It’s Time to Strike the Retirement System

The reckless depletion of our planet’s resources is a clear-cut violation of the intergenerational contract. If we continue down this path, there is no moral reason why our children should be expected to pay for our retirement.

Have you already planned for the retirement years? If so, I hope you have set aside enough funds and placed them in a safe investment. Because if you are counting on receiving regular retirement payments, the best thing to do is to forget this plan – quickly. At the moment, we are squandering the moral foundation of our claim to retirement benefits.

In Germany, as well in other places such as Austria, Japan and to some extent in Switzerland and the US, government retirement systems are being financed via one form or another of the “pay-as-you-go” method. This is based on the so-called intergenerational contract, a fictitious, implied contractual obligation between those paying into the system and the older generation. The moral basis of the obligation to pay into the retirement system is the assumption that each preceding generation has laid the foundation for the following generation to generate income. This obligation, or debt, is then gradually paid off through contributions into the retirement system from the new generation. In this kind of system, we earn our own future pension entitlement only by creating optimal conditions for the next generation, so that it in turn has a reason to honor the debt that arises.

A nice theory, but …

Until recently, and in light of uninterrupted economic growth, it was quietly assumed that each generation of parents would take this type of forward-thinking approach. It has meanwhile become obvious that this seemingly splendid economic balance represented only part of the picture. The full picture first becomes available when you factor in all of the costs that future generations will be required to pay for these success stories. Because the collateral damage stemming from our actions in the form of contaminated rivers, trash-filled oceans, depleted lands and man-made climate changes are visible absolutely everywhere.

The truth is, for decades we have been squandering our own ecological inheritance faster than we create new values for the coming generations. In the mid 1960s, we had already begun to collectively utilize more resources than we were able to renew during the same period of time. To put it another way, our “ecological footprint” began to overshoot the 1.0 Earth mark.

If we expect future generations to continue to finance our old age retirement, then it’s incumbent upon us to adequately satisfy our needs by significantly reducing our resource consumption and stop the spiral that began with industrialization as soon as possible.

Whose side are we on?

Honoring the commitment to the next generation is also the reason why Sympatex has positioned “sustainability” at the heart of its strategy – in every detailed aspect of our Agenda 2020. Curing a couple of hand-picked symptoms (or downplaying the issues) is no longer enough. We have to completely change our economic mindset.

For the textile industry, experts from the Global Fashion Agenda all agree that it means we have to drive ecological issues such as water and energy consumption, use of chemicals, climate change and recycling/circularity down new paths of sustainability as soon as possible.

It’s high time that we began to think about whether we should continue to ignore the protesting students hitting the streets this Friday, or whether we should side with the cynical politicians who see themselves as the better “experts.” Sooner or later, this generation will call us to account – especially if we expect them to continue financing our way of life during retirement.


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