Saving for something none of us can afford

Thinking about retirement? Victor Billot has been doing some crystal ball gazing on the subject and offers some tongue-in-cheek predictions.

There is a retirement crisis in New Zealand.

Experts have made a compelling case for an imminent ''zombie apocalypse'' of retired Kiwis, stalking the streets and cannibalising the disposable incomes of innocent passers-by.

If humanity survives the collapse of the global financial system, climate change, peak oil, peak population, Australian DIY home improvement shows, and Facebook addiction, then we are all in for some serious trouble when we retire. Experts have done the maths and confidently predict in 40 years' time we will be in the midst of pension armageddon.

Experts say the problem with the retirement crisis today is a refusal to face up to reality. New Zealanders, as our owners regularly point out, are in general quite irresponsible. To afford retirement, people need to gain big-money jobs in productive and highly skilled roles, such as finance company directorships, public relations contracting for the Government, or developing software for paying school staff wages.

Instead, large numbers continue to avoid their responsibilities by filling in their time in dead-end jobs such as nursing, teaching, firefighting, and rest-home care. On the subject of rest-homes, New Zealanders can be comforted that the retirement crisis does provide opportunities for the enterprising.

Once the retirement age reaches its optimum level of around 100, retirement villages can be self-sustaining. The older residents can be cared for by residents who are a year or two younger. These less older residents will need the work so they can afford their own care.

People don't realise that retirement can be extremely profitable for shareholders. Rest-homes have a flexible workforce who are paid the market rate, otherwise known as the minimum wage. However, if the overseas employers ask nicely, we can also get rid of the minimum wage, if required.

KiwiSaver is another retirement innovation that may save the day. It means that everyone from the prime minister to rest-home helpers and even struggling hobbits can expect to collect a windfall at age 65. This money will come in very helpful in your golden years.

For example, a retired prime minister could spend his KiwiSaver on upgrading the filters on the Olympic size swimming pool at his Hawaiian condominium. On the other hand, a rest-home helper could use their KiwiSaver nest egg to photocopy the CVs they will be sending out for extra jobs to supplement their national superannuation.

We have to catch up with Australia, and KiwiSaver is part of the strategy. However, we don't want to catch up with Australia too quickly, otherwise they might hear us coming up behind them and start running faster. This is why we have reduced the Government and employer contribution to KiwiSaver. If we didn't do this, it would encourage people to stay in New Zealand and then we would have to pay for their retirement, as well.

In addition, it is important that we return to the family model of social security. This model is used in many countries which have avoided the welfare trap. The idea is your family provides for you in times of hardship. If you are irresponsible enough not to have a family, or if the rest of your family are worse off than you, then you go hungry and sleep in the streets. In economic terms this is known as a market-based incentive.

Finally, there are the health reasons for not retiring. Many psychologists are now pointing out that stopping work is bad for older people. Getting out of the paid workforce can lead to isolation, boredom, ennui, long walks on the beach, leisurely breakfasts, fun afternoons at the bowling club, quality time with grandchildren, volunteer work in the community, and other negative indicators of declining mental health.

On the other hand, social contact with overbearing bosses, annoying co-workers, and exasperating customers, apparently provides us for a reason to keep breathing. There is also the concern that retirement gives people time to ruminate about the last 50 years of their lives they have spent grafting away in dreary wage slavery. The solution is simple. If we just keep on working, there is no time to think, so such problems disappear.

Thus I propose we announce a new national motto: ''we live to work, rather than work to live''. I spoke to my neighbour John about it at a barbecue while on holiday recently. Apparently, he used to be in merchant banking, but has some type of government job now, dealing with hobbits.

He plans to keep busy in his retirement keeping track of his investments via the internet. He owns the condo next to me in Hawaii, which has this amazing swimming pool.

Victor Billot is a Dunedin writer (and a member of the Alliance Party) but contributed this as a private individual.



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