Thursday, May 14, 2009

Going backwards

One of the most significant measures in this year's Federal Budget is the increase in the retirement age from 65 to 67.

I can remember when it was assumed that people would increasingly work less and have more leisure time. Some people even panicked that there would be too little work for people to do.

The assumption was a reasonable one given the long-term trend. Back in 1900 around 85% of 65-year-old men were still working. That percentage dropped in a very even line during the course of the twentieth century, so that in 1980 only about 10% of 65-year-old men were still working.

In my profession, teaching, there was even a retirement scheme that kicked in just before the age of 55.

During the same decades the number of hours worked per week also gradually fell. In 1913 the benchmark was a 49 hour week; by 1947 it was 40 hours; and by the early 1980s, a 38 hour week was the general standard. However, by 2001 the average working week had crept back up to 46 hours.

Real wages also grew quickly and steadily after WWII but the growth peaked in 1974. There is some variation in how wages growth is reported since then, but one demographer, Andrew Beveridge, has charted median wages in America for those in their 20s and found that while the female wage has remained steady, the median male wage has declined since 1970.

There is a political dimension to this. Liberalism has failed in many important respects, but for a period of time it succeeded in increasing the amount of leisure time and real wages for the average person. Each new generation of young people could expect to experience an improvement in the material conditions of life compared to the parents' generation.

This just doesn't seem now to be the case. A baby boomer man could raise a family of three or four on his own wage and still pay off his mortgage and invest in shares and property. Although this is still not an impossible scenario, it's more common for both the husband and wife to work, to raise only one or two children, and to find it difficult to repay the mortgage let alone to invest as successfully as their parents.

The rise in the retirement age from 65 to 67 fits the pattern of a decline in the material conditions of life.

I doubt if this will lead too many people to reconsider their allegiance to liberalism. The sense of decline, though, might help to dissolve a naive faith in liberalism as a source of material progress.

17 comments:

  1. One of the reasons the topic interests me is that I dislike the idea of career being the entirety of life.

    I asked an acquaintance what she thought of the rise in the retirement age and she replied that it was OK because what else were you going to do anyway? Despite being unhappy in her job, she still held to the idea that you live for work and she couldn't imagine significant activities outside of it.

    I don't like excessive work hours because it limits the role men can play in society and it limits too the way that men are likely to experience life.

    I'd rather men were given time to exercise their family role not only through earning money but also by spending time with their children, helping to educate and socialise them, and being able to enjoy healthy leisure activities with them.

    I'd rather men were able to spend unhurried time with their wives and to enjoy the affectionate aspect of married life rather than just the efficient "working team" aspect.

    I'd rather men had time to devote to their larger civilisational role in society, rather than just their own immediate concerns.

    I'd rather too that men were allowed to live at a reaonably natural pace so that they retained a natural responsiveness to life.

    So I think there's reason to regret the shift toward increasingly longer working hours, toward delayed retirement, and toward a real wage level for men which makes financial independence, on an average male wage, more difficult to achieve.

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  2. What I find damaging is that the current right-liberal government's policy of providing "child care" to women in the work force. This will, of course, sound sexist to both left and right-liberals, but I believe this policy will only exacerbate the demographic decline of the West, not help arrest or revers it. I do believe that all people, men and women alike, should be able to pursue their own desires in life, but what liberalism is doing is re-engineering society by further compounding the notion that human value is equated with employment and career. There is nothing wrong with a society where an overwhelming majority of women stay at home and care for the children. If they did, wages would not be so low to start with, and men would be able to provide, and there would be no demographic decline. Actually, a society like that sounds very healthy. A truly compassionate government cares for the future of the society it represents and governs; therefore, a truly compassionate government would pursue policies that reinforce traditional gender roles.

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  3. Kilroy, the fact is we don't live in that society now. We live in a society where you need two incomes to get by. If the government provides quality day care, that may encourage some people to breed who otherwise might think they "can't afford it".

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  4. Mark,

    And just to toss in from left field a personal fascination with demographics ;-)

    When I started in the workforce, it was common wisdom that "the breadwinner" probably didn't live much beyond the retirement age anyway.

