Tobold's Blog
Monday, May 20, 2024
AI stories as a lense on society and true value

It has become impossible to open a news source without coming across some story about Artificial Intelligence. AI is making progress or being proposed as a solution for all sorts of human activity. There are people who are in favor of AI, and often would like to make money with it, and others who think that AI will bring some sort of doom on humanity. My personal approach is very different: I believe that all these stories about AI shine a light on our society, and might reveal what about it is phony, and what has true value.

While AI is great at imitating humans, it isn't capable of actual critical thinking or creativity. That for me poses a rather fundamental question: If what you are doing can be replaced by AI, then how creative or intelligent was that activity in the first place? A typical example is content creation on the internet, where the prevailing thought for years was things like search engine optimization, or optimizing your content for some other algorithm, e.g. on YouTube. Surprise, surprise, an AI is in itself an algorithm, and understands how other algorithms work better than most humans do. If I would set up my blog to post an optimized article written by AI daily, my viewer numbers would go up, even if the interest to actual readers would probably go down. I am blogging to have a space to express my personal thoughts, so I am not interested in maximizing viewer numbers. But a content creator who is just after the money might very well be already a slave to some algorithm, and might be better off if he switches to AI.

I believe that interaction with an AI can at best be a mediocre experience, inferior to true human interaction. But what about human interactions that have been turned so toxic, that a mediocre and meaningless interaction with an AI is actually preferable? Dating app Bumble recently suggested that AI could date "hundreds" for you. The sad reality of dating apps is that they enable a small minority of attractive people to get endless numbers of dates, while more plain people are just fleeced for their money without getting the love the platform promised them. I don't know if there really is "a lid for every pot", but both the plain lid and the plain pot are more likely to "swipe right" on somebody more attractive, and "swipe left" on each other in this system. If AI girlfriends are becoming the next big thing, it tells us something about society, how human to human dating has become too stressful and humiliating to many people, so that an AI girlfriend now appears to be a better option.

The same thing is true for general friendly interaction with other humans: We have turned social media into toxic places filled with rage. If chatbots are the nicer alternative, that tells us more about how worthless a "friend" on social media is than about how meaningful an interaction with an AI friend can actually be. We might have reached, or will soon reach, the point where a chatbot is less likely to encourage you to commit suicide than an actual human. Oh, great! What progress!

In the end the dead internet theory might be less of a conspiracy theory, and more of a glimmer of hope for the future. Maybe humanity would be better off leaving the internet to bots and AI, while concentrating on real life human interaction with true value.

Sunday, May 19, 2024
A pox on both of your houses

While I did buy a couple of DLCs together with Crusader Kings 3, I didn't buy the latest one, Legends of the Dead. Legends of the Dead contains one part about legends, and another about plagues, and has "mostly negative" user reviews on Steam. It seems the legends are too short, and the plagues too annoying, and as the latest DLC didn't get a rebate in the current sale, I decided to skip it. What I hadn't fully realized was that the plagues are actually part of the free update patch that came with Legends of the Dead, and the DLC only expands that feature. So, just quarter of a century into a six century campaign, a minor plague, the smallpox, killed my ruler and half of his family. It also totally messed up the development of my lands.

That made me realize that Crusader Kings 3 has one rather annoying feature: Game settings are permanent for a campaign, and can't be changed without restarting. While there is a setting to reduce the annoyingly high frequency of plagues, I can't change that anymore. And as I didn't want to restart, I opted for a mod instead, which reduces the geographical spread of minor plagues. To me it made sense that "minor" plagues shouldn't cover such large areas. And that should reduce the probability of other minor plagues wiping out half of my house again.

