t spend money, they save it, which depresses the economy. They invest conservatively and eschew risky business of any sort when it comes to their money. They add no value to the economy and become an increasing health burden as they age, putting pressure on this resource.”
Harsh, I felt, but was it fair? I often wonder now if I’m pulling my weight for society? Forget the fact that I contributed for a long time in my career. So did many other people, but I like to think that I did my bit to fund the community that we all enjoy living in. But what now? I’m exactly the problem that the podcast guest outlined. I’m increasingly careful when I spend my money, and a cafe charging more than £3 for a cappuccino doesn’t usually get my business. Bannatynes gym, selling four fingered KitKats for a pound a time, can forget it when I can get a pack of four of these for the same price in Farmfoods and sneak them in via my gym bag.
The days when I was speculating in single company stocks have long gone. I once blew five grand on shares in a dotcom business that plunged in value a month after I bought it, and I held on bitterly until the bankrupt end. These days I sweat like Rikki Sunak trying to explain how much tax he’s paid when I contemplate the money I hold in my Vanguard 80/20 account. It’s only the fact that I don’t really understand the bond market that deters me from switching to a 60/40 or 40/60 account. Ironically, I’m now so cautious about change that I seem to be stuck in a “riskier” investment.
I laughed as I read Mr Money Moustache’s recent post about people suffering from the “Just One More Year” syndrome at work. They’re terrified of not having enough put away for retirement and therefore work on to squeeze “just another year’s” income out of their career. And then they do the same again the following year. Pah. Wait until they do retire and simply replace that syndrome with the retirees lament: “Wait One More Year”. This is where the big holiday to Australia can wait until next year. As can the new car. As can the new kitchen. As can the new shoes. And socks. And so on, until 10 years have past and you still haven’t seen the Sydney Opera House.
So if I’m not contributing and not spending, am I becoming a burden to society? I’ve blogged about my efforts and intention to grow old as healthily as I can. Probably every retiree in good health has the same ambition/fantasy. But the last time I visited the doctor, he wondered if maybe now would be a good time for me to begin taking statins? For the rest of my life. How much would that cost, I wondered? Well, nothing to me, thanks to the NHS. I declined, but I asked myself at what point should I start taking them as a precautionary measure? After all, they’ll not cost ME anything, so what’s to lose? Maybe only the NHS as it grows overburdened by things like this – there’s a big notice in my local hospital pleading with people to buy their own paracetamol (29p a pack in Asda) because, last year, they spent over £600k prescribing it.
Retiring at 57 I do believe I may be one of a blessed generation, if only because of the fact that younger people seem prepared to tolerate my indulgence. It is an indulgence. A luxury. I’m just a posh layabout, maximising tax breaks, working the system and goofing off. I really don’t like this notion and I often find myself thinking that I CAN be working and therefore I SHOULD be working, because that’s what makes the world go round.
I wonder what life would be like if we had a culture change where working into your eighties became the virtuous and most valuable thing you can do in your old age? I wouldn’t say this notion is frowned upon, but it seems to me that people who work into their late sixties and seventies or even eighties – like President Biden – are seen as being a bit odd. Or broke. Or a bit sad in that they clearly can’t find anything better to do.
I keep reading that there’s a labour shortage in this country at the moment and that this is exacerbated by a lot of people who have taken early retirement. Perhaps someone could join those dots and encourage us (not so) oldies back into the workplace? While I wouldn’t fancy an eight hour shift behind a bar or making coffees, a four hour shift a couple of days a week would be a lot more appealing. I wouldn’t want, and really don’t need, the uncertainty of a zero hours contract, but I wonder if there was an alternative model that might tempt us back into the types of service jobs that seem to be so short of people right now?
A couple of years ago on holiday in America, I noticed that there were quite a lot of older waiters and waitresses working in various restaurants we visited. At one point, in a McDonalds, I was served by an old bloke in his seventies. I think seeing that here would be quite unusual. I’m sure there are lots of ways we could tempt people out of premature retirement with the right incentives, but I feel we need to have more positive examples out there in everyday life to show us what’s possible. I hate to think that retirees are just a drain on society and the economy, as Sam Harris’s guest seemed to think. Given that we’re increasingly here to stay, let’s think more about what we can do to continue to make a positive contribution to our communities. “Help the aged”, sang Jarvis Cocker, “One time they were just like you.” No, Jarvis, it’s we who were just like you, so how can WE help YOU?