April 24, 2014 | Graham

Why not retire at 81?

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.


Posted by Graham at 7:07 am | Comments (9) |
Filed under: Economics,Health,Society


  1. Graham your piece lacks balance I’m afraid.

    Your kids ancestor was of course a management type. It is great for those in management, & even lower level pen pushers to continue working well past present retirement age. In fact it is almost cruelty to take an interesting & fulfilling job off someone, simply because their hair has turned grey. It took me some time to find “something to do” when I was forced to retire.

    What you did not mention is how this 81 retirement age is to be organized for those involved in manual labor.

    My farrier gave it away, retired is not a true description, at 59. He had taken to working beside his ute for the last few years he shod my horses. It was only in the last year I had realised he was working this way, as he could surreptitiously use the ute to pull himself upright, after an hour or two, working at knee level. His back could no longer pull him up straight.

    Another friend has built truck bodies all his life. During a downturn he scaled back his 5 man operation to working alone, when it became too difficult to maintain an adequate work flow to fund his employees. He bought/built & installed some lifting equipment to do some things where people power had previously been used. He would call me to go & help him for an hour or 3 a few times a month, when something required people in a couple of places simultaneously.

    He now only works on trailers & horse floats, where he can still handle the weights involved, but his income is reduced to below pension level.

    I no longer clean the leaves from my gutters. As I am on tank water, I have to pay someone to do this. At 74 I am no longer stable, or dexterous enough to wander around up there. The fact that I had my last heart attack up there has perhaps concentrated my thoughts on the matter. I have no idea at what age a professional roofer would have to stay on the ground, but I’m sure it is before 65 years.

    How about a second chapter on retirement age, including how to handle it for those who actually physically work for a living?

    Comment by Hasbeen — April 24, 2014 @ 9:53 am

  2. Retire often, I say. And again after 80. A friend of mine never finished school, became a carpet layer when there was big money in laying whole floors in new Sydney office buildings. But, he told me he would retire at 35 because carpet laying is hard on the back and body. He did that, retired from carpet laying at 35 about 15 years ago. He build a B&B that he it’s still running. No doubt he will retire from that one day. It has a lot is steps.

    Comment by Jennifer — April 24, 2014 @ 10:41 am

  3. One of my earliest memories connected to work, was a wool store and stacking bales of (350-400lbs) wool.
    I was around 17, as I recall, and trying to boost my rather megre means, with casual work.
    I was paired with another lad around my age, and we struggled to stack the bales two high, and found the demanded three high, impossible.

    An old timer, welded to a smelly old pipe rocked up, and on his own, stacked a few bales five high, using his knee to lift, and a rolling them up a stairway made of bales, to get them up there and even four or five high.
    We followed his lead and were soon getting them up there, and the decibels of the shift boss way down.

    I was there also, when that same old timer was forced to retire at 75.
    He and his gold watch were forced to camp on his front veranda, looking at the only remaining interest, (his rose garden) in what had suddenly become a very lonely life, and so different from the busy workplaces full of familiar faces and lifelong friends.

    He died inside 12 months, so I guess he wasn’t much of a drag on the pension system.
    He was one of those that earned reasonable tradesman’s wages, but as the only breadwinner, saw his children got as many advantages as his limited means would allow; typically and therefore, had no real savings to fall back on!
    Even so, what he received in total welfare payments came nowhere near what he paid in, particularly, when tax on overtime, could be as high as 68%.

    I think the idea there was to encourage those with full-time jobs stay at home at weekends etc, and others without one, to work as casuals, during weekends public holidays etc.
    Meaning those still at school or uni, had a chance to earn some money for tuition fees etc.
    And as such, not a burden on the taxpayer, or charity dollar!

    One thinks, he could have worked for many more years, given it really was his work, and his skills that he was able to pass on, to improve the productivity of almost all those around him, was actually all he had, as a reason to live?

    I don’t believe there ought to be a mandatory retirement age. But one determined by your physical and mental abilities, prowess and agility.

    Some of our most productive people, are those who know all the shortcuts, and most productive ways to get the job done!
    And it is true, you just can’t put an old head on young shoulders.
    If this were not the case, we just wouldn’t have suffered the GFC, or be facing into the headwinds of another even worse one? [I mean, all the new economic improvement, has been bought with a huge increase in overall debt?]

