Life or Dearth?

Of the many, many crimes for which our trusted leaders should be doing serious jail time arguably the most egregious of them all is theft – from those who trust them most. After all, it’s not as if they need the money.

To a young person there’s not a lot of difference between a sixty-year-old and a seventy-year-old: they’re both ancient. So when it was casually announced that young people will now have to work until they’re seventy years old before they can retire, it wasn’t too surprising that some young people reacted with a shrug of the shoulders. When you’re sixteen or seventeen years old seventy years is more than four times longer than you’ve been alive – it seems as far away as the moon.

But when you’re fifty years old, and expecting to receive your state retirement pension in ten years time, suddenly being told that you’ll now have to wait until you’re sixty six can be deeply traumatic. This is exactly what happened to thousands of British women several years ago when the trusted leaders of the day began their assault on state pensions. My wife, for example, is one of these women, and the government’s casual ruling effectively robbed her at a stroke of the pen of about £30,000. Multiply that by many tens of thousands and it’s fairly clear to see the enormity of the theft.

It’s been a mystery to me ever since that event why these women did not get together and file a class action law-suit against the government for breach of contract: they worked most of their lives on the agreement that if they pay National Insurance contributions to the state they may retire from work once they reach the age of sixty and the state will pay them a pension for the rest of their lives. For the state to suddenly move the finishing line once it’s finally in sight and say these people must wait, and work, another six years is surely breach of contract? But I’ll park that thought for now and move on.

If you had to think of just one principle that could be said to be absolutely inviolable to the very survival of mammals generally, and human beings in particular, it is this:

“The old must protect the young.”

Unlike many other living creatures, such as insects or fishes say, if young mammals do not have old mammals to protect them in their early days they simply would not survive. For over three decades the British government, irrespective of which gang of politicians appear to be in charge, has implemented a stream of economic policies which were not simply wrong, they were downright evil; policies which, although not especially threatening to the actual survival of young Britons, have been catastrophic in terms of the quality of life young Britons could and should expect.

Of course Britain is not unique in this. Almost every western country has been doing the same thing – in perfect harmony with the leader of the orchestra, the United States government – which is itself under the baton of the American banking system. The citizens of Detroit, for example, are currently enduring a theft, by their own trusted leaders, of quite unprecedented scale.

A friend of mine is in his eighties; I’ll call him Fred. Brought up in the tough streets of London’s East End during an earlier economic depression that was leading directly towards World War Two, Fred remembers seeing how jobless dock workers struggled to earn enough to survive another day by a routine practice that was so common it even had it’s own name – being “on the stones”. This meant turning up in the early hours of the morning and gathering outside some dock-side warehouse and waiting; waiting to see if some warehouse manager needed any men to do the back-breaking work of loading or unloading a ship. Sometimes you were lucky and got a day’s work and were able to feed yourself and your family for a little longer; mostly you weren’t.

But Fred did strike it lucky. He was lucky enough to survive that time, and the abomination known as World War Two, and emerge into the rapidly changing social conditions that were the direct result of Russian communism. Nothing is so dangerous to our trusted leaders as the threat of a good example, and the relative success of Russian communism terrified them rigid. Terrified that the working class would be inspired by the success of Russian workers the trusted leaders of the day realised they better make a few social reforms: throw the drooling dogs a bone from your table of plenty… or get your throat ripped out.

The birth of the National Health Service was arguably the most significant of the new reforms, but also included were significant changes to social welfare, providing the right to a state pension at the age of sixty five for men, and sixty for women. That system remained largely intact for the next sixty-odd years, protecting all the rest of Fred’s working life.

The last part of Fred’s working days were spent in the public sector – which meant that Fred was also protected by public sector conditions of service which, for ordinary workers, were about the best conditions of service available. You didn’t earn a fortune, but there were compensating factors – such as the provision that Fred could retire before the state retirement age of sixty five and claim an additional civil service pension. So as soon as he could afford to do so, which in Fred’s case was in his mid-fifties, he retired from work and for the last thirty-odd years has been surviving quite nicely on two pensions – his public sector pension, and the state pension he was entitled to from the age of sixty five; not riches, but enough for a comfortable life.

