Gillian Tett gives us a nice example of how even the more inteligent members of the political-journalistic class can miss the point. She says:
If “pensioners” [the Rolling Stones*] can now dance so wildly on stage, might it be time to rethink that whole concept of retirement?
Nor is it the case that retirement is, as Ms Tett complains, "terrible for the public purse", at least in the UK. The OBR projects that spending on state pensions will rise by 2.6 percentage points of GDP between now and 2061-62, to 8.3%. This is not big money. It is only two-thirds of the standard deviation of the share of government spending in GDP since 1966. And it's less than the increase in public spending between 1990 and 1993 or between 2000 and 2002, and only half the amount by which the OBR expects public spending to fall between now and 2017-18.
Instead, the issue here is freedom. For the vast majority of people, work is not a pleasant means of gratifying the ego - as it is for Ms Tett and people like her - but is instead dull drudgery and the sacrifice of real (pdf) freedom. Even I, whose employment is less burdensome than, I guess, 95% of people, still have to do lots of things I'd rather not.
For most people, then, retirement means liberty. And, surely, liberty is a luxury good - the sort of thing we spend more on as we get richer. It's thus reasonable for richer societies to spend more on securing real freedom. And the OBR expects real GDP to be more than three times higher in 2061 than it is now.
And this is what Ms Tett - and more importantly, our entire political-journalistic-managerialist class - doesn't see, that work is wage slavery and that retirement is freedom.
In fact, what's remarkable about economic growth in recent decades is how little it has been used to increase leisure. In 1931, Keynes famously suggested (pdf) that rising prosperity would lead to a 15-hour working week. Since he wrote that, the working week has dropped only from an average of 43 hours to 31.
Exactly why we haven't chosen leisure to the extent that Keynes expected is a separate question. But it might be reasonable for future generations to make Keynes' choice, and to exercise that choice not so much by working less each week, but by freeing themselves from wage slavery as soon as possible.
* Am I alone in thinking that Mick Jagger is one of the biggest twats who ever drew breath? (I've nowt against Keith: anyone who loves cats and Gram Parsons passes muster.)