• Emilio Singh

Intergenerational Collective Responsibility

Have you ever been told to save for the future because you might need it? Chances are, you have been told several times in the course of your life that you have to save. Save, invest, plan etc for the future because eventually you will need to be able to support yourself. For the most part, this has been the way our society has operated. Once you get a job, you are heavily incentivised to plan for your old age because, generally, the expectation is that you will need to take care of yourself.

It is a strange idea, that when you become least able to take care of yourself, you have to. Of course, in some respect, there is this idea that your children will help shoulder that burden, but if you do not have children up to the task, or if your children are incapable or unwilling, then you are own your own. What resources you have managed to squirrel away, your retirement savings, are meant to sustain you for the rest of your days.


The problem with this is that increasingly, more people are entering their old age with fewer and fewer resources. The current meme around the preceding generation, the boomers, is that they are exceedingly wealthy but generally very selfish. Their children, millennials, are overworked and underpaid and generally do not have much in the way of money. As the millennial generation grows up, they will face a very different future to their parents. Specifically, one in which their ability to provide for themselves is much lesser than their parents and if they have kids, and they generally are not, growing old will be an even larger burden than ever before.


So in this post I want to talk about an idea that I was introduced to regarding how we ought to think about the future and this idea is intergenerational collective responsibility.

As much as we imagine we have time, the life of a person is a very short one. Even if you have access to the wonders of medical science, eventually, time will catch up to you. With our current capitalist system, people are expected to provide for themselves. You work your job your entire life, and provided you do everything right (save, plan etc) you get to retire, your value as a worker spent and thus you get to "enjoy" what remains of your life. However, for the majority of people, this is a fairy tale. The age of retirement keeps getting pushed back, and other people are stuck increasingly in wage slavery where they work a job (sometimes even two or three) to get by but, importantly, do not save enough for their retirement.


So as these people age, they become increasingly desperate. They do not have large reserves of wealth to depend upon. If they had children, chances are those children are in a similar position to them and thus, would be saddled with even greater burdens to support them. The result of this gradual downward spiral, is that society is essentially casting off the people who are no longer able to work. These people, who did their time, who worked while they could, are being cast off to die in horrible conditions all for the crime of not being wealthy. This is the ultimate version of commodification of people under capitalism.

So if this is what is happening, why is it happening? Obviously the problem is the method of production. People earn less and work more, things cost more and people can afford less, so this might be the natural outcome of this system. This is a simple explanation of the problem but there is another one to consider. Specifically, the alienation of the people from their community. Capitalism is all about the individual. It is all about the "power" of the individual to do things (in particular own) and the ability of the individual to compete with others. Instead of a community, there are instead many individuals who must scramble over one another to survive. In this kind of environment, kindness is disincentivized in the harshest possible way. So what might be an alternative?


Here I would like to discuss the idea of intergenerational collective responsibility (ICR). The idea is quite simple. We are all creatures of limited time. Regardless of the advancements, and they are substantial, in medical science, all people will grow old and with old age, comes a feebleness and reduced ability to take care of ourselves. The work we do to contribute to society when we are able to, is primarily for the benefit of the society as a whole (and our own survival in it) and this ought to provide for the next generation who in turn will provide for us. It is to contextualise the contributions of everyone to society, as their investment in their future. This is especially important because people are already capable of understanding the concept of investment in the future; after all, people right now work for their children to give them a better life.

ICR is simply the extension of this idea so that anyone who contributes to society is contributing towards their own future and their own benefit for the time when they cannot contribute to the society. With our advancements in technology and methodology, we definitely do have the means to provide a dignity of life to everyone.


The moral of this story is that we ought to view society, and the work we do for it, as our investment in our own futures. Not only for ourselves, but for everyone that comes after us.

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