In June of this year I will celebrate my 80th birthday and as my son once observed, move from the “youth of old age” into old age. I cant say that I am excited about that, but it is certainly better than the alternative. It also seems an appropriate time to reflect upon the past and perhaps put some of our contemporary happenings into proper context. It is also best to do such things while ones memory is still intact.
For most of my life, many, if not the majority of people, in the world have been ruled by tyrants. Hitler and Mussolini ravaged Western Europe while Japanese imperialists raped and pillaged much of Asia. Stalin and Mao spread communism in a reign of terror in both Europe and Asia while minor despots in Africa, Asia and part of the Americas contributed their butchery to an overall loss of life of more than 100 million people.
The pivotal force in stemming this assault on humanity has been the United States, working on political, diplomatic and military fronts around the globe.
Given the price we have paid over the years in human lives and physical resources, one might ask whether it has been worth it. It seems to me that the answer is obviouslike the alternative to growing old, the alternative to opposing tyranny is also a certain finality.
But along the way some good things happened insofar as our business is concerned. Those of us who entered military service during World War II were presented with an unusual opportunitythe availability of GI insurance at bargain rates. Most of us, prior to entering the service, were covered by small industrial insurance policies and the prospect of being insured for $10,000 was mind-stretching.
When the 13 million under arms during the war became civilians again, their idea of an adequate insurance program permanently had been altered. Not long after the end of WWII, every insurance company offered a $10,000 special policy to meet the new demand, and sales records were broken year after year and the mind-stretching continues to this date.
The Great Depression of the 1930s also made an indelible impression upon me, and I am sure all my fellow octogenarians as well. Some 25% of the official workforce was unemployed and every city had its breadlines and hobo camps. It is estimated that the rate of unemployment actually was much higher than 25% because when WWII started, millions of workers came off of farms to work in defense jobs or the military and yet, farm production went up.
With the exception of government workers, retirement was not likely for most people. When grandpa could no longer work, he ended his days feeding chickens on the family farm.
But this was not practical for an increasingly urbanized society and so Social Security was born. For the first time the average person had a “floor of protection” upon which to build a retirement plan. Despite early misgivings this proved to be a boon to our business in that it injected hope into peoples thinking about retirement, whereas before there had only been despair.
However, over the years, Social Security has evoked criticism and political rhetoric that has kept us on edge for most of its history. I do not believe I can remember a time when it was not being assailed by one or both of our major political parties. Predictions of its bankruptcy have been rife for decades, but somehow we always manage to save it.