Life expectancy: a sign of big trouble to come

Ask yourself -“why does the headline below matter so much?” Go on, think before you read below it.

State Pension Age should remain at 66 for decades due to stalling life expectancy (Daily Mail 20 December 2021) [1]

Alright, we’ll tell you why. Because life expectancy should not be falling in a society like the United Kingdom. From the industrial revolution onwards it has been rising for centuries. Men and women can expect to live for decades longer than their Georgian or Victorian ancestors [2] With the truly astonishing richness of medical and scientific knowledge available, we should expect more rises-or at at least a long steady plateau. But since about 2010 it has been declining. Something is very, very wrong.

The media bombards us daily with stories that seem important-Mr Putin, Global Warming, Covid, football, GDP,fashion……. Some are doubtless significant in the long term, others less so. Governments, companies, and individuals spin the best gloss on all of these things all of the time. That’s why it’s important to look beneath, at the deep trends revealed by the slow patient work of people like actuaries, academics and statisticians. The UK economy is no longer delivering.

Why does this disturb us? Older readers will remember something called the Soviet Union which was continually pushing out barrages of propaganda about how good life was there, and how everything they did was getting better. Yet in 1976 a man called Emmanuel Todd published a work called La Chute Finale (The Final Fall) in which he predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union. By a careful reading of the statistics which the USSR published (and those they seemed eager not to publish) he was able to show that the economy was badly failing its citizens. And that therefore Trouble would come.

You know the rest. The test of any theory is if its predictions come true, and Todd was right on. So, if the UK economy is malfunctioning, and official pronouncements are empty boasts, what next for us in these islands?

we thank Mr Peter Seymour of Hertfordshire for the idea for this story



[3] Emmanuel Todd La Chute Finale Robert Lafford 1976

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