Saturday, May 18, 2024
AI comment spam

My previous post about the economic gameplay of Crusader Kings 3 compared to Victoria 3 received two interesting comments:
Victoria 3 is a masterpiece in grand strategy, brilliantly capturing the economic dynamism of the industrial revolution. The exponential GDP growth and the strategic reinvestment truly reflect the historical wealth accumulation of that era. On the other hand, Crusader Kings 3 offers a fascinating look into a slower, more turbulent period, where economic growth is modest and more reflective of historical realities. The contrast between these two games highlights Paradox's commitment to historical accuracy and diverse gameplay experiences.
Great analysis! I appreciate your deep dive into the economic systems of both Victoria 3 and Crusader Kings 3. Your points about the impact of compound interest and the differences in historical economic growth are spot on. Your strategy to play a non-expansionist count with a "lucky inheritance" sounds like a creative way to enjoy the game on your terms. Thanks for sharing your insights and strategy!
Both then revealed themselves to be actually spam comments, by adding links to some dodgy site. Now my site has received thousands of spam comments over the last two decades. But these two were way more sophisticated than anything I have previously seen. Both paragraphs make it appear as if the commenter has read my post. But I am pretty certain that it wasn't a human being, because that would have been way too much work for a spam comment. Instead, I am pretty certain that both these paragraphs have been written by AI, some typical large language model. This is exactly the level of AI we all have free access to now. The ability to summarize a text in a paragraph is what software like ChatGPT is great at.

Although I have spam filters on my comments (and I do apologize when sometimes legit comments get stuck in that filter and I only see that days later), these sophisticated AI spam comments were undetected by the the filter. To me, the attempt to link to some commercial site was a clear indication that this was in fact spam, but the spam filters apparently are only apt to catch the previous generation of spam, which was a lot more primitive.

AI is already being used to make phishing e-mails look more genuine. And now it apparently has reached comment spam on sites like Blogspot and LinkedIn. O brave new world!

Wednesday, May 15, 2024
The problem of compound interest

The Paradox grand strategy game I have played the most is Victoria 3. Victoria 3 has a strong economic focus, and plays 100 years during the industrial revolution. Typically over the course of a game, your GDP will rise exponentially; whatever you invest early will bring some interest, which you can then reinvest. The miracle of compound interest will make your country rich over a century, which is also historically correct for many countries during this time period.

Crusader Kings 3 plays in a much earlier time period, and spans up to 6 centuries. And while the world generally got richer from 867 to 1453, the historic economic growth was a lot slower than that of the industrial revolution. If CK3 had an economic system in which you could make an investment with a reasonable yield, a player-controlled and optimized economy would become incredibly rich over the centuries. Which would be both unbalancing and not historically correct.

So the devs decided to make the economic system of CK3 incredibly low yield. The best investment opportunity is the first level of building up your castles, churches, and cities, and that brings a yield of only 4%. It takes 25 years to just get your initial investment back. And further levels of investment have much less yield, with the higher levels needing centuries to just break even.

If I offered you an investment opportunity that breaks even in a century, you probably wouldn't be interested. Even in the context of a game, and even if you take a long view, the economic gameplay of Crusader Kings 3 isn't very attractive. And it doesn't take much economic genius to discover that building "wide", that is investing in level I buildings in as many counties as possible, is much better than playing "tall", investing in higher level buildings in few counties. That is a bit of a bummer, because it only reinforces the already existing push towards an expansionist game. Even the tutorial wants you to start with a county in Ireland and end up becoming the ruler of the whole island.

Personally, I am not much interested in an expansionist campaign in CK3. I find the warfare system highly annoying, as the AI is programmed to avoid unfavorable battles, and the game is lacking means to somehow force combat or trap the enemy armies. Thus a war feels a lot like chasing a group of chickens, with lots of running around in all directions, and very little actual combat action. If you want to play Crusader Kings 3 as a 4X game, you'll also run into the problem of succession. In the early to mid-game you simply don't have the technology to leave your kingdom to your eldest son, but instead it is divided up between your children (or just your sons). You have very little control about how many children you'll have, with too few risking your dynasty to die out, and too many risking your lands to be spread between too many people.

So I think I will stick with my plan to play a non-expansionist count. But I will "cheat" to start the game with what I'll roleplay as a lucky large inheritance, giving me the money to build the level I buildings quickly. That won't fix the problem of lack of good investments, but at least it will allow me to play with a slightly higher income than smaller counts usually have. With a lot of possible player actions requiring money, playing somebody very poor would mean not having a lot of things to do.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024
Paradox Publisher Week

There is a sale of Paradox Interactive games on Steam. And I ended up buying the Crusader Kings 3 starter edition, plus one mini-DLC. The starter edition contains among others the Tours and Tournaments DLC, which is widely considered as the best DLC of the game. And that gets me to the subject of changing attitudes towards Paradox: While the fans these days love Paradox a lot less than they used to, my personal attitude towards their games has improved.

