Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey
by Allen Laudenslager

While marathon watching the television series “Downton Abbey,” I was struck by the attitudes and mannerisms of the “rich.”  They seemed very sure of their positions on every subject and were shocked and defensive whenever their assumptions and decisions were questioned.  Then it dawned on me that they lived in a world of paid servants.  Nearly everyone around them was paid by them to do what they wanted to be done and to do it in the rich person’s time while following the rich person’s directions.

In many ways, it is much like the celebrity privilege we see in the news today.  Particularly, younger celebrities’ living hedonistic lives with seemingly no one trying to stop their excesses.  I attribute that behavior to their position as employers.  Their business managers, lawyers, and personal staff are not hired to tell them “no, don’t do that!”  Those people are specifically hired to enable the undisciplined celebrities to do what they want, when they want, and to buffer the celebrities from any negative consequences.

It’s the same kind of behavior we see in many business managers today.  They think that being conferred with decision-making authority and being surrounded by people paid to do what the boss wants somehow has also granted them universal knowledge and judgment in ALL subjects.  The problem, of course, is that while senior managers are making decisions at the strategic level they have lost contact with many of the day-to-day operational necessities of their business.  And that’s as it should be.  Very few people can hold a clear mental picture of every detail of a business and still shift “hats” to encompass the long-range thinking necessary to guide a business.

To overcome this, we must first admit that there’s a problem.  The problem is pride and the solution is humility.  In these situations, a manager has to accept that none of us can be the best at everything and that the larger the range of issues you are called to make decisions about, the more important it becomes to trust your subject matter experts and to follow their advice even when it runs contrary to your wishes.  Even the President of the United States does not make decisions in a vacuum.  He has subject matter experts to advise him on what to do.  A foolish manager surrounds himself with sycophants (yes men); a wise manager surrounds himself with people who will say, “no that’s not right!”

In the era of Downton Abbey, the servants had to be sycophants if they wanted to keep their jobs.  And hedonistic celebrities continue that tradition.  But today if you want to run a successful business or organization, managers can’t afford to be prideful like they were in Downton Abbey; they have to become humble and accept they can’t know everything and be willing to take the advice of their trusted employees on what to do.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Americans Are Retiring Later, Dying Sooner and Sicker In-Between

Americans Are Retiring Later, Dying Sooner and Sicker In-Between

U.S. life expectancy is declining, new calculations show.
The U.S. retirement age is rising, as the government pushes it higher and workers stay in careers longer.
But lifespans aren’t necessarily extending to offer equal time on the beach. Data released last week suggest Americans’ health is declining and millions of middle-age workers face the prospect of shorter, and less active, retirements than their parents enjoyed.
Here are the stats: The U.S. age-adjusted mortality rate—a measure of the number of deaths per year—rose 1.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to the Society of Actuaries. That’s the first year-over-year increase since 2005, and only the second rise greater than 1 percent since 1980.

At the same time that Americans’ life expectancy is stalling, public policy and career tracks mean millions of U.S. workers are waiting longer to call it quits. The age at which people can claim their full Social Security benefits is gradually moving up, from 65 for those retiring in 2002 to 67 in 2027.
Almost one in three Americans age 65 to 69 is still working, along with almost one in five in their early 70s.
Postponing retirement can make financial sense, because extended careers can make it possible to afford retirements that last past age 90 or even 100. But a study out this month adds some caution to that calculation.
Americans in their late 50s already have more serious health problems than people at the same ages did 10 to 15 years ago, according to the journal Health Affairs.

University of Michigan economists HwaJung Choi and Robert Schoeni used survey data to compare middle-age Americans’ health. A key measure is whether people have trouble with an “activity of daily living,” or ADL, such as walking across a room, dressing and bathing themselves, eating, or getting in or out of bed. The study showed the number of middle-age Americans with ADL limitations has jumped: 12.5 percent of Americans at the current retirement age of 66 had an ADL limitation in their late 50s, up from 8.8 percent for people with a retirement age of 65.
At the current retirement age of 66, a quarter of Americans age 58 to 60 rated themselves in “poor” or “fair” health. That’s up 2.6 points from the group who could retire with full benefits at 65, the Michigan researchers found.
Cognitive skills have also declined over time. For those with a retirement age of 66, 11 percent already had some kind of dementia or other cognitive decline at age 58 to 60, according to the study. That’s up from 9.5 percent of Americans just a few years older, with a retirement age between 65 and 66.
While death rates can be volatile from year to year, Choi and Schoeni’s study is part of a raft of other research showing the health of Americans deteriorating.
Researchers have offered many theories for why Americans’ health is getting worse. Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, a Nobel Prize winner, have argued that an epidemic of suicide, drug overdoses and alcohol abuse have caused a spike in death rates among middle-age whites.
Higher rates of obesity may also be taking their toll. And Americans may have already seen most of the benefits from previous positive developments that cut the death rate, such as a decline in smoking and medical advances like statins that fight cardiovascular disease.
Declining health and life expectancy are good news for one constituency: Pension plans, which must send a monthly check to retirees for as long as they live.
According to the latest figures from the Society of Actuaries, life expectancy for pension participants has dropped since its last calculation by 0.2 years. A 65-year-old man can expect to live to 85.6 years, and a woman can expect to make it to 87.6. As a result, the group calculates a typical pension plan’s obligations could fall by 0.7 percent to 1 percent.

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