As most developed countries seem to keep increasing the mandatory retirement age as pension costs spiral and life expectancies keep increasing (see “Living Forever” posted January 19, 2011), it does beg the question as to why we would bother keeping mandatory retirement ages at all?

The baby boomers are currently hitting their supposed working use-by dates and increasingly the developed nations are starting to find that there are significant skills shortages, driven in no small part by declining birth rates over the last 50 years. Whilst birth rates in African nations average about 4 or more per 100 of population (Niger, Mali, Uganda are at about 5), in the developed world this is closer to 1 per 100 (Germany, Canada, UK are at about 1, Australia, NZ, US, France are at about 1.4).

By Nwbeeson (own work); via Wikipedia

This leaves developed nations only 2 workable options for access to the needed skills. Either increase the outsourcing of areas of shortage to the developing world or keep increasing the retirement age. We have already outsourced most of our manufacturing to China, but at a birth rate of 1.4 per 100 even they are not an infinite option, and unless we can seriously boost the education levels in the developing world, they will not be able to meet our skill needs of the future. This means that we have no real option other than finding a way to keep people working well beyond what we currently set as being the acceptable age limit.

There are also a number of external forces that are coming together that should enable us to get rid of mandatory retirement age completely.

Faced with increasing life expectancies and diminishing work forces, governments too have only a small number of choices in their attempts to be able to afford to continue to fund retirement. They can increase taxes, cut pensions or keep increasing the retirement age. A survey carried out recently for the HSBC in 10 countries that together make up more than half the world’s population, found that over 80% of the 11,000 people surveyed felt that people should be able to keep working for as long as they wanted to, and as long as they were capable of doing so. They didn’t particularly want to work full time in their later years, but they wanted to replace full retirement and rest with a mix of work, learning and leisure.

Increasing taxes on an ever diminishing work-force and cutting pensions both had little support from those surveyed.

As well, many people are realising that they will actually not be able to afford their retirement without augmenting their income beyond that provided by their pension. The financial disasters of the last few years have depleted both public and private pension funds, and ever rising costs have resulted in many people having significantly less available financially for retirement than originally planned. Most of those surveyed did not equate their “retirement” with stopping to work for pay in some form or other.

Except in France where most people would prefer retirement to start on graduation from university (see “Vive L’Avantage” posted September 27, 2010), most sexagenarians I know are still working either part-time in their previous roles, working as business consultants, practising medicine, making wine, teaching, selling real estate and so on, and most feel that they will continue to work as septuagenarians if given the opportunity to do so, though I imagine that driving heavy machinery or performing microsurgery may need to be excluded.

Mariusz Kubik (own work), http://www.mariuszkubik.pl; permission GDFL

In the last decade I have come across many European companies who struggle to recruit against a global war for talent in areas that are pivotal to their business success, but who continue to push people out the door as they reach some arbitrarily set retirement age, based more on how their government tries to balance the books rather than whether the people have passed their value point for the organisation.

Companies who will survive know that having the needed skills is critical for business success, and that this has less to do with actual physical age than with mental agility.

As Pablo Picasso said “Youth has no age”.

Pablo Picasso 1962; Source: Revista Vea y Lea, Argentina



“We create an environment where it is alright to hate, to steal, to cheat, and to lie if we dress it up with symbols of respectability, dignity and love.”
Young, Whitney Moore Jr. (1921-1971) American Civil Rights Leader

It appears that some people believe that it is alright to steal if we just call it “fiddling expenses”, and particularly if we dress it up with the respectability of high office and public service.

I find it hard to understand how people in senior elevated positions can justify this mode of petty theft as being their right and one of “the perks” of the job, and risk their reputations, their position in society, their families and friends, and their jobs for the sake of some relatively paltry amounts.

One company I worked for had to fire a number of senior people for cheating on their company fuel cards. These were people with annual salaries well in excess of €100,000, but they were prepared to risk everything in return for regularly filling up their spouse’s car at company expense which gained them about €50 each time. Some of them were so sure that this was their right that they didn’t even bother to try and hide the fact that they were filling up with both diesel and unleaded with the same fuel card.

We also see this “pickpocket” mentality in our politicians, most recently in the UK, where their defence is that they were told by others that this form of “theft” was actually part of their remuneration package. It is one thing to believe that the public should pay for fixing your moat … at least you can argue that you “genuinely” thought that general maintenance was included in your allowable expense package, and that moat fixing fell into that category. It is another thing entirely when you lie and falsify reality to be recompensed for things that are not real, like expenses incurred for a house that you don’t actually own or live in.

