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In political economy, retired people are mostly seen as a tax burden for the budgets of governments. In many developed countries, since populations are aging and life expectancy is getting higher, governments have to maintain high employment rates and a high proportion of active people to be able to redistribute the taxes on the retired population. If the number of people working is not enough, or if they are not working enough, the governments will have to increase the taxes to be able to meet their budgets, or decrease the amounts of retirement they pay to the retired people. Apart from money granted by governmental funds, people have also access to the private sector of insurance to invest money into common retirement funds. Another general logical tendency is also to make people work longer, until 70 years old, until 75, and so on…
This summarizes the way we handle the retirement issue in modern economies. When we hear about retirement in general, whether it is from young people, the active and working class, or from politicians, it comes most of the time to those financial equations, where we have to calculate how long should we work to get a decent retirement, or how the government can solve the financial burden of the retirement and health care system for the elders. The mathematical consequence of this reasoning is that it is better for an economic community (especially to stay competitive) to make the people work as long as possible, and then, after retirement, it is in the advantage of the community that the retired people die as quickly as possible. What is the advantage for a society, where public policies are mainly governed by economic calculations, to support retired people and to make them live longer and healthier? Of course there are many reasons for that and the first and most obvious one is the emotional or moral reason; all the old people are the parents of the young ones, and all the children want to see their parents live a long and healthy life. And because those children are a big part of the active society (which means tax payers), and because they form with the oldest the base of the voters in democracies, it is very reasonable to expect this system of intergenerational solidarity to continue as long as the human species will continue to exist.
Aside from the obvious moral aspect, there are also other actors who benefit from the fact that retired people are living longer and that their number is increasing. Those actors are private companies and we can divide them into two big categories. Companies who will have retired people as their direct clients and companies in the health system who will have them as their indirect clients when the governments pay the fees for medications, therapies, hospitals, etc. In both cases, the retired people are a gold mine for consumption; and that’s what the system needs. In the latter case, where the governments pay for the private health companies and drug industries, the retired people are the final consumers of those services even if they don’t pay for it directly. And in the first case, the retired people are directly targeted by a very well planned advertisement industry to sell them their products. When you have money and time, you can be a very good consumer; and the companies of course understood that.
Like when we talked about happiness versus work, it seems that in the case of retirement, there is nothing else to say about the happiness of those people except the fact they have money and access to health facilities. When we are young, there is nothing we learn about retirement except the fact that we have to work to get a retirement. Like in the case of consumption, we only learn how to earn money and not what is it and how to spend it. In the case of retirement we only learn how to work to get there, and not how to live when we are there. Because the educational system is more and more based on teaching the people how to produce something (to sell), it doesn’t judge the fact to teach people how to live during their retirement important. Why should we spend money on education for people who will not produce anything to sell? Of course we could make them much happier, but happiness does not bring any wealth. And that is why we have chosen (or without consciously choosing it) as a society to not to go visit our grandparents or take care of them, we rather keep working and send them money instead. We cannot do otherwise. If the young people spend more time with the elders, they would work less, pay less taxes, and the system could collapse.
In all ancient traditions, the human being is considered to gain wisdom with age. The elders, at the opposite of the young, have a much longer and a much deeper experience of life. They know, through their proper experience, the transformation of the eras, many have seen the industrialization, the wars, the technologies, etc. They can help us to think the world from a wider perspective, but especially to think our own life from a different perspective. They could be notably the best teachers and guides for the children, or the best experts in their respective fields. But because we consider them as inefficient and not updated, we only calculate what they could give us in terms of economic growth as it is understood today. So many people spend the last years of their work waiting for the day they will be retired, and when this day arrives, they figure out that they are abandoned, alone, worthless and sick because they are old and they worked too much. The time of regrets comes, the time of self-questioning also comes. Philosophical questions that should have been arisen since the beginning are arisen at the end; sometimes too late. An increasing number of retired people suffer from loneliness and go into depression. They could of course be very useful for so many people in the world that would be very thankful to benefit from their services, and they could be much happier because they feel that they are contributing freely and the way they want it to the fields that they cherish. But the only solution we offer them is to sell them TV programs and lot of products. Consumption is and remains the ultimate remedy for such a profound emptiness. Some people work all their lives to get a retirement when they are older, and then they figure out that money and drugs do not help them to not to age, to suffer and to die. Even without working at all, they would have reached the same result. The only way to face this “problem” or this reality of life, is to prepare oneself to suffering and death, and this is the main task of religions, ancient wisdoms and philosophy. But because philosophy does not produce wealth, the financial and insurance institutions along with the drug industry took almost the entire control of our lives and our deaths.