    We just shouldn’t be debating this issue.
    If for example, we jettisoned our extremely complex tax collection methodology, and replaced all that complexity, with a single stand alone, unavoidable expenditure tax!
    We’d force those who currently avoid a minimum fair share, to finally start paying one!
    We’d actually grow the revenue stream, and end the structural deficit.

    This would also remove the need to pay PAYE,PAYG, payroll tax, fuel excise, the GST; which could be replaced with a direct funding model in health and education, and real autonomy, at the coal face workplace!

    Meaning, the real funding at the coal face could be far more generous.
    Given all the tax relief, created by spreading the load to those who currently avoid a fair share!
    Arguably, more than 95% of off-shored corporations?
    Aussie based business, could pocket much more (around 30%) of their gross; plus their no longer needed current tax compliance budget; and average household disposals, would rise on average by as much as 25%!

    Reportedly, around 40% of our multinational guest corporations pay no company tax to anyone.
    Other may pay just 1-4%?
    Obliging that category to pay the same very reasonable rate as everyone else, will allow those other referred to complexities to be jettisoned.

    I heard somewhere we have around 140 different taxes, with only around fourteen or so, actually raising some net tax?

    With just one single expenditure tax levied against business or income returns, to reiterate, the current tax compliance costs can be added back in to the bottom line, along with the other taxes, we’d no longer need to collect.

    The age of complexity, also brings with the age of quite huge and largely unproductive bureaucracies!
    And think, they are all supported by the taxpayer dollar, and indeed, given the funding limitations, detract from the real services we actually need!

    What we don’t need is one group going ahead digging hypothetical holes, and another crowd following behind refilling them.
    Entirely unproductive reconciliation work, which fairly closely describes what our current complex tax system achieves, and at considerable cost to the budget bottom line.
    Further compounded by make work duplication.

    The tax reform envisaged, to reiterate, would also increase average Aussie household disposals by as much as 25%. Meaning, an immediate non contributory super of 15% becomes immediately available, as well as an additional saving or discretionary spend of 10%!

    This should end the destiny of demography, and allow most to retire when they want to and in reasonable comfort.

    After that, we just need a few visionary nation building projects, to supply the necessary investment income earning vehicles, and or, safe income earning havens for this same money.

    The only people not smiling, tax avoiding foreign based corporations, and a few sham religions!?
    Even there, the roll back of virtually all other tax measures, should also improve their bottom lines.

    The only ones not actually better off, those currently avoiding any/most tax.
    And that could includes many multinationals, with bigger budgets than many sovereign nations!

    That being so, we don’t need more complexity, ideological straight jackets, vested interest, with the ear of the government, lobbyists etc/etc.

    What we need are new original ideas, people able to think outside the box, and or, in ever increasing circles!

    Thinking within a fixed circle of ideas, limits the questions, and so also, the answers, and by implication the available decisions, and by inference, absolutely all the available choices!

    Mandatory retirement? Whatever for?
    Retirement made possible by clever policies, anytime after you turn 55? Why ever not?

    It should be just your choice, and the government!
    You know, all those super intelligent people we employ just to create a better life for us all, and indeed, better circumstances for our children, than we enjoyed, should just crack on and do the jobs we pay them to do!

    Preferably, while growing the economy, and not our common debt burden!
    All very doable for original thinkers, not self limited by the ideological mental straight jacket, or indeed, belligerent schoolyard bullies, who choose to wear them, and therefore find current politics, so inviting?

    Given that is true, it also explains, why parliament is so unproductive and inherently costly, and forever, just adds even more convoluted layers of complexity.

    I remember a very wise man, a republican Senator, who invited to appear on Q+A, commented, “that at some point, complexity always becomes fraud”! quote unquote!
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — April 24, 2014 @ 11:06 am

  4. Graham,

    The biggest difference between your 19th century example and today is insurance and liability.

    I am aware of at least one contractor who is unable to continue in his current position past his 65th birthday, as the company he contracts to (one of Australia’s largest) insists that that he have a raft of insurances, including income protection, which either flat out can’t be obtained at over 65 y/o, or are only obtainable at prohibitive prices.

