No Country for Old Men

(This column was first published on Value Research Online.)

The title of this column is also the title of a 2007 Hollywood movie. Of course, it is also the title of a 2005 Cormac McCarthy novel on which the movie is based. I haven’t read the novel, but the movie is widely regarded as one of the finest book adaptations of contemporary cinema. It is also said to be one of the best to come from the director-duo of Coen brothers.

No Country for Old Men is an exceptional film. It has won all major awards that there are to be won. The title is itself taken from a William Butler Yeats poem and it refers to a strong regret of the modern times where the increasingly young population of countries is neglecting not only the needs and requirements of the old, but also the wisdom that their years of experience has to pass down to the newer generations.

This seems to be what is happening in India of late, at least in the financial sphere. We seldom tend to listen to what our elderly have to say about managing our finances. Sure, their preferred investment avenues are fixed income options, which are not going to hold us in good stead if we want to beat inflation. But the idea behind them is something perfectly adaptable by the young—the idea to begin saving from an early age. Very few youngsters, probably a negligible number, do that these days. Blame it on consumerism or materialism or any other aftermath of the modern lifestyle, the fact is that the young generation prefers to spend not only what it earns, but even what it hasn’t earned as yet. The “credit card swiping” generation has no desire to save even a bit of what they make, even though they witness the older generations reap the benefits of saving and accumulating and compounding.

Apart from the ignoring the wisdom of the elderly, the unfortunate fact is that we are also ignoring their needs. Case in point—the recent interest rate cuts that have come from the RBI. The younger generation is rejoicing, because it means home lending rates have come down. But what about the old? A cut in interest rates also leads to a cut in the interest generated by fixed income avenues like bank fixed deposits, public provident fund, senior citizen savings scheme, and such schemes that are widely used by people in retirement or for retirement. The interest they have been earning till now as it is hasn’t been enough to beat inflation and protect the worth of their capital, and now it is only going to get worse. This leaves our senior citizens with no other option but to have a higher allocation to equity than what they’d be comfortable with.

Yeats, in his poem, depicts the importance of balance in the society. Coherence and harmony are pillars of an ideal society. The poem and the movie make a strong point on that. And it’s something we need in our modern world as well.

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