Column: Roger's Soapbox

Fifty Is the New Six

By: | September 15, 2014 • 3 min read
Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

Insurance is an adult discipline, as are most financial activities. Discipline itself is an adult business, come to think of it. Ask a child to set aside a cookie for later, and watch that cookie vanish in a second.

Children want what they want, and they want it right now. Insurance has therefore faced a hidden stressor in the past 25 years or so, with the infantilization of modern adulthood: 50 is the new 6. The process began, oddly enough, with the financial disciplines, led by the credit card and the advertising industry.

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Not long ago, if you wanted something, you saved up for it. No one, until quite recently, would have been able to borrow in order to buy what could not be afforded (with the exception of a home). Credit was a tightly controlled substance.

Then came the two horsemen of the economic apocalypse: Visa and MasterCard. Suddenly, whatever you wanted was available immediately.

Consequences, schmonsequences. No one knew, or cared that the average credit card purchase ended up costing 50 percent more than it needed to, as interest on the unpaid portion accumulated.

The Rolling Stones weren’t the only ones who couldn’t get no satisfaction, nor, apparently, grammar lessons.

Everyone in America, and the cultures that have adopted an American outlook (i.e., most of them) came to believe that like a child demanding ice cream, the phrase, “I want it,” was justification enough. Suddenly, adulthood seemed a bore.

Look around you. Our grandparents wore proper shoes and often uncomfortable formal clothing.

Not us. We wear flip-flops or sneakers. The “onesie,” originally a toddler’s garment, and actual pajamas are now worn in public, with pride.

The hat died with Jack Kennedy. The tie has vanished, although “power dressers” sport them with Gordon Gecko-style suspenders, to show just how adult they are in a world of children.

We Botox away our wrinkles. Plastic surgery aims to reinstate our youthful countenance.

Modern women have Brazilian bikini waxes to make them look like little girls. Talk everywhere is of human rights. For many, the only rights that matter are the right to have our desires met instantaneously and our old age deferred.

People nowadays hug each other. The thought of my grandfather, perennially in his suit and tie, hugging anyone is surreal. Or my father. Or me, come to think of it. But then we’re British, the grown-ups’ grown-ups.

Governments have played their part in the infantilization process: Enter the nanny state. Hush little baby, don’t you cry. No need to think for yourself or take unnecessary risks. Nanny will cope for you.

The challenge insurance will increasingly face, certainly in the personal lines, is persuading potential buyers of the need for insurance. Their safety nets have safety nets.

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Go ahead: Build your dream home on a coastline that has borne the brunt of hurricanes for a thousand years. Government will make you whole if it all goes wrong.

Like all fashion trends, this too shall pass. Until that happens, if the need for discipline in all things is not self-evident, you’re a goner.

Poor baby. You’ll need a nanny to sate your needs. The tragedy is that you’ll find one.

 

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