These days, there’s never a complete consensus on any big issue. You can always find a small minority of pundits who will still argue – often surprisingly plausibly – that there’s no such thing as global warming, or that smoking doesn’t actually cause cancer, or that there’s no danger of Sumatran tigers becoming extinct, or whatever. But whether or not you choose to agree with these people, you’re not in much doubt that theirs is the minority position. Rightly or wrongly, the large majority takes the opposite view.
The current longevity thing is a bit of an exception. As far as I can see, the argument is balanced pretty much exactly 50:50 between those who believe we can look forward to many years of rapidly-increasing longevity, and those who believe the opposite – many years of rapidly-increasing shortgevity, you might say.
Both have excellent arguments and statistics on their side, with the result that both are entirely plausible. The longevitists point mainly to advances in medical science, and also the rapid decline in smoking. The shortgevitists point mainly to growing obesity and lack of exercise.
The thing is, they can’t both be right – well, actually, in a sense they can, if there is, say, one segment of the population which is living longer and one which is living less long, but even so there must be an overall net position.
And clearly the actual outcome is hugely important in all sorts of ways, but not least for the financial services industry which does have to fundamentally decide whether it needs to spend vast amounts of time and money working on new products and services designed for people living on through 40 or 50 year periods in long and generally healthy retirements, or designed for people having to pack up work and live on benefits from the age of 45 until their untimely deaths a few years later because of their extreme obesity.
If there is any shape to the argument currently, I’d say it’s the FS people who expect the next generation to live to 100, whereas it’s the medics who expect them to choke to death on their deep-fried pizzas at 50. But whether that’s right or not, I wish some sort of consensus would emerge. It’s very schizophrenic for a copywriter to be spending the mornings writing about the horrendous implications of people living too long, and the afternoons writing about the growing risk of dreadfully premature death.
Come on medics and actuaries, what are the facts here? We haven’t got all day. Or perhaps we have.