The not totally undeserved general opinion of Paradox these days is that they publish unfinished games and then sell you the parts that would make the game complete as overpriced DLCs. If you would buy Crusader Kings 3 outside of a sale with all DLCs (including announced ones), you'd pay $200. And some of these DLCs, for example the latest Legends of the Dead, have user ratings from mostly negative to overwhelmingly negative. Some of those Steam reviews basically read "I paid $20 to make my game worse".

I played Crusader Kings 3 when it was first released, and thus without DLCs, back in 2020. I had access to it via Game Pass, and some friends played it too, so we did some multiplayer. I could still play it there, but without any DLCs, and I don't know when the game will be leaving Game Pass. Buying the starter edition on Steam with the sale for $40 gives me both permanent access, and some much needed DLCs to flesh out the basic game. Between the patches and the DLCs, I think that Crusader Kings 3 is a better game now. But more importantly, I am looking at Paradox games differently now.

With a history of playing 4X and other strategy games, I had previously approached these Paradox games as strategy games. And as I was still working long hours in a day job back then, I needed games that provided fast fun. In hindsight, none of the core Paradox games (Victoria, Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis) are really suited for that. While Age of Wonders 4, of which I have nearly 400 hours played, was a better fit for me, it was developed by Triumph Studios, and is only published by Paradox. After my retirement my approach to Paradox games changed. I now see them more as a sort of role-playing or life simulation game, except that you play as a country or dynasty.

Thus I am planning to play CK3 by choosing some insignificant county with a count who is *not* hell-bent on conquering a kingdom or empire. I am not excluding military or diplomatic expansion, but I'll take a long view, trying to grow my dynasty in power over centuries. That will be slow, but I'll see whether with the DLCs and other added content there is enough for me to do. It'll be a game about patience, about taking decisions "in character" of the current ruler, and reacting to what happens in the world around me. Exploring, expanding, exploiting, and exterminating will not be at the top of the agenda. I am pretty confident that I can fulfill my games value criterion and have 40 hours of fun for my 40 bucks. I am less confident that I would then want to start another game, because there is a large risk that I have seen most of the possible events already. On the other hand, I don't have any of the "regional" DLCs yet, so playing on the Iberian peninsula with the Fate of Iberia DLC and doing a bit of Reconquista might be an interesting approach for a later game.

Friday, May 10, 2024
Houses, inflation, and technological change

The determination of the rate of inflation typically has a problem with technological change. If you say that you want to buy a PC with a current generation CPU and current generation mid-range graphics cards, that will probably cost you a good bit more today than it cost a year ago. But part of that is that from year to year the "current generation" part changes. The people calculating inflation instead look how much it would cost to buy a PC this year with last year's specifications, and tell you that computers have gotten cheaper.

I moved into a new house last year, having previously lived for quarter of a century in an apartment that had been built in the early 90's. The apartment wasn't very well insulated. It was on the first floor, and part of it was above the garage and entrance hall of the building, while another part was above another apartment on the ground floor. As a result there was a very noticeable difference in temperature in winter between these rooms, as the rooms above the unheated garage lost a lot of heat through the floor. The house we moved in is a near zero energy house, with walls, floors, and ceilings all very well insulated. We need much less energy to heat now, and the temperature is much more even. We share a wall with the house next door, but that wall is so well insulated that our heating wouldn't change if the neighbors went on a long winter holiday and turned the heat down. (That also has the added advantage of not hearing the neighbors.)

Many economies these days have a housing crisis, with housing having become unaffordable for first-time buyers. So you see all those fancy graphs that show how the average price of a house increased over the past decades, rising faster than inflation. But that compares a typical house of today with a typical house from decades ago, and the specifications have changed. In the USA the average size of a single family home has more than doubled since the 1950's. In Europe, the apartment in which I lived for so long would now be illegal to build, as insulation is (rightfully) one of the key measures with which the EU is trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And size has also gone up, increasing by 50% per inhabitant from the early 90's to today. A range of other specifications, regarding for example electricity or safety, have also gone up over the decades. Yes, a typical house today is much more expensive than a typical house 30 or more years ago, but it is also a very different house.

