The 1967 novel Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, depicted a time in 2116 when the Earth’s population had reached a critical mass and a person's age had been limited to exactly 21 years. To monitor this and avoid any white lies about how old you were, everyone had a palm flower crystal embedded in their hand which changed colour every seven years and finally to black on their 21st birthday. When this happened they were required to report to the ‘Sleepshop’ for voluntary execution.
Naturally, some people decided that this wasn’t a good idea and decided to leg it. These were called runners and they were chased by a nasty man with a big gun called Logan 3. The man that is, not the gun.
Fortunately, this scenario is unlikely to be a vote winner in mainstream politics and so is a premise unlikely to be re-enacted outside of the BNP’s manifesto policy on immigrant’s rights.
Or so you may think. In 2009 the various members of the EU, including our good selves, signed up to the Treaty of Lisbon. It wasn’t particularly exciting and it was mostly an administrative exercise to tidy up a few of the previous treaties that had been in operation. It is effectively an EU constitution but because the British right wing nearly choked on their ginger beer at the thought of a federal Europe, they changed the title to a treaty and it slipped through quietly without any fuss.
One of the features of this treaty was a hardening of the terms relating to discrimination and it made it illegal to ‘discriminate on any grounds’, which most people would agree is a noble principle. The problem with principles is that they often get in the way of real life and this change has caused all sorts of problems for insurance companies who are no longer allowed to offer different rates to men and women.
It must be understood that insurers are just bookmakers. They offset the chances of one event happening against the chances of another and those who do not claim subsidise those that do. That may seem unfair in principle but it all works out in the end. Whilst a spotty teenager will pay a fortune to insure his Ford Escort Mark III he will reap the rewards when he retires and pays a pittance to insure his Toyota Prius Economy Special.
Insurance companies hedge their bets by underwriting both sides of the same coin. One side may be pension annuities, which is where you give your pension pot to them in return for a guaranteed income for life. They hope that you get hit by a bus on the way home whilst you hope to live longer than Bruce Forsyth and get more back than you gave them.
The other side of the coin will be life insurance, priced back to back against the annuities. So if you are a healthy 30-year-old non-smoker then your life insurance will be very cheap as they are confident that you have at least thirty years left in you. Your annuity rate however will be terrible for the same reasons. Reciprocally, a 90 year old who has put away 40 Capston Full Strength a day since they were fifteen will get the opposite treatment and hence the insurance company offsets the two against each other, ensuring they build a margin of profit in for themselves.
Men have always paid more for their life insurance because statistically they die 4 years younger than women and are hence more likely to claim. Equally they get more attractive annuity rates for being polite enough to snuff it earlier. This will now cease and insurers will be forced to ignore this statistical probability.
The issue then becomes ‘what happens next?’ The treaty says that discrimination on any grounds is not allowed. So that means smokers cannot be asked to pay more for life insurance nor young drivers more for their car insurance. If you cannot discriminate then everyone must pay a flat rate. That’s great if you want life insurance when you are 80 but pants if you’re the thirty year old whose premiums skyrocket to pay for it.
The problem is that no matter how wonderful the principle may be, it does not reflect the harsh realities of life. It would be wonderful if we were all equal in life and in death but we are not. Some die young, some live a long time. Women will live longer than their male counterparts and young men will always want to drive their cars fast. This is because of evolution and testosterone respectively and is not something that can be legislated against.
If you follow this thread through to its conclusion, how long is it before life expectancy is standardised to avoid any potential unfairness to those who may die young? Could the 'Sleepshop' envisaged in Logan’s Run become a reality but with 21st century pazzaz and customer service?
‘Good morning Sir and welcome to ‘Heavens Above’ the regions premier execution boutique.’
‘Oh, good morning I’m here for my appointment.’
‘Ah yes, Mr. Smithwick is it? We have you in for a 10 o’clock extermination.’
‘Yes, that’s the one, I’m a bit early though I’m afraid, the traffic wasn’t as bad as I thought.’
‘Oh isn’t it always the way Sir. Well never mind it won't be something you need to worry about any more after today.’
‘Yes, that will be a relief. Now how does this work, I’m a first timer so am a bit nervous.’
‘Don’t worry Sir; all of our customers are first timers. Your execution is scheduled for 10:15 so a few minutes before I’ll show you into your booth and if you could just position yourself in the middle of the polythene and ‘initiate your passing’. You have a 10 minute slot so please ensure that you are medically dead within this period or I’m afraid there will be a surcharge. I should also point out that if you manage to splash any blood or other body innards over any of the areas not covered by the polythene, then there will also be a cleaning fee added to your final bill.’
‘Oh, right. That seems straightforward although the bit about blood was a concern. I assumed I got tablets of some type?’
‘Err no Sir, you’re booked onto our economy package so you will just be issued with the standard equipment like this.’
‘But that’s a hammer?’
‘Yes Sir. But it’s a very sturdy hammer.’
‘Err, I was hoping for a little more of a serene passing.’
‘Ok Sir, I can offer you a Stihl Saw or perhaps a toaster and a bath?’
‘More serene than that. Perhaps something that doesn’t need to be plugged in or kick-started?'
‘OK, maybe I could tempt you to upgrade to our assisted passing package. I have our top executioner Cedric available at 10:30 if you can wait a while.’
‘Is that the gentleman with the black tabard and hockey mask that I passed on the way in?’
‘Yes, that’ll be him. He’s very efficient, people ask for him by name.’
‘Really?, I think I’ll pass. Let's go with the tablets.’
‘OK Sir I’ll need to upgrade you to our platinum package. Can I also interest you in an extended warranty?’
‘Well, sometimes people get half way through and lose a little motivation. To help you along we send somebody in to give you lots of little snippets like the fact that Olly Murs has a recording contract or that Ed Balls may one day become Prime Minister. You can then add these to your list of reasons to die and it can help to reinforce your will to see it through.’
‘Oh, that sounds helpful, yes sign me up.’
OK, so maybe it’s a little far-fetched but then again imagine going back to 1977 and telling the guys at the bar in the working men's club that one day it would be illegal for them to have a fag with their pint after a day's graft. Oh how they’d laugh……