    I suspect that even in a direct employee-employer relationship, insurance companies will jack liability insurance costs right up for employers with people in their 70s & 80s on the books. Employers will find it more expensive to employ older workers, and as a rule, won’t.

    Comment by JT — April 24, 2014 @ 3:14 pm

  5. Work as long and as hard as you need to so that you can retire when you want to.
    Called planning for your future.

    Comment by Gil — April 25, 2014 @ 7:05 am

  6. Gil, if only it were that simple or easy!
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — April 25, 2014 @ 4:40 pm

  7. Well JT, that would seem like a legitimate area for government intervention if insurance companies are doing that sort of thing. I can remember being incensed when my parents weren’t able to hire a car in Tasmania because of their age.

    Comment by Graham — April 25, 2014 @ 10:28 pm

  8. Goodness me, what possible relevance could your example have to present day. If I remember correctly at that time you would leave school at sixteen and stay in the same job for the rest of your life. These days there is little or no job security but contracts that may or may not be renewed. Whilst I have no difficulty with a no mandatory retirement age for people who are employed, in good health and enjoying what they are doing, I wonder where all these employment opportunities are going to come from. It is unlikely that older people will be able to find jobs but if they do, what happens to those just starting out and seeking employment. The thought used to be that older workers would retire making room for the younger people. These days both parents need to work unlike when there was one breadwinner and a widows pension. But there are still women who have spent their time raising families and have little current work experience. Their chances of gaining employment until the ripe old age of 70 are almost non existent. However, I might find merit in the idea if all politicians had to retire at age 45. Then we may get some people looking forward not looking back.

    Comment by Sandra Lismore — April 26, 2014 @ 5:00 pm

  9. Sandra, a few points.
    The problem here for providing decent pensions at a reasonable retirement age, is revenue!
    Now some sensible reform and quite massive simplification, could actually lower the individual tax burden, but critically increase actual revenue, by finally forcing the avoiders to finally pay an equitable fair share.

    Second of all, given the right reform, we could simply junk all the then unnecessary taxes, like PAYE, PAYG, payroll tax, fuel excise, the GST, just to mention the most obvious!
    Just this much tax collection simplification/reform, would mean, household disposals could rise by a much as 25%!
    Meaning a non-compulsory super of 15% minimum, would become instantly available, as would a much more effective and reliable means of controlling inflation or stagnation; meaning, interest rates could come down to set and forget historical lows, to turbocharge the non-mining economy!

    If we forced pollies to retire at 45, there’d be nobody in either chamber?
    Simply put, all the current problems we have with both pollies and public servants, I believe, is very obvious immaturity and lack of real word experience. I mean, just listen to the Tonka truck/sand pit arguments, that so typify question time; or the, I believe, you go stand in a corner, school mam approach of the current speaker?

    Typically, know it all, but very inexperienced youngsters just over thirty or some such, believe they can run thing better?
    [And I’m not saying here, they shouldn’t have a say! The most important people in any debate are those who disagree with you, but particularly those who have well thought through, sound logical, well argued and articulated reasons for doing so!]
    Yet when handed the reins and ultimate unfettered control, comparative youngsters contributed with the GFC; the results of very clever young things, having their way, or plucking billions from yet unborn generations, or kicking the debt can down the road!

    Because nobody had the guts to much the ultra-rich pay a fair share of a common burden. And or, allowed too much finite wealth, collect in too few hands!
    You’d think at least some would have learned something from the great depression!? Or immutable cause and effect!

    There is no such thing as a self made man, born in the log cabin that he hewed from the wilderness with his own two hands; but rather, wealth is the combined product of many hands, many minds and much cooperation by perhaps millions, as occurred with the recovery of a war torn and basically bankrupt Japan.

    Perhaps if we made an age limit of 45, before anyone could enter politics or become a staffer, we could introduce an element of some real world experience and with it, some practical pragmatism to the decision making process, as would removing some of the entitlements!

    Just think Sandra, if all pollies were obliged to travel by train, tram etc and not as passengers in limousines, hearing only the conformation bias, we have the best public transport service in the world, and indeed, pollies who spent enough time with their constituents, to get a real feel of what was really needed, and not the great white elephants some have left as their only real legacy?
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — April 28, 2014 @ 11:43 am

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