Konrad Adenauer, the first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, introduced a lot of policies that made it possible for families in the 1950's to buy their own homes. One stated reason why he did that was that he believed that somebody owning real estate was a lot less likely to become communist. Increased home ownership increases social peace. That principle hasn't really changed, although the political orientation of people unhappy with their economic situation has changed. But I do think that it is still very important for modern societies to make it possible for a young family to buy real estate and have an affordable roof over their head. I do think politics has to intervene to increase minimum wages, and to squash zoning laws that prevent affordable housing. But on the other hand we also need to realize that the size and quality of houses built in the 1950's wouldn't cut it today. The free-standing single family house has evolved into a product that it isn't compatible with affordable housing anymore, and isn't sustainable either. Affordable housing is more likely to be an apartment building. And that isn't even a downgrade, because the quality of life in a 2020's apartment is probably higher than in a 1950's single family house.

Thursday, May 09, 2024
Probability space

Last night I was at my usual board game night in the friendly local games store. I played two games, The Vale of Eternity, and a classic I had never played, Love Letter. When looking at these games, The Vale of Eternity looked more like my kind of game with a fantasy theme, while Love Letter looked a bit bland and thematically not my thing. But while playing, The Vale of Eternity turned out to be more and more confusing to me, while Love Letter ended up being far more fun to me. And I think the difference between the two is in probability space.

The Vale of Eternity has 70 different cards, and every turn twice the number of players in cards enter the game. Each card has a short text on it, but there are many different effects, and in our 4-player game everyone needed some time at the start of each round just to read those 8 cards. Then there is a drafting phase, after which players can take some cards in their hand, while playing others. Over the course of up to 10 rounds, players try to create an engine of card effects working together to make the most victory points. Now in order to not totally suck at this sort of game, you not only need to concentrate on your own engine; you also need to be aware of what the other players are doing, because sometimes "hate-drafting" a card that would bring the win to another player can be more important than choosing the best card for yourself. But I totally failed at that and got utterly confused. With so many different cards, and so many effects coming into the game every round, I quickly couldn't follow the action anymore. The probability space, the set of all probable outcomes, simply got too big, too fast. In the end, another player won with a huge combo I hadn't seen coming at all, although he had openly drafted all the cards used for it.

Love Letter was exactly the opposite. There are only 8 different cards in Love Letter, and you have a handy reference card showing how many of each of them are in the deck. Each player has always one card in hand, and in his turn he draws one card and plays another, so he still has one card in hand. As the most common card is one which eliminates another player by guessing what card he has, much of the game is about finding out about the card the other players are holding. The game ends, when there is only one player remaining, or all the cards have been drawn, at which point the player with the highest card wins. Now the discard deck is open; at the start of the game the other players might hold any card, but later I can see of which cards all copies are already discarded, which eliminates certain possibilities. The possibility space of the game is shrinking, and by watching what happens in the game I get a better and better idea what cards the others are holding, and might be able to eliminate them that way.

The game with the growing possibility space left me confused, and I couldn't keep track. The game with the shrinking possibility space got clearer and clearer in my mind while I played it, and I even won at the end.

Wednesday, May 08, 2024
Mixing scales of time and distance

I have now played Medieval Dynasty for over 30 hours, and I like it quite a lot. The game reminds me a bit of Stardew Valley, just played with more realistic graphics in first-person / third-person view. But the more realistic graphics also encourage a comparison with real life a bit more, regarding time and distance. And there are some issues here, which might be impossible to solve.

Medieval Dynasty mixes gameplay which is more about running around and exploring the world with other elements that are more about farming as well as building and managing a village. At first you do most things yourself, later you can automate tasks and have villagers work the fields, gather resources, or craft items. As the farming depends on seasons, and the "life simulation" part includes marriage, and the possibility to play on as your heir, the seasons and years pass relatively quickly. 1 real life minute is about 30 minutes in game time, and 3 game days (about 2 hours real time if you don't sleep a lot) is one season. You can make seasons last more days in the settings; on the one side that gives you more time to finish tasks, and for example make money for the annual taxes, but on the other side it makes the years pass slower, and it takes a lot longer for your heir to grow up.

