The old will change the world!


Some thirty years ago, a young family father used his Saturday to go shopping with his wife. The two of them wished to buy appropriate apparel for a celebratory do. A stunning robe and a good suit for him. Both were very happy. He, the young man, had just successfully completed his degree at a university of applied sciences and was about to be honoured the following week in a formal ceremony together with his fellow students in one of Frankfurt’s towers.

When the young man got home he got a phone call from his mother – of course there were no smartphones at the time – who told him that his father had died. Immediately, the young man had to adjust his priorities and decided not to attend the celebratory party he and his wife had been looking forward to.

By now, you will probably be perfectly able to guess who was that young man from this little story.

My life has so far been blessed with many wonderful things throughout the sixty years that I have been equally blessed to be on this earth. The birth of my two children is as much part of this as is the wedding with their mother, my wife. Being appointed to the board of a co-operative bank was a wonderful occurrence, too.

Of course, there were setbacks as well, professionally and privately. After all, that is life. It just does not entail a guaranty of running smoothly at all times.

the demographic dividend is about to expire

The so-called baby boomers – the cohorts up until 1965 – will be retiring over the next few years‘ time. The economic success story, alongside its high growth rates, is down to them and their work. A growing labour force has been steadily increasing the PCI over the last few decades or so. This seems to be over by and large.

The next decades are forecast to bring Germany, Europe and the world slim growth rates of just one percent. The reason:

the world is turning evermore grey

Especially in China, with the reason for that being “one-child” policy, which makes China age at an extremely fast pace. Asia, generally, is forecast to have more than half of its population over the age of sixty by 2030. In Europe, half of the population will have reached the fifty years mark in the same year. Only parts of the Arab world and Africa can expect high natality figures.

World population, therefore, is set to grow for some years, but will ultimately shrink in some decades’ time. Based on expected natality figures worldwide, most predictions envisage this. But – what does that actually mean?

Naturally, the number of potential consumers is about to shrink as well. Our present growth model is going to run out!

Our present wealth and the staggering growth rates of the past decades are down to nothing but the drastic increase in the world’s population over the last century. This wealth has now, alongside another very important factor, education, caused this decline in natality. Women no longer want seven or eight children. They want to make the most of their lives and that, in the twenty-first century, does entail more than permanent pregnancy and solely caring for one’s children. In my opinion, they have got the right to decide this for themselves.

being old is a societal taboo

You will probably feel younger than your actual biological age might let other people think. This perceived age can vary by up to fifteen years. Today’s sixty-year olds are as well as last century’s forty-year olds.

In this country, “old” people seem to be of around seventy years of age. An eighty-three-year-old man in my table tennis team, still, is well and winning matches on a regular basis.

Many old-age pensioners value mental and physical health. Commercials portray them as highly zestful individuals who like caring for their grandchildren whilst having a balanced and healthy diet – they are in no way inferior to their younger fellows.

No-one wants to be old!

Quite the contrary is the case: old people are regarded as a burden costing the society money. “Old man!” is a highly pejorative insult, as is the word “retiree”. Can you remember this friendly line when elders entered a discothèque?

“Now they even come here to die.”

At present, we succumb to a youth craze. Ageing is regarded as some kind of illness – even though this is the most natural and human process imaginable which literally no-one is exempt from. And the unavoidable death? Nobody is talking about it. It is a taboo.

My attitude is best described by this quotation from Woody Allen:

“I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

old people as a resource

Currently, there are approximately 23 million old-age pensioneers in Germany, with this number set to rise. This raises an ever more pressing question:

“Why are old people constantly regarded as a cost factor – and thereby declared feckless – even though they could be used as a powerful resource?”

If somebody becomes unemployed around the age of fifty or so, the job search will be extremely difficult: they are too expensive, prone to intractability and able to think for themselves. That is the opinion of many employers.

Yet the advantages of mixed-age work groups are well-known:

Younger employees are more well-equipped to work with today’s modern technologies whilst they lack the experience and insiders’ knowledge of older members of staff. It can be extremely useful for companies to combine these two vital qualifications – and this cannot be achieved with only-young-age or only-older-age work groups.

Moreover, recent studies show that older people’s brains have got neuronal plasticity. They, therefore, are still able to acquire new skills and form their brains. If the brains of sixty-year-olds are still challenged to learn unknown things, they will even be able to grow.

Older people are a mostly unexploited resource – even though they have much to offer their employers and the wider society.

more becomes less

Last century’s unprecedented growth is about to expire in some decades’ time. The world economy, therefore, ought to acquire a new business model. What could this look like? The answer to this question is obvious:

If depleted, quantity can only be superseded by quality!

The greying nations of the earth are “mature” markets – fully-developed. There should therefore be a change into a post-economic world.

The prerequisite for this: “mature” markets need “mature” people!

How can we understand that?

The absence of growth will give rise to completely new challenges facing societies and companies. Business models which are focused solely on growth will be seriously endangered in the near future. They have only got one solution:
Change yourselves or vanish completely!

Successful companies undergo a change from constantly striving for everything “new” and, more generally, “more” to valuing being “social” and “connected”

This is the point at which old people come into play! Speaking of the “new old people” I am neither referring to you or indeed myself nor to others who are of mature age. Rather, the “new old people” are today’s fifteen- to forty-year-olds. They will be those who will be to form this change. After all, they are well-equipped to this and, more technically, will be in a worldwide majority in the future.



