Just deserts only in Utopia February 12, 2013 at 10:48 pm

One of the key messages of this blog in its early years was ‘actuaries have escaped a big dollop of blame for our financial mess that is rightfully theirs’, the argument being in very short form that without their utterly unjustified assumptions about investment growth and life expectancy we would not have nearly as big a pensions crisis as we do.

I’m currently watching the last episode of Utopia. (Spoilers.) One of the things that this series posits is a cabal trying to return Earth to a much smaller population. Apart from making me cheer for the baddies (I’m a child of the Limits to Growth generation), it also made me wonder what the consequences of another bad actuarial design decision – current pensions funded by increasing numbers of workers – will be. We have already seen the beginning of this crisis in muniland, and it is going to get rather worse. The baddies in Utopia are meeting increasingly ugly ends: while I wouldn’t wish any of them on the average actuary, I do rather think that some measure of accountability for their past deeds would not be entirely unwarranted. That’s just Utopian, right?

2 Responses to “Just deserts only in Utopia”

  1. I don’t think actuaries have been all that far out on life expectancy. The errors have all been on the side of investment returns.

  2. They were in the 80s, dsquared; in those days every time the new life tables came out the fact that people were living longer seemed to come as a huge surprise to some in the actuarial profession. But I agree – the idea that equities would return 9 (or 12 or 15) percent forever was the bigger sin.