Many, many people of Fred’s generation had similar good fortune, and the surprising thing is that not only could the country afford to pay for this world-class health service, out-of-work benefits and pensions, it also prospered throughout much of this time.

And then the perfect storm struck.

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan appeared on the world stage as a trans-Atlantic double-act and decided that people weren’t suffering enough. Then the Soviet Union, iconic leader of world socialism, imploded. The 1% immediately felt the change in temperature, emerged from the slimy underworld from where they had been festering, and rubbed their claws with joy.

Ever since then the planet has been plagued by illegal wars and one economic disaster after another. We hear about “mistakes” and “lessons to be learnt”. But these things are not mistakes, and the only really important lesson to be learnt – that all these trusted leaders cannot be trusted – has yet to be comprehensively absorbed. The only way all these “mistakes” can be properly understood is by seeing clearly who benefits from them; and oddly enough it’s always, always the same people: the super-rich 1%, who are forever being made even richer as the poor are made even poorer.

So when our trusted leaders tell us that young people must work until they’re seventy years old these young people should not be meekly shrugging their shoulders and accepting, they should be looking at people like Fred and the many other retirees like him and wondering well if they could pack up work in their fifties, and live comfortable lives, why have I got to slave until I’m seventy? They should be feeling a sense of wrong, and rage should be stirring. But it isn’t. Young people are not feeling rage and not asking that question. They’re just shrugging their shoulders and accepting. You could almost say they’re like a flock of sheep who also just accept their fate – but as far as we know sheep don’t know what their fate is, but young people do, and it isn’t good. So why aren’t they resisting?

They’re not resisting, in my view, because they have already been programmed not to do so, programmed to trust leaders, programmed to aspire to be like them, programmed to think that these great and wise people would never really do anything to harm them, and if these great leaders say the young must work until they’re seventy then they must surely be right.

Well they’re not right, on every level and every possible interpretation of the word.

Two hundred and fifty years ago mechanisation had started to transform human society. Machines were being invented to do every sort of work previously done by human beings. The machines could do more work faster, cheaper and often better than human beings. If such a thing as humane government existed at the time these wonderful inventions could have been used to benefit the whole of society such that everyone could enjoy comfortable standards of living without having to slave the long hours their parents and grandparents had to do. But of course humane government did not exist. It never has. What has always existed are vicious, corrupt all-powerful tyrants, and these people were running things then just like they do today. They saw the opportunity to seize all the profits of production without sharing them with anyone else; and that’s exactly what they did. For everyone else in the country this resulted in the worst man-made social conditions in British history, quaintly known as the Industrial Revolution.

Ever since the extinguishing of the flickering heart of socialism – the Soviet Union – the tyrants have been gathering strength. Together with their illegal wars and their evil economic policies that breed criminal banksters and kill-off any pretence at democracy – such as their Trans Pacific Partnerships and their Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnerships, today’s tyrants are doing their best to emulate the high achievements of their nineteenth century predecessors. Telling children they must expect to work for their trusted leaders until they’re seventy in order to further enrich the super-rich is just one more outrage in a long series of outrages that’s been going on now for over three decades. Is this finally the straw to break the camel’s back? How much more debasement will the 99% endure before saying “enough is enough”? It’s bad enough that adults meekly accept the outrages of their trusted leaders, but what about their children? Can they not find the guts to do what’s right for their own children?

We cannot and should not expect young people to realise this for themselves. Why should they? They’ve been brainwashed to trust their leaders. The responsibility lies with those of us with enough life experience and understanding of how the world really works. It lies with those of us like Fred who know fine well that a humane society blessed with incredible mechanical and technical wonders is perfectly able to provide decent social and working conditions for workers and decent pensions for those in middle age, if it wanted to do so. The fact is that the trusted leaders we’re stuck with don’t want that kind of society; they want a society that is wholly enslaved to them and their insatiable greed for limitless personal power and enrichment. If we don’t try to re-educate the young and encourage resistance to the tyrants our silence, our failure to do so will be our fault, not theirs. We know better, it’s our duty to ensure the young know it too. How else can we look the future in the eye?

John Andrews is a writer whose latest book is The People's Constitution. He can be contacted through his website. Read other articles by John.