By Rustedstrings (Own work) (CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), from Wikimedia Commons

Lord Taylor of Warwick is facing jail after being convicted of making false expense claims totalling £11,000, saying that it was “…a common practice …” for at least 85% of all peers to “ … maximise their expenses …”. Lord Taylor, who is a qualified barrister was convicted for claiming night subsistence and mileage on a house where he had never spent a night and which actually belonged to his nephew.
David Chaytor, the former Labour MP for Bury North has already been jailed for 18 months for falsely claiming £20,000 in expenses, and Eric Illsley, the Labour MP for Barnsley Central has pleaded guilty to a similar offence and is awaiting sentence. The list goes on, and for similar small amounts.

By comparison, Ronald Biggs and his cohorts pulled off the “The Great Train Robbery” in1963, when they held up the Glasgow mail train. He got away with £2.6 million, which is equivalent to about £40 million today, and became a national folk hero in the process. With the help of a daring jail break and then fleeing the country, he has spent just 8 years in jail and was only caught when after 35 years on the run, and because of ill health, he decided to return to the UK and surrender.

By Dhaluza http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dhaluza (see page for license), from Wikimedia Commons

 This means that if we calculate the risk/reward ratios, then Biggs at £40 million for 8 years of incarceration equates to £5 million per year. Bernie Madoff who ran the largest Ponzi scheme in the history of mankind was given a jail sentence of 150 years for theft of $65 billion which annualises to over $400 million. However, as Madoff is already 73 years old, the odds are that he will at most last only 15 years giving him an actual annual return of $4 billion.

Ex MP David Chaytor, a man who had managed to rise to high office in English politics, risked it all for a mere £13,000 per year making him an extremely base and insignificant petty criminal. 200 years ago he would have been deported to one of the colonies.

Honesty and integrity are certainly the best way to live your life, but if you really do decide to do something illegal you should definitely opt for grand larceny just to make the potential rewards worth risking your entire future life and everything that you have achieved so far.

If you pick the right target, you may even end up a folk hero in the process.


Who needs real life when we have i-Phone Apps and social networks that can emulate most of it, and make it feel even better than reality?

On February 8th, 2011 the Catholic Church gave their approval for an i-Phone app that allows do-it-yourself confessions called “Confessions: A Roman Catholic”. We already have existing Christian i-Phone apps for “The Daily Scroll” and “The Touchwood Bible”, and there is even an app “ichristian”, where you can learn how to become a Christian, register as one and actually even get a certificate to prove that you are one. All we need now is a recording of the Lord’s Prayer plus an app for “Sermons-on-line”, and one for handling wedding vows, and no one will ever need to physically go to church, particularly if the “Bury your own Dead” app I have planned gets over the opposition from the Undertakers Association.

By Alex Tora (Own work) (GFDL or CC-BY-3.0 license), from Wikimedia Commons

I imagine that not to be left out the Chief Rabbi will now have to counter with an app for do-it-yourself circumcisions or at the least “Barmitvahs-r-us”. This would add to the Jewish i-Phone apps that already exist such as “iblessing”, which has blessings for food and other things, “siddur”, which covers prayers including morning and evening services, and even “Better Buy Au” which, for Jewish Aussies, compares prices in supermarkets and other retail stores so you can make sure that you are getting the best deal. I find this last one strange as I have always believed that being Jewish meant never having to buy anything at retail.

By Kostisl (Own work) (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons

For many, social networks have taken over from the global village, the only difference is that what I say in our small village in France will have to live with me for at least 2 years, whereas what I say on Twitter or Facebook will last about 10 minutes at best. The other difference is that in real life I know that I can manage about 150 friends maximum (Dunbar’s number), whereas Facebook allows me 5000 (see “Fourth secret of success” posted November 4, 2010), which means that I can think of myself as being incredibly popular without actually ever having to physically meet anyone. You can post a photo that makes you look like the devil-may-care individual that you wish to portray, rather than someone who has been cowed and beaten down by life, or represent yourself with a photo of a Ferrari when you are actually closer to a Trabant in real life. For a long time I had a photo of my dogs on Facebook, which I have now replaced with a photo of me leaning on a fence with my head resting nonchalantly on one hand. The reality is that this pose enables my hand to pull back the skin on my face to adjust the double chin and smooth out the wrinkles at the same time.

Who needs real life when there are Avatar sites, such as IMVU where you can create your own fantasy life in 3D, and get away from the realities of a boring job and a demanding family, and where money and success are a given rather than a journey through life, and no matter what you eat or drink you can always look just like a young Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie in her teens. I haven’t joined IMVU because I couldn’t reconcile looking like a barely post-teens member of a boy band on his way to the beach or just coming back from a hard night out. I will keep looking for a fantasy world that lets me have an avatar that looks like Robert Redford when he was about 50, has the financial wisdom of George Soros and the energy of a 20 year old. After 45 years in Information Technology, I also know that there is a good chance that I will end up with an avatar that looks like George Soros, has the financial wisdom of a 20 year old, and the energy of Robert Redford who is now 75 years old.

