The author of this piece appears quite disgruntled about the prospect of living longer in good health, given an expectation of severe upheaval in government programs of entitlements relating to medical services, pensions, and other wealth transfers that are currently (poorly) structured around the reality of a population expensively and painfully aging to death. Nonetheless, it is an example of the point that a realization is spreading regarding the plausibility of sizable near future changes in human longevity: as that occurs there will be - and must be - large changes in the flows of money associated with aging, from life insurance and annuities to the structure of public funds.
Many of these changes will be disruptive, and those who relied upon government planners and politicians to help them will be let down, as is always the case. A distant and largely unaccountable bureaucrat never has your best interests in mind. There are plenty of examples to survey from just the past decade of large-scale financial issues around the world. So prepare accordingly when considering the future - but why be disgruntled? Being alive and in good health, as opposed to the alternative, is a prize worthy of considerable effort. And if you are alive and in good health for decades longer than expected, then why think of retirement? Why not continue to participate in an active life and a career?
Is the rise in life expectancy in the West coming to an end? This year the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced something depressing: a slight fall in life expectancy for pensioners - six months for women and four for men. Overall, life expectancy is still rising but at a much slower rate than everyone thought it would. There is no shortage of experts out there prepared to explain why life expectancy has stalled. Maybe it's a result of the financial crisis, a failure of elderly care linked to austerity? Maybe it's obesity, something that could even make today's young the first generation to live shorter lives than their parents? Or maybe it is just that we are already close to the outer limits of possibility when it comes to life expectancy?
Yet look a little closer and talk to longevity experts and healthcare investors and a different picture emerges. The slowdown in life expectancy actually comes at a time when the science of ageing is getting very exciting. Much of the rise in life expectancy of the past 50 years has been down to environmental effects: the near eradication of real poverty in the West; the rise of universal medical treatment; antibiotics; better air quality; improved working conditions. All these things should keep adding a little more to the numbers. They are also just the beginning. Next will come an enhanced understanding of what actually causes ageing and how it can be stalled, alongside the start of mass molecular fiddling.
The new book Juvenesence: Investing in the Age of Longevity forecasts that within the next 20 years average life expectancy in the developed world will rise to between 110 and 120. This makes the authors happy. Their book is full of soothing thoughts. That's going to sound lovely to most people. But you can bet there is a large group who find it totally terrifying: policymakers. Ageing populations are very expensive. Our systems aren't yet in any way equipped to cope with the odd half a million 90-year-olds the UK has already, let alone millions of 100-year olds. Our health and welfare systems were designed for a different era, and the unfunded liabilities of public and private pension funds are the kind of thing that never get addressed.
This should make individuals worry, too. Very few people have planned properly for their own retirements - and even if they have, extended longevity will mean that the assumptions on which they have based their calculations are entirely wrong. On top of this, almost no one will have planned for the fact that this will make governments that don't seriously reform - my guess is that's all of them - increasingly broke. Nor will they have planned for the obvious next step: that cash-strapped governments look to other people's capital for help. If we do enter a new age of the long-lived, it will probably be less an age of the happy rentier than the very heavily taxed rentier. If you don't want to spend your 11th decade wishing that longevity science had never become a thing, think of what you once thought you should save for your retirement and triple it. Golden years? Working years.