The whole idea of retirement is a new-fangled invention, and not one that I think has been for the good. When it comes to work, I’m with Marx – it is what defines us. A life without work is a life without definition.
Before the 20th century there was no idea that there was a right to retire and take life easy after a certain age. There were certainly leisured classes who had managed through birth or industry to collect enough capital that they could choose what work they did, and when and if they did it, but even they didn’t retire.
There was certainly no thought that the tax payer ought to maintain you after a particular age.
But the norm was to work until you dropped, more or less, and the age at which you dropped could actually be quite old.
I was doing some research on Sir Charles Todd, an ancestor of my three older children, the other day. Todd was responsible for the Darwin to Adelaide telegraph line, the NBN of its day, as well as establishing Australia’s meteorological services. He was also Australia’s first deputy postmaster general.
But what caught my attention was his later work history. He became a commonwealth public servant at the age of 75 when his South Australian department became absorbed by the newly created Commonwealth of Australia, and didn’t actually retire until he was 81, two years before he died.
This was not an uncommon story and it is only a hundred years ago.
There is no physical reason why Joe Hockey shouldn’t raise the retirement age above 70, and it is certainly about time that those of us who are older pushed for mandatory retirement ages to be abolished as a human rights issue, and the right to work elevated above the “right” to retire.