By Kaotic.nite (Own work) (CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)), via Wikimedia Commons

By Burts (GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), via Wikimedia Commons

If someone could just come up with smell surround and a true-to-life touch sensor pad we would never have to leave the house ever again, and we could all forget about real life.
Just remember that as Dr Grace Augustine says in the movie Avatar “Don’t play with that. You’ll go blind.”


I just spent 2 days in Bangalore at SAP Labs India delivering a series of management workshops and some lectures to different groups of staff. It is about 7 years since I was last there and the changes are staggering.

Since I first visited India in 1997, I have always argued that India would explode onto the world, even more than China, and was involved in the set-up of the LABS in Bangalore in 1998 when I was CEO SAP Asia Pacific. I had no doubt that China would succeed, primarily as the world’s low cost factory, but I believed that India would succeed because of the enormity of its intellectual capital.
China encourages education but not intellect, as that creates dissidents. India on the other hand was always a country of dissidents … currently over 1 billion of them.

When we set up SAP Labs in Whitefield, Bangalore in 1998 we leased the top 3 floors of a new building which sat alone proudly in fields that stretched for miles. Today that same building is dwarfed by its neighbours and the whole area is built up with corporate campuses (mainly technology companies) and those that service them. The growth is mind boggling, and it’s not just the global hi tech companies. Home grown TCS alone will add 90,000 people in India in 2011. That is not much less than the total number of people employed globally full time in IT when I wrote my first piece of elementary code in 1965 on an Eliot 803 in machine code.

Now SAP Labs stretches across a campus of 21 acres and multiple facilities with almost 4000 staff and has had to expand into neighbouring rented buildings to handle their growth.

What has always impressed me about India is that the people have an unshakeable belief in the future of their country no matter what obstacles they have to overcome, and younger Indians have built their own belief in their personal future on top of this, based on an understanding that it is totally up to them to drive this future. I compare this with the general cynicism in France where I live, where everyone blames their personal state of affairs on external factors and thus expects the Government to take responsibility for each individual citizen’s life opportunities. This Indian attitude to life has even strengthened in the last 14 years since I first encountered it. In 1997 most young Indians had a strong desire to move to the US, as this was seen as the land of opportunity. Today young Indians I meet would love an overseas assignment somewhere interesting and different, and where they can learn and build their skill set and experiences, but have no real burning desire to move away from India in the long term.

I don’t blame them.

Whilst there is still a giant chasm between those at the high end of the social structure and those at the bottom, the chasm is being slowly but inexorably filled in, and I have met many young Indians from poor backgrounds who through the opportunity for education have managed to cross this divide.

India also still needs a concerted effort to drive out corruption at all levels, but I believe that the desire and momentum are there to address this, even though I am sure that it will not be a quick fix.

This is a country where each generation still has a belief that their responsibility is to improve the lot of those that follow them. This was always the dream of the “new world” when millions emigrated from war ravaged Europe in the late 40s and 50s to build better lives for their families in places like the US, Canada, Australia and NZ, with the promise of reward for hard work and unlimited opportunities to better ones lot.
It was for these reasons that my family emigrated to Australia from France in 1951, and we did find a land of opportunity and an explosive energy and certainty about the possibility of building a great future for all, and it has becomea reality there.
In this respect, India feels the same to me today as Australia did 60 years ago and I have no doubt that they too will succeed in many incredible ways.


We are seeing major unrest and demonstrations in the secular Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East, most recently in Tunisia and Egypt, but also in Jordan, Yemen and Algeria and a number of others.

We are being told that the main reason is skyrocketing costs that normal people can’t cope with, and that people are sick of living under oppressive dictatorships, wanting democracy instead.

I get nervous that every time there is a popular uprising in the world, we in the west always optimistically believe that it is because people everywhere thirst for our version of democracy. We should surely have learned a lesson by now that as Bob Dylan said

“Democracy don’t rule the world, you’d better get that in your head; This world is ruled by violence, but I guess that’s better left unsaid.”

Whilst I am not generally a conspiracist, I can’t get rid of this uneasy feeling that there is some background orchestration behind these “spontaneous” riots all suddenly happening at the same time. Whilst I understand that modern communications, the internet and social networks make for cosmic consciousness (what I call the Pesto effect), I find it hard to accept that this could all happen so quickly and simultaneously and yet only in secular Muslim countries.

To understand what may be going on, one needs to ask as to what will happen after the dictators are gone. Who will step into the void that is left behind? And why is it happening in just the secular Muslim countries?

The largest opposition party in these countries is the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and in Egypt where it started, despite being officially banned, the MB have led public opposition to the ruling National Democratic Party of President Hosni Mubarak. The MB say that they support Democratic principles, and as they postulate that Islam supports democracy, their goal is to create a state ruled by Islamic Law, Sharia, their slogan being “Islam is the solution”.