When you are doing quests, it often seems as if the distances in Medieval Dynasty are a bit too long: There are a lot of quests where you need several steps, each of which requires you to run to another village, with a typical distance of around 1 kilometer. Running 1 kilometer in Medieval Dynasty takes about 4 minutes real time, and that feels long compared to other games with quests, where quest targets are usually closer by (sometimes ridiculously too close). Those 4 minutes real time are 2 hours in game, which appears a lot of time to run 1 kilometer. And villages being only 1 kilometer or less apart seems very close, compared to the distances between villages in real life. Between doing your daily chores, and having to run for (in-game) hours between villages for quests, or to buy and sell stuff, in the early game it appears as if you never have enough time between seasons.

But later in the game you have done all the story quests, and you have outsourced your daily chores to your villagers. Then, if you want to play Medieval Dynasty more like a village management simulation, you run into the opposite problem: There is no way to speed up time. If you are just waiting for seasons to pass, you just stand around for a long time in real-world minutes and hours.

Some of these issues could be solved, for example by adding an option to speed up time. But fundamentally there are conflicts between how many real-time minutes a player wants to spend on a task, and how realistic that feels in game-world hours and days. The same thing applies to distances: Google says that medieval villages in Europe were about 5-6 kilometers apart, an hour of brisk walk. I certainly wouldn't want to go questing in Medieval Dynasty if distances were 5 times bigger. And with the world being hand-crafted, a much larger map would also be a lot more work for the developers. So I do think that in the interest of gameplay flow, we need to live with life simulation games which don't feel very realistic, and in which time and space is compressed.

Friday, May 03, 2024
Tainted Grail: Kings of Ruin

Back in September 2022 I backed Tainted Grail: Kings of Ruin on Gamefound for $140 plus shipping. Of this, $99 was for the Kings of Ruin stand-alone expansion to Tainted Grail, while the rest was mostly for updating the original Tainted Grail: Fall of Avalon and expansions to rules version 2.0. I now have started a Tainted Grail: Fall of Avalon campaign twice, and never finished one. I never even started one of the first two expansions. So now Kings of Ruin arrived on my doorstep, and I am not even sure I'll ever play it.

The 1.0 version of Tainted Grail: Fall of Avalon is a bit grindy. Rules 2.0 make it less grindy, but there were already a number of suggestion for rules variants in the original rule book, and for house rules on various forums to achieve the same goal. When using these, it turns out that the grind isn't the only problem of the game. The more fundamental problem of Tainted Grail is the combat system. Combat is fiddly and slow, and generally not much fun. That also makes character progression not much fun, as much of this progression is achieved by adding more cards to your combat deck. Even if you carefully thin out your deck to improve chances to draw these new and better cards, you still aren't sure to draw them in any given combat. The difficulty progression of the game over time means that while at the start of the game the combat is still okay-ish, with every further chapter into the game the health of the monsters you fight increase, and thus the length of combat increases. Thus you get into situations like just wanting to go on a quick hunt to replenish food supplies, and ending up randomly encountering a major threat, which then can take half an hour to beat. This is still playable in solo mode, or maximum two players, but with 4 players the slow combat is just killing the narrative flow of the game.

With neither the new rules nor the new expansion fundamentally changing combat, I am not sure that I will play Tainted Grail or any of its expansions again. This is also because since then I got other narrative adventure games with better combat systems. So I regret having spent that $140 plus shipping on the Kings of Ruin crowdfunding campaign. As I got the base game much later than most people, and then didn't really play it until after the crowdfunding campaign for the expansion (see my review here), that is obviously my own fault. I blame FOMO, the fear of missing out, where not being sure that I could get the 2.0 rules upgrade pack and expansion later made me decide to buy them before having played the original game fully. And that is a permanent risk with crowdfunding board games. By the time you receive the game you backed, your view or your situation might have changed, and you might feel very different about a game you earlier thought you must have.

Wednesday, May 01, 2024
A moving target

I am currently watching a “Let’s Play” of Medieval Dynasty on Youtube. That is a long game, and the streamer only did an episode every few weeks, and thus the overall series covers many real world months. During those months the game got patched and added to frequently, and thus every few episodes there are suddenly new features or changes. Most of them good, so the game is getting better over time, with better balance, more content, and more quality of life features. And I was thinking of games that I played on release, like Civilization VI, and which over the years added so many patches and DLCs that I would barely recognize them now, if I played them again. For which I sure don’t have the time anyway.

