Following the introduction of the UK’s new anti-ageism laws, a recruitment agency has sent me an unusually sanctimonious and annoying brochure. “Remember, spotty little scrotes and doddering codgers have a valuable contribution to make at the workplace, so following the new law will actually help your business,” it more or less says.
It drives this do-gooding “you’re too dim to understand, so the government had better do it for you” message home with an extraordinarily stupid quote from American writer Norman Vincent Peale:
Ageism is as odious as racism and sexism.
No, it isn’t. Racism and sexism are considered particularly odious in society because they’re not fair. A white racist will never find himself denied a job because of the colour of his skin (while white racists tend to decry half-hearted attempts to redress their massive advantage in life as anti-white discrimination, this doesn’t make it so). A sexist man will never find himself deniedÂ a job because ofÂ his unwise choice of chromosones.
In short, some people are privileged and remain so forever; some people are disadvantaged and remain so forever. Even though individual white men might fuck up and ruin their lives, and even though individual black women might succeed admirably, the former will always have done so while facing fewer race- and gender-derived obstacles than the latter (obviously, a black female born into a loving family with enough money to get by will face fewer non-race and non-gender-derived obstacles than a white male born to a homeless alcoholic, but this isn’t relevant here).
Ageism doesn’t have the same effect: we are all every age at some point (except for people who die young, which is worse than being the victim of ageism anyway). If everyone who is 30 treats everyone who is 70 like shit, then this isn’t unfair at all: everyone in the first group will either be dead or be treated like shit in 40 years’ time, and net discrimination against individuals will be zero.
So ageism isn’t a fairness problem, and Mr Peale was an idiot. But worse than that, the introduction of anti-ageism lawsÂ will actually make things less fair.Â
The current crop of near-retirees looking for protection from this law are the baby-boom generation, who avoided WWII, profited massively from asset price rises throughout their adult lives, and left their descendants enormous financial and environmental liabilities to clear up. They also treated their parents’ generation like crap: abusive, horrible retirement homes flourished under the boomers’ rule, since they couldn’t be bothered to look after their parents themselves, andÂ they also severed the state pension / earnings link because they didn’t want to pay taxes to support anyone else’s either.
Suddenly, now they’re approaching the receiving end of this treatment, the fear is kicking in – so now, as a final act before retirement, the spoilt bastards have successfully lobbied for a law prohibiting their children from treating them the same way (as well as making their children pay through the nose to bail out their bankrupt pension schemes).
If that’s fairness, then I’m the Pope dressed in a Mohammed costume and clutching a novelty fake bomb vest at the annual Vatican fancy dress party.