Wednesday, April 21, 2010

the way we were

Growing up as a child of the 80's, I am familiar with excess, luxury as commonplace, and the outdated idea that if you just put in 40 years with the same company, you can retire with a gold watch and a nice pension.

The beginning of the 20th century wasn't so spoiled as the end was.

It wasn't until the 20th century that a pension or a retirement age even existed. "In 1881, 3/4 of men in Britain over 65 were still working. It was only in 1898 that the British civil service began to enforce a retirement age*." The average life span changed dramatically in a short amount of time as well. "For a French person born in 1820... the average life expectancy was 40; in 1900 is was 47, and in 1992, 77.... The prospect of a sustained span of life in retirement also focused attention on pensions and savings. Out of this attention, government-backed pension and insurance plans came into being*."

Another fun fact is that unskilled labor is not a new issue. In short, people went where the jobs were, and before WWI, there was much demographic shifting in Europe as persons and families moved from country to country in search of work, and before immigration laws really cut out much of that movement. "Migrants tended to move into low-paid unskilled jobs, often ones which locals no longer wished to perform*." I know I remember hearing something quite similar to that about United Stated agriculture jobs....

In my relatively short lifetime, I've heard a lot of whining about not being able to find a good job, not being able to have the job security to earn a pension, not having enough life insurance, not having enough leisure time, having to work too many years to be able to retire... it seems that someone is available to whine about any and everything.

A mere one hundred years ago, pensions were virtually non-existent, insurance plans unheard of, retirement ages didn't exist -- you merely worked till you died. And on top of all of that, if you didn't save your own money, then you had no savings, simple as that.

Today, we suckle at the government teat for everything, complain it's not enough, and bitch that the government is too involved in our personal lives and wallets. Well, what is it? What it is, is that we are spoiled. We are the fatted cow, ready for the slaughter; too drunk on our own excess to notice that we haven't learned from our past, don't even know our history!, and are blindly willing to follow the best sounding politicians down whatever road they lead us. How hard is it to take charge of one's own financial responsibilities and hold no other accountable for one's own life? Hard, apparently. For all the higher education we seek, we don't bother to learn basic fundamentals of accounting -- where you spend less than you earn, and put some back into savings for a rainy day and retirement.


*James, H, 2003. Europe Reborn: a history, 1914-2000. Pearson Education Limited, Harlow, Essex. Pgs 31-35.

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