Work, Retirement and the Times They Are A-Changing

Our healthy life spans are increasing as a result of general advances across the board in medical science. Now, scientific and activist communities are gearing up for serious efforts to deliberately push back age-related degeneration further and faster than before. Change is coming to aging, healthy longevity and - as a direct consequence - the arrangement of your personal finances in later life. The actuaries know already, and so do the gerontologists, but everyone else seems to be lagging behind a touch in the marketplace of ideas.

What does this all mean? It means a certain persistence of old ways of thinking about age and worth of folk in the employment marketplace, for one - both on the part of employers and employees, and to the detriment of both sides. A recent Globe and Mail article hits many of the right points, but fails make the next essential leaps of logic - thereby reinforcing my point above, I think:

"A fair amount of age discrimination still exists, but it is couched in terms such as a person won't fit in or that they are overqualified or that they may be too expensive," says Barry Witkin, founder of Prime50, an employment service for workers aged 50 and older.

There is no reason that today's older workers cannot remain productive -- "the 50-plus age group is really the new 40-plus, mentally, physically and emotionally," Mr. Witkin says.

Yet, despite widespread predictions of looming labour shortages as baby boomers move into retirement range, employers are not courting those experienced older workers who want to remain in the work force, Mr. Witkin says.

"Employers are still holding on to the myths and false perceptions of the 50-plus worker without recognizing the reality of this age group."

Needless to say, this state of affairs won't be contining for long in those locales where you are actually free to continue working at any age. (Enforced retirement by age is one of the many little monstrosities that come with socialist ideals as practiced in modern "representative" democracies). It's simple economics; more healthy people means a greater demand for services, which means a greater demand for workers, which means higher wages or more expansive hiring criteria. It's happening already, as demonstrated by the very existence of organizations like Prime50.

It is quintessential human nature that raw self-interest is the only thing to reliably overcome outmoded prejudice and preconception - or indeed any of the other worse sides of humanity. The most elementary expression of self-interest is trade; be it eggs, intangibles or time and salary. If that process takes too long, the older healthy folk will simply get out there and start or participate in their own companies. After all, they're at a stage in life where most have the financing saved away to do just that.

In a world in which more and more people are healthy and active at ever older ages, and medical technologies to enhance longevity are advancing at a rapid pace, the culture of retirement will not remain as it is today. There is too much to be done, too many opportunities for the taking.

Retirement in the future will become something quite different from what it is today. I think we will see two forms of retirement in this future without aging. Firstly, there will be the extended vacation. A worker will finish a career with enough money saved to go on vacation for a few decades. That should be more than enough time to decide on a new direction in life.

Secondly, an ambitious worker could save enough wealth to remove the need for income - they could live on capital gains, the return on investments, and all the normal methologies of the well to do in the present day. Given enough time, even the most lowly of jobs could produce this sort of wealth, necessary for a permanent vacation.

Of course, this won't result in a world of perpetually vacationing people. If everyone is resting on their laurels, there would be no one to produce goods and provide services. So a dynamic equilibrium would arise between the vacationers and the working - too few workers and prices rise, so more vacationers return to work (out of necessity, or looking to make a killing in a hot market). If many people are working, prices fall, so more can afford to become long term vacationers.

There is no need for anyone to interfere in this process, as people will adapt and shape to match their new capacities. This is just as it always has been, given the (continuing) increase in life expectancy over the past century.

If you take one thing away from thinking about the future, retirement and work in later life it is this: save now, and wisely invest as much as you can. The freedom to choose your path in decades to come depends entirely on having the wealth of savings, investments and a few decades of compound interest safely behind you. You will have a great deal more choice than your parents - but a poor man has no choice at all, be it 1950 or 2050.

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