    Hence, the splurge of retirement savings ( if any ) on the Torana-that-would-see-them-out, renovate the holiday home and do the Women's Weekly World Discovery Tour. With the families of the comfortably asset-endowed looking forward to a welcome intergenerational transfer of wealth.

    In thirty years ( dating myself here ) life expectancy seems to have surged stunningly. eg Thanks to a combination of good genes and sensible living, my mother is 89 this year and in robust good health and has potentially years to go.

    Some medical types moot the possibility of extending the human life span to 150 years ( the greenies probably want to hunt down and mulch anyone seeking to keep more humans around for longer but that's another rant ! ).

    The point being - if we keep pushing out the life span dramatically ( and it has been dramatic ) there needs to be some way to maintain the beneficiaries of longevity - and in a lot of cases a 40-odd year working life in a not-cheap lifestyle like Australia is NOT going to allow most people their own financial resources to pay for the ever-longer retirement. Soooo - one way or another, we are probably going to have to earn for longer to pay for a longer post-income earning life. Or starve ( see ref to greenies above ).

    For my part, in terms of retrograde measures in the Budget, I am far more alarmed by this analysis from Robert Gottliebsen:

    "Those aged over 50 who do not have large sums in their superannuation will be hit very hard. Those under 50 have had the maximum amount they can inject into superannuation reduced to $25,000. This is a much deeper change than a simple device to raise money. The great benefits of superannuation are going to be confined to those who saved in former years, because younger people will simply not be able to get the money in. This is a huge change for society."

    Some may argue restricting the super side of things is an equity issue. I don't know.

    But I do not like a Leftist government lowering confidence any further than it already is in people saving for their post-work life. ( Confidence = investment. No confidence, no investment ).

    The corollary of less retirement savings being that eventually even more of us will be relying on a government payment in retirement to meet the cost of living.

    At the moment the political theory is that ever more retirees will force populist governments to support their interests to secure the ballot box.

    We only vote once every three years. The day some authoritarian government decides to squeeze the pension flow in order to cement their control - it ain't going to be of much use to point to retribution at some future election, because those relying on government mercy will have been beaten into line or starved out before they can register their protest at the ballot box.

    This reads more like another small step on the Long March ( Hello Trotskyites everywhere - especially those on the governement side of the House )>

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  5. This has something to do with it:

    http://utterlycorrelated.blogspot.com/2009/03/tale-of-securitized-cod-babylonian.html

    Simply put, a closed system produces a total level of growth, if the elite demand a higher level of growth than the subjects eventually the elite 'eat' into the growth of the subjects and the system collapses.

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  6. Anonymous states that: "Kilroy, the fact is we don't live in that society now. We live in a society where you need two incomes to get by. If the government provides quality day care, that may encourage some people to breed who otherwise might think they "can't afford it"."

    I can only repeat myself, that: "There is nothing wrong with a society where an overwhelming majority of women stay at home and care for the children. If they did, wages would not be so low to start with, and men would be able to provide, and there would be no demographic decline." [emphasis added]

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  7. Kilroy is right. You don't need two incomes per household to get by, even, or especially, in the Australia of 2009.

    I know many devout families where five children, seven children, and (in at least one case known to me) twelve children, are raised predominantly or entirely on one income: the father's. How do those families do it? They do it by avoiding the whole consumerism racket; by living in the cheaper, more rural, suburbs of major cities; by educating the kids at home, rather than dispatching them to some worthless and heretical day-care centre known euphemistically as a "school"; by buying secondhand cars and clothes; by buying (and occasionally growing) the most economical food; by expecting their offspring to leave school early and get part-time jobs, rather than subject them to the financial and moral waste of "education" at modern "universities"; and by either doing without credit cards altogether, or using them with extreme caution.

    It can be done. Those who imagine it can't be done, are either femocrats or the "male" stooges of femocrats.

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  8. Redding:
    "It can be done. Those who imagine it can't be done, are either femocrats or the "male" stooges of femocrats."

    Yep, it sure can. That's exactly why the leftists have been busy attacking the homeschooling movement with such vigor here in the U.S.

    And then there's Germany where homeschooling is simply illegal.

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  9. I'd imagine concerns about the quality of the teaching, etc, might have something to do with the significant anti-home-schooling movements.

