Monday, May 15, 2017
Will you be able to retire? Short answer NO
We are moving to a time when most workers will not retire, according to a report in Canadian Dimensions by Peter Fleming. Peter Fleming’s new book The Death of Homo Economicus (Pluto Press) will be published later this year
Whether we like it or not, we are going back to the pre-Bismarckian world, where work had no formal stopping point.
WHEN Otto von Bismarck introduced the first pension for workers over 70 in 1889, the life expectancy of a Prussian was 45.
By 1935, when America set up its Social Security system, the official pension age was 65—three years beyond the lifespan of the typical American. State-sponsored retirement was designed to be a brief sunset to life, for a few hardy souls.
Today most of us retire earlier and live longer. After spending most of our adult life in paid employment we move to our hare-earned retirement. Above all, time to relax.
Sadly, this probably won’t be your future … unless you’re independently wealthy. What can only be described as the “battle over work” in the neoliberal era in relation to pay and conditions has just opened another front. Retirement. And things are beginning to get nasty.
Retirement was once considered the jewel in the crown of any civilised society. Discrediting the idea that it’s acceptable for the elderly to toil late into their twilight years was one of the great achievements of the 20th century. It wasn’t just about morality, of course. There was also an economic rationale. But giving people the chance to rest after 45 years of hard slog was deemed the decent thing to do.
Today all societies have an ageing population. But not all of them are willing to shove a frail 75-year-old back into a cut-throat service economy. That’s a specialism of societies that have embraced the utter madness of neoclassical economics, such as Canada the UK and the US.
The danger now is we will have a generation who really can’t afford to retire. This idea is ideological. It’s not that there isn’t enough money to fund proper healthcare or pensions. There is. Remember the vast bank bailouts? Quantitative easing? It’s just that the cash is being directed elsewhere
Scrapping the right to retire fits perfectly with the ideology of work that the neocons adore so much. If your life and your job are supposed to be indistinguishable, a notion that the Chicago School of Economics perfected with “human capital theory”, then there isn’t really any place for retirement. Such “unproductive time” is economically irrational, an anomaly that econometric models won’t process.
Now the free-market think tank hacks decide to speak up. Don’t many people over 65 actually love working? Isn’t the whole idea of retirement totally ageist? Sure, if people want to work past retirement age, that’s great. The trouble is that many soon won’t have any choice in the matter
While some undoubtedly enjoy working well into their later years, research shows that a secure retirement is very good for you. A German study, for example, found that retirees tend to exercise more, quit smoking and get better sleep compared to those who continue to work. As a result, hospital visits drop.
There’s clearly a lot of intergenerational resentment towards retirees at the moment. The perception is that they’ve pulled the ladder up on the millennials who are struggling in low-paid jobs, will never own a house and are laden with awful student debts – and even reports that they’re better off than workers. The disgruntlement is understandable. But it also plays into the hands of those trying to end retirement, a divide and conquers tactic that has been remarkably effective in allowing some draconian policies to flourish.
What we really need is an intergenerational alliance to be forged around the issue. Any attempt to protect the right to retire (with a pension) will also have to address the dire developments in the employment sector that are seriously disadvantaging younger people and now creeping into jobs held by 40-somethings too.