Birthday

It is just coming to the end of my birthday – and don’t say anything to me about it, it’s nearly over. On the whole I try to ignore my birthdays and pretend that the years are not rolling by. And typically as I wake up on June 30th, I tell myself that I look and feel younger than when I was 30; we all have a wonderful capacity to deceive ourselves. For all that, I am not given to worrying about my age. However, for a little while (and I won’t say how much of a little while) I have become aware that more than half of my working life is over, and that retirement is closer to me than are my student days. And because retirement is not a favourite item in my toolkit, the thought doesn’t please me.

It is, I think, time that we looked again at the whole concept of retirement. It was of course a great social advance when it was introduced as a social security measure in Bismarck’s Germany, but on the other hand the actuarial calculation that set the appropriate retirement age at 65 is now wholly inapplicable. We live longer, we are active much longer, and materially we expect much more. Therefore it has become quite simply unaffordable to put everyone on a pension, however funded, at 65. Neither private pension schemes nor the state’s social security system can manage to make the sums add up. The result is that increasingly people will have to retire without reasonable financial security, and that is madness. So for some time I have stopped trying to find arguments in favour of the traditional retirement pension framework.

I still do believe that those who really want to retire in their late 60s should be allowed to do so; but we should make that affordable by allowing (and occasionally encouraging) those who do not wish to retire to continue working. This will also help us deal with some impending skills shortages in key areas.

If you have your heart set on retiring at 65 and travelling around the world, good luck to you, and you should be allowed to do that. But if you want to continue as an economically active member of the community, whether in employment, in business or in whatever way you wish, then that should be possible too. We would all be the winners.

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