The Meyler Campbell Interviews: Andrew Scott

Ian Florance
13th July 2016

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The Meyler Campbell Interviews: Andrew Scott

Editor Ian Florance spoke to this year's Annual Lecture speaker Professor Andrew Scott following the release of his book 'The 100-year life'

A child born in the UK in 2007 has a 50% chance of living to be 103. In every decade since the 1840s, life expectancy has increased on average by two to three years.

These statistics are taken from Andrew Scott’s new book, which will form the basis of his Meyler Campbell Annual Lecture on 16th November.

Andrew has, at first glance, unusual experience and expertise to talk to a predominantly coaching audience. He’s a macroeconomist who holds positions at London Business School, All Souls College Oxford and the Centre for Economic Policy Research. He’s advised governments and central banks and was non-executive director of the Financial Services Authority

After discussing our respective experience of Syria before the war, our conversation started from his own career and moved on to his co-written book The Hundred Year Life - Living and Working in an Age of Longevity.

“People tend to think economists are abstract, focused thinkers who solve number-based problems. I studied English as well as Maths and economics at A Level and my work draws on an abiding interest in the arts, history and philosophy. I am interested in the practicality of economics: how it addresses real problems and suggests solutions. Economics looks at choice: how I am driven to do what I do.”

Andrew’s first job after university was in a team at the Treasury where he was “entranced by the way theory and data collection led very quickly to action.” For twenty years he taught macroeconomics at Oxford, Harvard and then London Business School specialising in areas such as business cycles and interest rates. “But there is, in truth, a sense that the financial community can be conservative, that it can focus too much on a very narrow range of concerns and constrain you intellectually.   The communication between economics and society is two way. I’m interested in how larger scale forces have transformed business and society and what this might mean for the future. The new book reflects this emphasis on demographics which is so important in economics.”

The Hundred Year Life resulted from a tour of London Business School academics, three to four years ago. “I was teamed with Lynda Grafton, a psychologist who has a deep interest in sociology. I think we were both inspired by the variety of our approaches.”

The book, Andrew says “Tries to give a positive account of longevity. We’ve known that people are living for longer for a long time and most of the discussion of it has stressed the negative, ranging from the pensions time bomb and the idea that we have to work longer to the terrifying growth in the incidence of Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases. The stress has been on end of life issues – and that’s as true in psychology as in financial planning. But we’re interested in longevity, not aging, and longevity is a huge opportunity.”

Andrew and Lynda’s basic approach is to start from the idea of what a good life is and what it requires. “You need financial and non-financial assets. Our book encourages people to take stock of where they are and then make choices. Of course some of these choices are made by society. The key is that the models we’re using at the moment are based on a 70-year life. Some of them – such as the three stage education-work-retirement- were created by social forces in the 19th century. There’s nothing given about them: they’re socially determined. They don’t work for an 85-year life, let alone ones of a century and more. So we have to rethink a lot of seemingly given structures, which is an exciting project.”

Andrew and Lynda use three fictional characters (70-year-old Jack, mid 40s Jane and 18-year-old Jane) to make the implications vivid.

To take finances as an example, Andrew argues that the present pension provision system can’t work as life expectancy rises. You have to rethink the whole system and as part of that, the three stage life disappears: you can’t live off your savings or state provision for 50 years after working for 30-40 years. “Suddenly, rather than becoming a curse, working longer becomes exciting. You might break it up in different ways: needing times to make money, to learn new skills, to make a social contribution. And these stages will not come at set ages – given the rate of change in technology and the equally astonishing shift in which sectors are growing employment, you might go to university at 70, prior to starting to work at 80. This in turn will break down artificial barriers between generations. Life stages don’t have to be age-specific.”

The Hundred Year Life is rich and comprehensive, looking not just at traditionally hard issues but at the transformation of personal relationships and the issue of health, admitting that some expert opinion is divided on the limits – if there are any – of longevity.

Andrew vividly lays out the reasons why these issues offer huge opportunities to coaches. “In a sense we’re changing or reinventing time. A key concept here is neoteny, the retention of juvenile features in a mature individual. We will age young. By the nature of both the world around us and the time we spend in it we will have to adapt to many changes to the extent where we will need to recreate ourselves regularly. The skills of re-creation will become more important than recreation in a life which does not involve running away from the world for two weeks and reluctantly going back to face it. The leisure industry is one which will be changed dramatically over the next ten to twenty years.”

“People will need help changing and that is precisely the point at which coaches work. So there will be more work for coaches, addressing a much wider range of more frequent transitions within a very different environment. The challenge of course is that there will be many more coaches…and not all of them qualified in any way.”

I’ve only touched on some of the issues Andrew talked, so passionately about. His lecture promises to provide a forward agenda for the coaching session, drawn from a hugely diverse range of disciplines.

To secure your place at the lecture with Andrew, click here.

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