Attribution: Presidenza della Repubblica; Source: http://www.quirinale.it/elementi/
Continua.aspx?tipo=Foto&key=9701; via Wikipedia

Sayyid Qutb, a leader of the MB, advocated the use of Jihad against “ignorant societies”, both Western and Islamic ones, as they were in need of “radical transformation”. His writings are known to have inspired leaders of most radical Muslim groups including al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad. He was “martyred” in 1966.

The Mubarak regime’s repression of the opposition parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, appears to have been one of the main triggers for the massive anti-government demonstrations that we have seen this year, and many believe that the MB were the leaders in fomenting this unrest.

The Muslim Brotherhood is active in Jordan as the Islamic Action Front, which has the most seats of any party in the Jordanian parliament, in Tunisia as the Renaissance Party (2nd largest Islamist group), in Palestine and Syria as Hamas, as well as being active in Sudan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iran and Iraq. We have to accept that whatever happens in these countries and whatever is the form and makeup of the replacement governments, the MB will play a major role in their structure, and in many will actually have the controlling position.

Western nations have always tended to support their favourite dictators way past their use-by dates … look at the French with Bao Dai and US with Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam, as well as Mubarak in Egypt.

Whether we agree or not with what is currently happening in North Africa and the Middle East, we should leave these people to make their own choices of who should govern them even if we see their choices as being just between “the bad and the ugly” with no “good” on offer.

Even if the Muslim Brotherhood makes us nervous, if we believe in the concept of democracy and free choice, we must let each country define democracy in the way that suits them, rather than believe that the only good democracy is the one that elects those leaders that we find acceptable.

As George Bernard Shaw said “Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”


French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) said “In democracy we get the government we deserve”

We must have all been very bad over the last decades or so if we really do deserve the leaders that we have ended up with, and the ones positioning to control our futures.

I do understand that in theory governments that are democratically elected are done so by the electorate, so generally we get whomever the majority wants, and therefore it is our fault if we end up with poor leadership. But it is hard to just blame the electorate, as it is the political parties who decide who will be on our list of choices, and the small list that we have had to choose from has hardly been impressive. The question is that if these are the best that exist in their parties, how good are the lesser party members that are selecting them and putting them on a short list for us to choose from?

In France, Nicolas Sarkozy looked like a reasonable candidate from the UMP (Centre Right) for the Presidency in 2007 when lined up against Segolene Royale (Socialists) and Jean Marie Le Pen (National Front). Apart from courting and marrying Carla Bruni his achievements have been minimal. The raising of the retirement age from 60 to 62 was actually a typical move of cowardice, as most advisers had recommended moving directly to 65, which most of the developed world had already done. The French electorate had believed that he would usher in an era of change bringing France back into a position of importance in a changing world. The reality is that he has changed little and in doing little has alienated even his supporters, thus dropping his approval rating from 53% to win the last election to about 30% currently, meaning that he has almost no chance of re-election in 2012, making Royale a sure bet for the Presidency. Marine Le Pen the new leader of the National Front looks poised to take enough votes away from the UMP to make the possibility of Sarkozy being eliminated in the first pass a reality.

France is not alone in questionable leadership.

Australia has Julia Gillard (the “Prime Sheila”), who makes Australians look and sound like a bunch of yokels and who recently confessed that “matters foreign” are not really her thing, and the US is facing the real possibility that Sarah Palin (who thinks Africa is a country) will be the Republican Party candidate for the Presidency in 2012. Silvio Berlusconi in Italy seems to be spending more time with young “pretties” than with his cabinet (obviously touting for the youth vote), and Belgium hasn’t managed to put together a stable government in over 2 years.

By MystifyMe Concert Photography (Troy) (Prime Minister Julia Gillard (25)) (CC-BY-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

By Therealbs2002 (Own work) (CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons



Add the real “crazies” to this list like Muammar al-Gaddafi who said “There is no state with a democracy except Libya on the whole planet”, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “A powerful Iran is the best friend of neighbouring states, and the best guarantor of regional security”, Kim Jong-Il of North Korea who asked “Why are hundreds of thousands of people dying in off-limit areas?”, Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe “The only white man you can trust is a dead white man”, and Jacob Zuma of Sth Africa “I took a shower to cut the risk of contracting HIV”, and you start to understand the fact that we are leaving the running of our planet to a relatively small number of blunderers or butchers.

By Daniella Zalcman from New York City, USA. Website http://dan.iella.net/ (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 2) (CC-BY-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Attribution: GCIS (Government Communication and Information System), via Wikimedia Commons


How many mirrors did we have to break, black cats did we have to pass, and ladders did we have to walk under to deserve this?

Even the 10 plagues of Egypt didn’t have the option of running for a second term.