The Spectator

Letters | 11 January 2018

Also: robot nurses, Wilfred Owen, cryptocurrencies, Sir Hubert Parry, Toby Young

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Long lives and pension pots

Sir: Jon Moynihan is too optimistic about the prospects for further increasing life expectancy, and too gloomy about those of the pensions industry (‘Falling Short’, 6 January). The wondrous advancements of medical science have offered little to solve the most pervasive problem we now face: declining mental health. It seems unlikely that society will chose to invest endlessly in repairing bodies to extend lifespans, when the minds relating to those bodies have already been lost.

So the viability of pension providers is not as parlous as suggested. Indeed, many current fund deficits derive from the low investment yield environment that central bankers have engineered but which is not sustainable in the long term — the timeframe in which pension funds measure their liabilities. When more normal investment conditions return, the actuarial assumptions used in funding those liabilities (and they are always just assumptions) will greatly enhance the viability of pension provision.

The suggestion that the young can look forward to perhaps 50 years of drawing a pension looks more fanciful than the possibility that in a few years many pension funds will be reporting healthy surpluses.

Clive Thursby

Hindhead, Surrey

Robot nurses

Sir: Jon Moynihan is right to warn about the looming funding crisis of public-sector pensions. But one wonders why his optimism about future advances in longevity doesn’t also lead him to expect widespread productivity gains from automation. Much of state employment today involves routine administrative tasks that could be taken over by robots in the foreseeable future. Even medical diagnostics and some police and nursing functions could be more efficiently performed by artificial intelligence. Not only will robots make us richer and healthier, but they won’t require support in their old age.

Diego Zuluaga

Head of Financial Services and Tech Policy,

Institute of Economic Affairs, London SW1

Owen’s powerful poetry

Sir: How depressing to read Nigel Jones’s article about Wilfred Owen (‘Anthem for groomed youth’, 6 January). The title suggests sinister undertones that are unfounded, as Jones comments: ‘All of this may have been entirely innocent.’ If he did indeed have ‘sexual forays’ in the East End, it is to be pitied that he could not behave in any other way in 1915. It is easy to make judgments in 2018; we live in a different world. His short life gave us some of the best war poetry ever written and his sexuality is irrelevant. We should remember the poem ‘Spring Offensive’ and think of the thousands of boys and men who ‘there stood still/ To face the stark blank sky beyond the ridge,/ Knowing their feet had come to the end of the world.’

No one else could have written those beautiful, heartbreaking words.

Jo Noble


Better buy gold

Sir: Lionel Shriver misses the obvious in her search for an asset whose ‘value was not subjected to deliberate, systematic decay, whose supply was strictly limited, whose production was beyond the control of the state’ (‘Why cryptocurrencies are the answer’, 6 January). Gold already ticks every box she requires for investing ‘every last farthing’ and has further benefits beyond her requirements. Cryptocurrencies will prove to be yet another example of where ‘financial innovation’ results in a tax on the ignorant. Like so many inventions before them, they offer no superior benefits to those offered by incumbent solutions.

Freddie Lait

London SW1

In praise of Parry

Sir: It was disappointing that Richard Bratby’s article (‘Hitting the high notes’, 6 January) about classical music in 2018 made no mention of the centenary of Sir Hubert Parry, a great man of British music and a fine musician. There is a weekend in May, at Gloucester, devoted to Parry and his pupils, and (praise be) his work is featured at the Three Choirs festival at Hereford. Who knows, perhaps even the BBC will realise that Parry was a lot more than ‘Jerusalem’.

Stephen Lamley


A shame about Toby

Sir: I read with real disappointment about Toby Young’s resignation from the new OfS board. One shouldn’t be surprised given the concerted public campaign to have him removed. These days I advise all colleagues to ‘assume everyone will read everything you write and that everyone will repeat everything you say’. Sad, really — but only this can mitigate the risk of nasty future surprises. But who of us are faultless of thought? Toby Young is one of an increasingly rare breed who at least has the minerals to commit said thoughts to the written word. Long may he and his ilk continue. The OfS will be poorer for his absence and his challenging approach and will likely end up as yet another forum of nodding heads. Or OfNOD, perhaps.

John Prior


The rise of subtitles

Sir: Mark Mason complains that subtitles are taking over the world (‘Read ’em and weep’, 6 January). Does it not occur to him that for people with hearing loss (which must include many readers of his article), subtitles are essential if they are to stay in touch with the world, be it watching TV and films, or indeed the online clips which are the main source of his complaints?

Mike Peacock

Andover, Hants