Why Freedom Of Choice Will Cause The Demise Of Humanity

If you’re reading this blog despite having that somewhat overblown title, you’re very welcome. You see, I’ve been mulling over an issue for a while now. It’s one of those big issue things that will become an increasing problem over the next few generations. I wonder if we could do something now.

The human race doesn’t have a great track record of the current generation doing something to protect the next generation. We are so busy grabbing our own pile to sit on top of – and pass to our kids to make sure they’re ok too – that we don’t stop to wonder how society and the world is going to look in fifty years time. That’s someone else’s problem.

The boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) are the obvious example of this. They are the ones with the final salary pension schemes and the large houses with inflated values (do take a look at Martin Bamford’s excellent film Boom! Demographics Are Destiny for much more on this).

I keep having this image come into my mind:

For me the most glaring example of this is the belief in personal freedom of choice, the right to do what we please as long as it doesn’t harm others. This was the philosophy behind the recently announced pension changes, and I’ve written on this before. In short, I worry that personal freedom is going to be the downfall of humanity.

Having read that, if you’re willing to read on, I’d like you to do something for me. Let’s imagine that there is no such thing as personal freedom. Just in theory. That we don’t all have the right to do what we want. Just take a trip with me for the sake of argument, see where it takes us.

And please, don’t comment about this being ‘leftie’ or ‘pinko’ – let’s leave political party allegiance out of this. Politicians are the last people who should be put in charge of the future of the planet.

Malthus’s Theory Of Population holds that if we keep having more kids, one day there will be too many people for the planet to sustain. That’s pretty obvious, really, but then he did say this in 1798. In China they adopted the policy of 1 child only per household. There were many unpleasant side effects, so I’m not saying this it was a perfect policy, but between 1997 and 2007 this ‘averted’ 200 million births (Wikipedia’s phrase, not mine). Could a policy of this nature happen in the Western World? No. What party would get voted in on that basis. And yet will the planet survive if it doesn’t?

Housing is an issue because of this. Governments always have quotas for new houses. New estates of Executive Homes get built on countryside (then the roads get called ‘Orchard Close’ after the group of trees they just demolished. Councils have no sense of irony.). In Clevedon, North Somerset, a town of 21,000 people is serviced by SIX supermarkets. Big ones too. And they are just building another. Not houses. Another supermarket.

Suppose we put a cap on three supermarkets per 20,000 population (I’m making this up as I go along, but do go with me). How many more homes could be built?

Suppose we made a rule than not one more inch of green land could be built on. What would be the effect? Better use of brown field sites? An acceptance that we can’t all have the house we dream of? Surely such a policy will be essential at some point in the next 200 years, so why not now.

And what about pensions? Why are we all building up a huge pot of money for retirement, sitting atop a large pension fund like Scrooge McDuck on his gold. It is income we require in retirement, not access to the capital. I’m tempted to suggest something unthinkable, like forced annuity purchase to give guaranteed income and certainty, or maybe a State scheme we pay into, perhaps through some sort of tax, that will ensure a subsistence level of income. Oh, hang on…

Much of this sounds pretty unpleasant. But if we continue to set freedom of choice as non negotiable, the planet is going to die from over population, the remaining animals will have their land covered with concrete, and the wealth will continue to accumulate in the hands of the few leading to… well, who knows.

Maybe it’s time for some fresh thinking. And let’s hope we don’t all end up like this:

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3 thoughts on “Why Freedom Of Choice Will Cause The Demise Of Humanity

  • I’ve just seen the bickering between the two Budds on Twitter about this article and couldn’t help myself agree with both sides of the argument. I tried to make my mind up as to whose side I’m leaning towards, but couldn’t.

    I like the proposed freedoms and I like annuities. (I also, kind of, like the pre-April15 drawdown.)

    As much as I’d like to believe, like Mark, that most people will do the right thing with their pensions, Chris, you highlight the potential and very real issue of people misusing the freedoms like they did with the too-easily-available credit in the past.