At the moment, and quite possibly for some decades to follow, there is a technical possibility of human beings eventually exterminating human beings. Whether that would happen by chance, on purpose or out of stupidity is of no relevance as to that. In the end, it might be down to devastating wars or the intensified and continuing destruction of our very livelihoods.

Yet, once the world will have greyed, war might have already disappeared from it. Seriously, are there any sixty-year-olds who would relish going to war? Are there any parents are prepared to put up with their only son being sent to war in the name of a highly insane cause?

There will not be any second, third or fourth sons anymore who might be unable to find a job and seek to fight for it by means of a civil war. These non-existent second, third or fourth sons simply cannot go into the alien to fight for their own place in the sun.

    systemic crises

There is a really possibility of grave systemic crises over the coming decades, as is illustrated by recent plans from the IMF and various central banks. The IMF plans to impose a penalty tax on cash, thereby paving the way for the complete abolition of cash and making all cashless financial transactions transparent. As it stands, this penalty tax has also been designed to encourage consumption. Even today, we see a system of negative interest rates on account balances. These are all plans to keep the show on the road.

We should therefore be prepared for massive crises of the global financial system. All of this with an unknown denouement. In any case, all affected societies will be shaken to their very core and are under the real threat of implosion.

    ecological crises

The energy crisis seems solvable. Energy supplied to the earth is 10,000 times higher than the amount of energy needed by humanity. This might be painful, but must be feasible.

Much more menacingly, the vanishing of biological hot spots – that is to say, biological diversity – is accelerating. At the moment, we can observe the vanishing of insects which, in turn, are the nutritional basis of various other organisms.

Experts assume that mankind bears responsibility for a fast-paced acceleration of the natural process of extinction. According to their research, the sixth large species extinction is already in progress.

In any case, the coming decades are set to be the ultimate intelligence test for mankind. If our minds are incapable of growing at the same rate as our arms and means of war, humanity will be extinguished. We are to mature intellectually and grow in the same way if we wish to survive.

mature personalities

Knowledge and science have exploded over the last century and is set to grow over the coming years. As has been said by Max Weber:

“Sciene may discern what is the case, but it will never be able to say what we are to wish for.”

All religions, however, try to channel what we wish for in their own way one-dimensionally.

They path to wisdom is to be found solely by means of own thinking.

Everything is about the big questions in life:

Who am I?

Who do I want to be?

What can I hope for?

What can I do?

If we survive the next thirty to fifty years unscathed, then there is a good chance that wisdom and reason will prevail.

How does wisdom evolve?

Certainly not by shopping, but through experience. The only way to acquire wisdom is through the ups and downs which spare no-one. Those who manage to cope with their downs will acquire wisdom. This may sound easy – but is one of the secrets of a successful life.

Mature people know about the vulnerability of life. They know that – at one point or another – they will have to leave this if they wish to or now. Yes, they accept it.

Mature people accept the contradictions, difficulties and hardships of life, without being bitter in any way. They know that, ultimately, their actions are insignificant, but that, nevertheless, they are part of something bigger than themselves.

The psychiatrist Prof Dr Michael Lehofer describes this very well:

“Bitter people do age, but they will not mature.”

Wise people free themselves of any constraints and addictions because they know that you have to live your live according to your own idea of it – according to what you want to do, that is to say.

Bitter people, conversely, are a burden to themselves.


Can you remember John Lennon’s 1971 song “Imagine”? This vision of a world of free and wise individuals seems to be as far away as ever, given the developments which are to be detected globally.

Yet anything takes its time – and the respective prerequisites. We have got reason to be optimistic.

The invention of letterpress printing in the fifteenth century was the first foundation of making education available to everyone. Computers and the internet are the technological extension of this. Rising standards of global education are responsible for an impressive decrease in natality figures. Full equality for women only began some hundred years ago with the suffragettes’ movement, those great fighters for universal suffrage. If we make sure that, in the future, every African woman will have access to the internet – at the moment, this figure looks worse: just one out of ten women has got access to it – natality figures will decrease substantially there.

There are five prerequisites for wisdom, which finally have got greater effect in this new constellation:

1.  better standards in education all over the world
2.  better connectivity due to modern communication devices.
3.  stagnating growth rates all over the world
4.  women achieve full equality
5.  the “greying” of the world

It, therefore, a stagnation of growth is not as bad presumed at the beginning. Indeed, it may be our only chance.

Let’s go!

The new old people will change the world – that refers to those who, in thirty to fifty years’ time, will be in the fourth quarter of their lives. My children, for example. Your children. They will have successfully gone on a journey to find themselves. This journey will smash old habits. They will have to adapt to new and unprecedented certainties. Lifelong learning will be a vital part of their journey. They will have to define success in a different way than is customary at present. And – they will work for their whole lives because they will be able to execute their work duties more independently self-determinedly than we could ever imagine.

They will be able to rely fully on their good experience – ultimately able to change the world with happiness and dedication. If they do not give resentment any chance. If they will grow to become wise and active personalities.

Then, the new old will be the creators of something very big!

Michael May   (c) 2019

Source Foto: Pixabay


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