    Not that it's entirely a bad idea, homeschooling, just that it wouldn't take too much effort to completely ruin a child's education: a neglectful parent, say. Or parents with bad expertise in a certain important area of study. Or lack of resources... (etc).

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  10. "Not that it's entirely a bad idea, homeschooling, just that it wouldn't take too much effort to completely ruin a child's education..."

    Indeed. And you believe the State never does the same? I'd like to show you a few inner-city schools in my area. Giving the State complete prerogative over a child's education isn't going to fix that problem, is it? If we don't scrap public education because of Detroit City Schools, then we have no principled basis to scrap homeschooling either just because of an occasional failure.

    And they are very occasional. Have you read up on homeschooling statistics? Are you aware that the average homeschooler substantially outperforms his public school counterpart on the SAT's and other government-recognized standardized testing?

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  11. We live in a society where you need two incomes to get by. except that "getting by" means a whole other thing than it used to.

    AS Redding nails it. It sure can be done.

    Midwesterner ably refutes Tim T.

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  12. 'Refutes'? I simply provided a few obvious objections that those who oppose the home-schooling movement might have. I actually think in a lot of cases home schooling is a good and practical idea. You may have misunderstood my comment, Louise.

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  13. :"Not that it's entirely a bad idea, homeschooling, just that it wouldn't take too much effort to completely ruin a child's education..."

    Indeed. And you believe the State never does the same?


    Midwesterner, I absolutely agree with you that the state can do the same. I don't actually think home schooling should be illegal, or scrapped, or anything like that, though I do wonder about the issues of quality control that I outlined earlier.

    One of my favourite writers is C S Lewis, and he had a ridiculously eccentric education - years spent in bad private schools, where he encountered some good teachers, and then some two years spent living with a famous academic and schoolmaster, a kind of one-on-one tutelage. The result was that Lewis was hopeless at maths and the sciences, but absolutely effing brilliant in languages, poetry, rhetoric, and the humanities. (And, reading his writing now, who could really want or desire things to have turned out differently)?

    I like the idea of home schooling because it makes an education like this more possible, and if done right, can provide a good alternative to the churn-em-out-by-numbers approach to state schooling. But that, of course, is why I do want it to be done right, and why I think objections like the ones I stated above can prove useful and profitable.

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  14. I simply provided a few obvious objections that those who oppose the home-schooling movement might have.And yet you speak of "quality control" in your next comment. Even people who are not anti-homeschooling cannot *quite* believe that most homeschooling parents want to do what's best for their own children and will do their best and normally this will be better than anything they can get in school.

    Really, I'd be more worried about the "quality control" in the schools.

    I think the issue for the anti-homeschoolers is not "quality control" but just CONTROL. It's hard to control homeschoolers.

    And except for grossly exceptional circumstances, that's a good thing.

    When well-meaning people question my "accountability" for he education of my own children they are implicitly saying I need to be monitored. That's like saying that all parents should be monitored by the state "just in case."

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  15. To quote (as I've done before) John Randolph from The Proceedings and Debates of the Virginia State Convention (1830):

    Among the strange notions which have been broached since I have been in the political theater, there is one which has lately seized the minds of men, that all things must be done for them by the Government, and that they are to do nothing for themselves: the Government is not only to attend to the great concerns which are its province, but it must step in and ease individuals of their natural and moral obligations. A more pernicious notion can not prevail. Look at that ragged fellow staggering from the whiskey shop, and see that slattern who has gone there to reclaim him; where are their children? Running about, ragged, idle, ignorant, fit candidates for the penitentiary. Why is all this so? Ask the man and he will tell you. “Oh, the Government has undertaken to educate our children for us. It has given us a premium for idleness, and now I spend in liquor which I should otherwise be obliged to save, to pay for their schooling.”In addition where is the quality control for the schools and their curriculum? Both private and state schools have a Socialist and Immoral Curriculum devised by distant "educators" with no imput from the parents who are expected to simply go along unquestioningly with whatever nonsensical Social Engineering drivel is the current fad.

    Homeschooling parents are at least aware of what goes into their children's education, and what their particular child's strengths and weaknesses are. And they can always get outside tutoring for areas in which their parent's knowledge and skills are weak.

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  16. I dislike the idea of career being the entirety of life.A perfectly sane position.

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