    Equally as important, you point out the fact that it would be the state (the rest of us, really) that would have to look after those that spent their pension pots unwisely for the rest of their lives.

    As Mark points out though, one size really does not fit all; annuities are not for everyone. I have a fair few clients who are intending to use their pensions to bridge the gap between their planned retirement age and the age at which they get their occupational pension (as you say, those retiring now still have those) and/or the increasing state pension age.

    I think this is a very sensible way of planning, but, of course, people wouldn’t be able to do this (not with their pensions) without the freedoms of choice. For this reason alone, I am a fan of the upcoming changes, though not without recognising the risks that will come with them.

    Reply
  • A meaningful post Chris, a whilst I disagree going back to the old ways with annuities or well-intended higher State Pension, I’ll perhaps explain why …

    I had the chance to chat with a 102yo last week as part of some study I’m doing on behaviour and compulsion. I’m meeting with a 90yo this week, having spoken to an 80yo, a 70yo and 60yo. I learned how this lady went to work at 14 and married at 23, considered the time a little ‘young’. She spoke of her mum marrying in her 30s which was the norm back in her day.

    She told of higher education only available to the extremely wealthy and smart, and savings, well, there was absolutely no room for it. She did know everyone up and down the street though, left the doors unlocked and childcare was supported by friends and family, as were the elderly. Life may have seemed harsh, but you had personal accountability to each other. It was crucial.

    Little freedom but high reliance on each other.

    The government was nowhere to be seen for support at all, and if you had children out of wedlock, you were basically cut off from family. Seems awful now, but perhaps it had a purpose of making sure the family stuck together. Of course we know of the history about the evolution of pensions and health benefits and how that changed, with higher education doubling following the 90s.

    On reflection, has gaining more freedom of education, family size, when you marry, which church you marry in or not marry with less accountability to each other, really been worth it? Effectively more freedom and less personal responsibility. Look behind this ‘ideal’ life as it will be portrayed and it was quite ‘ok’ to disallow people the vote depending on sex, or race. God forbid if you had a relationship with someone of the same sex, and as for speaking up if someone was abusing you.

    Shhh now.

    I can’t see how personal choice can be put ‘back in the bottle’, and perhaps why you would want to do that? It’s like risk and return, as in some ways you can’t have freedom without the accountability or vice versa. At some point, your freedom will affect someone else, or yourself, or both. Give you more freedom and inevitably you will make mistakes, as I’ve done, you and everyone else. Take that away and whilst you may limit my mistakes, I need to have more responsibility to other people.

    New pension changes reflect that demand from society and clever politicians (maybe), but what we need is actually more money in them for more people, or maybe more National Insurance for a bigger State Pension?

    Who wants to trust a government with that? (ahem, qualifying NI years, entitlement age … )

    Compulsory pension contributions, for that freedom later in life might just be your commitment to each other. Auto-enrolment was built well before this new concept of pension freedom, and maybe that’s the sort of compromise society will accept without giving up too much?

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    • Thanks for this thoughtful comment Dan. The relationship between personal freedom and responsibility to other people – to society – is certainly at the heart of this issue.

      You ask why we might want to put personal choice ‘back in the bottle’. Well, that’s rather the whole point of the blog! Because if we don’t, “the planet is going to die from over population, the remaining animals will have their land covered with concrete, and the wealth will continue to accumulate in the hands of the few leading to…” possibly riots and revolution?

      There was a fascinating documentary called ‘The Super Rich And Us’ on BBC on Thursday. The conclusion was that inviting the super rich to the UK has increased our GDP, but that they were the ones who benefited from this growth and more! And that the Chancellor is happy with this illusion because it gets him re-elected.

      What is going to happen when it dawns on the public that this pretence of personal freedom is anything but and that the world in which they live is dying as a result?

      Reply

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