Retirement, no quiet matter

Posted 09.21.10

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Protests are sweeping France over government attempts to "reform" (cut back) the country's pension and retirement system. Germany, with a huge demographic wave heading towards retirement that will leave an empty beach behind it to pay the bill, is facing similar upheavals.

Here in Canada, the conservative Harper government appears to see only cutbacks to social programs, with "reform" of pensions and retirement topping the list.

Here in Quebec, Aylmer's large senior population will face major hits. Seniors expecting cheques, seniors who aren't getting much of a pension, and the young, middle class who will pay for these monthly cheques, we'll all be affected.

Governments are re-thinking mandatory retirement ages and looking at increasing salary deductions for very simple reasons.

    First, the cupboard is getting bare: pension plans will fall short if everyone opts for as early a retirement as they are allowed.

    Second, people are living longer. The over-100 is our fastest growing age demographic; more living longer means a more expensive pension bill.

    Third, Canadians have not been saving enough, so, as with the US financial melt-down, investments will not generate a comfortable retirement.

    Lastly, Canada faces a shortage of both skilled wage-earners who will pay into the system and a shortage of manufacturing jobs that traditionally paid those good salaries. Those jobs have been exported to poor nations under the guise of globalization, which really means corporate profit-maximization.

We'll have more retirees needing pension incomes longer, but have fewer workers paying in and fewer jobs that can support a healthy pension plan. Governments face the easy route of cutting pensions, jacking up pension deductions, and shortening pensionable life spans -- or re-visiting corporate decisions which crippled Canada's manufacturing sector.

Voters should consider carefully which choice they are voting for.

There is also a fundamental social force at work, one difficult to change -- our confrontational attitude between employees and owners. This confrontation comes from the old idea of class war -- the workers seeing themselves as the source of all wealth, yet exploited by business owners who take the lion's share of the wealth.

What flows from this confrontation is the view that people should hate their jobs and want to get away from them as soon as possible. This creates an unhappy workforce -- and an unhappy retirement population. Retirees can find themselves at loose ends with little meaning in their lives.

Wouldn't it be better to have people working as long as they wish, without pressures to retire or to continue working? They would be happier citizens, use less pension funds, pay more into the fund, and give our economy the value of their years of experience.

People often pick careers based on pensions, not based on self-fulfillment. They condemn themselves to an unhappy working lifetime in exchange for an empty, but pensioned, retirement.

The whole scheme isn't working, and we may be the generation that watches it collapse. It depends on our past and future choices, including those coming on voting day.

Copyright © 2010 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/08.10