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Iain Hunter: What will we leave our grandchildren?

Imagine a person of my advanced generation taking a child by the hand to a promontory, waving at the prospect before them and declaring stentoriously: “One day all this will be yours.” Now imagine the child’s reply.

Imagine a person of my advanced generation taking a child by the hand to a promontory, waving at the prospect before them and declaring stentoriously: “One day all this will be yours.”

Now imagine the child’s reply. It would probably be: “Are you joking?” Or a wry “thanksalot.” Or in twitterspeak: “LOL.”

The prospects being passed on to future generations these days aren’t really much to laugh about, though, according to some reports last week.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce economists have predicted Canadians in their late 20s or early 30s today can look forward to a 30 per cent decline on average in their standard of living when they retire.

Sun Life Financial reports that only 27 per cent of Canadian adults expect that they’ll be able to retire by the age of 66, compared with 51 per cent only four years ago.

The universal bank HSBC has calculated that on average, Canadians are expected to live in retirement for 19 years, but that their average savings are expected to last only 11.

It’s said the baby boomers are braced for what’s to come, but their children haven’t been saving enough for their retirement. CIBC estimates that Canadians are saving only four per cent of income; 20 years ago they were putting away 20 per cent. HSBC found 23 per cent of them haven’t done anything at all to prepare for retirement.

And private pension plans have eroded — they won’t provide as much in benefits as they once promised and, for Canadians in their late 20s and early 30s, are hard to find anyway.

So should we, who have been able to put aside savings for the rainy day we all have to face eventually, feel sorry for the generations who’ve lived for the moment and not the future?

Should we, indeed, feel guilty?

Yer dern tootin’.

Those of us who have reached or are approaching retirement have swooped and dived for most of our lives over social safety nets that now are badly frayed. We have become entitled to health care that everyone else pays for and expectant that this is the way our kids’ education is to be provided.

But we’re hanging around too long, demanding too many new cures and that our kids’ “education” begin earlier and last longer. And there aren’t enough everyone elses to foot the bill. Generations that never knew the deprivations of depression or war cast aside thrift, and with it common sense.

And those of us who may have worked hard for whatever we’ve got have taught our children to enjoy the fruits of our labour. We’ve taught them to assume that their own labours will bear fruits just as plentiful and are surprised at their disappointment.

Oh, I know this is simplistic generalization. Some of us have done better than others at preparing those who would follow in our footsteps or make new ones for the road ahead.

There seems to be a greater recognition that a university degree, or several, doesn’t guarantee a life of “success” and not one of “failure.”

But we’ve conditioned our youngsters to believe that home ownership is worth eating up capital that might be more useful, or needed, in later life. We’ve encouraged them to take holidays they might not be able to afford, to fill their lives with luxuries and gadgetry that, like so many “homes” being built today, are designed to fall apart.

Those who order our economies have produced giddying cycles of crippling high interest rates followed by low ones where savings are hardly worthwhile, and where standards of living seem to be in endless decline.

Those basking in retirement will brook no sacrifices to provide help for the young, as Paul Kershaw, professor of public policy at the University of B.C., pointed out last week, the B.C. budget provides a pittance for child care and thousands in spending for health care of which retired people are already gobbling up the lion’s share.

Why? Because old farts like me need looking after, but youth will find a way?

A nudge from the child on that promontory should do for that old codger.

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