#7: We’re Headed in the Wrong Direction: Retirement Policy

I know things cost money. I am not a pie-in-the-sky socialist. I am very much aware that money has to be earned, economies need to grow, and benefits do not grow on trees. I grew up in East Germany under Socialism/Communism, and I do not want that back, under no circumstances.

There are some things though that are starting to worry me on a systems-wide level, and one of those issues is retirement.

It used to be that retirement meant that you would have money to spend. Maybe I remember wrongly, but I distinctly remember Western European and American senior citizens travelling around the world with apparently no care in the world, spending money on their kids and grandkids, building inheritances and nest eggs. Surely, this was a middle and upper class phenomenon, and poverty in old age has always been real in many cases. But it surely seems that whatever leisure and luxuries the past may have held, there will certainly be less of that in the future.

Already now, senior citizens frequently work in retail professions to make some extra money on the side, probably because their retirement benefits are not making ends meet. But this is just the beginning, and my Generation (Gen X) already seems to know that we’ll probably not have much to live for, and Generations Y (Millennials) to Z (does that mean the last?) probably don’t even want to know what will happen.

Again, I know that retirement and pension funds cost money, but this is cutting money at the wrong end.

In the “good old days”, old age meant “good luck” – if you were not incredibly rich or important, you would suffer. Older people doing well is an achievement of the late 19th and the 20th century.

Older people doing well means they can spend money on future generations, that they will spend money, period. Not investing in them is a deeply counter-productive thing to do, as it damages the entire fabric of inter-generational support. Typically, we hear the narrative that the working younger people support the older generations in retirement. Sure, tax-wise that seems not wrong. But the reverse is even more important: Inter-generational wealth and stability can only exist if parents and grandparents can actually support their offspring, and build wealth over time, and even babysit.

The trajectory we seem to be following throughout most if not all Western countries is pernicious and destructive, and needs to change. I certainly hope it does.

#5: Democracy Means Humility

What is democracy? Plenty of smart books have been written about this oftentimes confusing topic, and those who have the privilege of living in a democratic society should know what it means, kind of. We should know.

But sadly, it seems, there is an odd reaction to democracy happening, a backlash out of frustration, and an even odder envy about other forms of government that are maybe less “messy.” This strange dissatisfaction can be witnessed all around the political spectrum. Nothing in a conversation is as easy a crowd pleaser as a slightly cynical throwaway remark about “the politicians” or “politics nowadays.”

Newsflash, nobody in history has ever liked politicians or politics, least of all those involved in it, probably. It’s one of the givens of human existence. You just don’t hear it as frequently as today, and you certainly hear it less in non-democratic countries.

Similarly, you can easily make friends by frenetically agreeing with their more partisan political opinions, just as you can easily lose them by vehemently arguing the opposite. Human beings are tribal beings, whether we like it or not. Animals probably are too. Maybe even plants. Like likes like, and the one who throws (Greek: ballein) obstacles in your way against (dia-) you, is called a devil (dia-bolos) for a reason. That’s all quite understandable.

But if you believe in a democracy, you believe that the people should rule, not the elites, not nobility, not the warriors, not only men, not only white people, not only straight people, not only non-straight people, not only people of color, not only women, not only pacifists, not only the workers. Everyone. Most political injustice historically has happened because of the exclusion of whole swaths of people.

Movements for political justice have always focused on including more, not less people from politics. Everyone means everyone, even if you cannot stand them, cannot understand them, cannot understand how they think, do not even think that they are thinking.

Democracy means humility. It means the humility of living in the awareness that other people may very well know what they are doing, whether you understand it or not; and if they don’t know, they still have a right to participate; and if you think you know what you are doing yourself, you may not know it after all either. We are all fallible. We can be right on an issue today and wrong tomorrow and right again the day after tomorrow and so on. Realizing that sooner or later would save all of us from this strange partisan tribalism that seems to be growing day by day.

#4: How We Win

We can only win – in the long run – by setting a better example. We cannot aim to play the game the enemy is playing, we cannot criticize or condemn criminal behavior and then behave the same way, or in a way that can be seen the same whether we like it or not. If we cannot – in the Kantian sense – make the way we live an example for others, then we cannot expect others to follow our lead.

Peace brings peace, war brings war. It’s not that easy, sadly, as sometimes the wrong peace can allow for war, and the right war can create peace. Nothing is quite easy. Pacifism is not always the answer.

Yet it is how we do things that matters. How war is declared, waged, and ended, that’s the key. How peace is waged matters just as much.

If we are seeing ourselves on the side of reason and truth and justice and the best possible way forward for all of humanity, then we need to live these standards in the ways we are doing what we do.

Only then can we keep the moral high ground. Only then can we win hearts and minds, ours and those of the former enemy. Needing an enemy is not civilized behavior.

post scriptum

I have written this after the assassination of an Iranian general who has, by all we know, been involved in fostering non-peaceful causes, to say it mildly. He surely was not an innocent person, and yet, are such executions by drone really what communicates the best course of action? Similarly, are threats of retaliation by an Iranian government that has already promoted terror and war in the region the response of a party that would similarly seek peace? The above written text should apply to all. Let’s see – who will seriously be able to commit to peace? Let us pray, probably.