Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Strange Politics

Germany has a big problem: pensions. We don't know who among the young ones will in old age be able to live off the pensions he or she gets.

The German system for pensions works like this (and I have to explain this first, because otherwise you won't get the point of the whole problem): Those who are still working give a certain amount of the money they earn to some kind of insurance company. This company pays the people already too old to work (the age at which most people start receiving a pension is between 60 and 65 currently) with this very money. This is called "Generationenvertrag" (Contract of the Generations) by the German politicians.

The first problem with this is that this "Generationenvertrag" is not a contract as a such. A contract is signed by both parties - and none of the young people today has signed the contract. We do not get asked "Do you want to contribute to the contract so someone in 40 years will contribute to it to pay your pension?" when we start working. The moment we have a job and make money (above a certain amount), we contribute to this contract. We don't have a choice. Sure, a lot of us would still do it, but then they'd be doing it out of their own free will, not because the laws force them to.

The second problem is that when the system was created a lot of people did not even reach the age of 65 or - if they did - did only live for a couple of more years. And there was a lot of work for the younger people, so hardly anybody was unemployed (except for those who really didn't want to work). Today people usually reach an age between 80 and 90 - and work is getting sparse. So even those who are still young don't have the chance to work continuously for 45 years or so (that's the span usually calculated for people to work before they get a pension - only very few people went to university then).

The pension system in Germany is at stake - it actually has been at stake for quite some time now, but finally politicians have realized they have to react (well, their pensions still are safe). There's less and less children around and the people get older and older. Sooner or later it won't be one old person being sustained by five or so young ones, it might end up with one young person sustaining two or more old ones.

The first reaction of the politicians has been to rise the age at which people receive a pension (from 65 to 67). The joke (in a very un-funny way) about this is that a lot of people in Germany above the age of 55 have problems in finding a new job. So instead of managing to make all people work till 65 (currently), we've got a lot of people who have to quit working early. Why do politicians expect it's going to change that much during the next thirty or so years?

Some politicians claim that the demand of older workers will increase simply because, with less children being born, the companies will need older workers to fill the gaps. That's all good and fine, but will they really? We already need a lot less workers to do the same amount of work than we did about twenty years ago. Machines have taken over whole production processes. Work is passed on to countries with less wealth, where people will work for a lot less. This won't stop, just because politicians want it to (unless, of course, they find a way to create laws against it).

I will have to work until 67 (at least) and due to the fact that I went to university and tried to work as a freelance editor for a while, I've been forced to build up reserves for old age anyway. As I'm currently learning how to be a web-master (and I'm quite good at it), I will have to go on learning about all the new things for the rest of my working life. But how many people are ready to change their profession at the age of 50 or 60 simply because they can't go on doing it (for example for reasons of health)?

Our whole society is going to change massively. Those who make good money can afford to stop working earlier (even though their jobs usually can be done until 67 or later). Those who really can't afford to stop working earlier on the other hand will often have to stop working at 60 or so, loosing part of their pension and being poor even after decades of hard work. Yes, I know there's a lot of countries out there where people fare worse when they don't have a lot money, but still, it's highly unfair. It's not impossible that this will lead to unrest and rebellion sooner or later - and that's what I'm really afraid of. I will probably have enough money to live modestly in old age - as long as nothing unsuspected happens to me (unless the unsuspected thing is me finally being published and landing some best-sellers, in this case: bring it on) -, but a lot of people won't. They're bound to be pissed off somehow.

And it's not the politicians who will suffer when they're getting pensions, because even after six months as a politician, you're getting a much higher pension than most people in this country. Maybe I should be looking for a political career already ... at least for around 50 or so. Then I can quit working early and will have a lot of money at my disposal.

Maybe that's the solution to this problem: every person in Germany serves as a politician for at least six months and we'll all get a good pension...

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