It makes me feel a bit torn. I see some advantages of playing a game on release: It’s the new hotness, and there is the most interaction possible with people streaming the game on Twitch, or other players discussing the game on various forums. But I am also seeing the advantages of waiting some time after release. For example, after having played some Medieval Dynasty, I am considering buying Sengoku Dynasty, a similar game from the same publisher, but different developer. That game released in August of last year, but on release still didn’t have all the features it has now, for example farming crops. And obviously, between Steam sales and key resellers, I can get Sengoku Dynasty now cheaper than I would have paid on release.

As I am still a content creator in a minor way, I also see this other aspect of playing a game early versus playing it later: Interest from the audience. It is less a problem for me, as I am not trying to make money from the content I create. But I see all those streamers playing Manor Lords now, because this is what is hot now, when I would consider that Manor Lords is one of those games that might better be played much later, in a year or so. I can see how a streamer doesn’t necessarily have the luxury of waiting that long, because it isn’t clear how many people will still want to watch Manor Lotds content in a year. As a consumer of such content I have to remark that sometimes it is hard to find new videos of last year’s games that show how a game has evolved since release. With the majority of content being created on release, it is as if the image of the game is frozen in time.

Waiting to play a game later is also a kind of gamble. Some games simply don’t get much better over time. Some “live service” games might even disappear completely while you wait for them to improve. Other games do improve, but that comes at a cost. Another reason why I wouldn’t want to dive back into Civilization VI is that to get the full Civ VI 2024 experience, I would need to spend a pile of money on DLCs. And it gets pretty complicated for a game with many DLCs to find out which of them are essential, and which of them don’t really add all that much to the experience. At my age, the added problem when waiting to play a game later is that I might simply forget about the game, being caught up in a flood of other games to play.

Overall, I find it difficult to perfectly time the moment when to best play any given game. It seems to me that there isn’t a general rule that helps to find the best moment for each game.

Saturday, April 27, 2024
The value of game pass

I tend to check my subscriptions from time to time, as you can easily forget you are subscribed to a long of services you aren't actually using. Only one of my subscriptions is one that provides games to me: The Xbox Game Pass for PC, at €9.99 per month. But as I played both more than €120 worth of games and spent more than 120 hours doing so, I consider this a subscription well worth having. But there might be value in this subscription beyond those parameters.

I just finished playing Manor Lords. I played it for 6 hours only, and in that time managed to win the scenario that requires you to build a large town, without an AI or bandits getting involved. As the AI and combat part is far from being finished, and I wasn't interested in the real-time combat all that much anyway, this was enough for me. I experienced all the currently existing city-building aspects of the game. And unless you play the game on the slowest speed in order to watch a lot while waiting, the game doesn't have more than 6 hours of content. I knew that, and thus I wouldn't have bought the game, neither for the regular price of €40, nor for the currently reduced price of €30.

That creates some sort of added value for me, in that the game pass enabled me to play the game, which I otherwise wouldn't have done. I probably wouldn't have played Starfield without the game pass either. There are so many games coming out these days, that it is easy to stick to just the safe bets, the games that have been reviewed very well, and which are in genres you know you enjoy. The game pass encourages me sometimes to step out of this comfort zone, and try something else, which I wouldn't have done if I had to pay extra for that.

Friday, April 26, 2024
We need to talk about age

While the legal retirement age in Belgium is 65, the average age at which Belgians actually retire is 61.8, more than 3 years less. While this gap is a record for the OECD countries, average actual retirement age in all of them is lower than legal retirement age. Germany increased the legal retirement age from 65 to 67, but average actual retirement age is still below 65. While of course every retirement is slightly different in the details and the motivation for the decision to retire, the perception that the driving force is always the old person wanting to retire is wrong. When approaching retirement, most people need to take a long, hard look at the financial aspects of doing so. Many companies offer early retirement packages, without which the average actual age of retirement would be significantly higher.

Live is different at 60 than it was at 30. You do have less energy, and get tired faster. You do have "senior moments", where you go somewhere and suddenly don't remember why you went in the first place. You aren't as much up to date with the latest news, or memes, or music, and tend to make references that younger people you talk to don't understand (Superman changing in a phone booth? What's a phone booth?). If you consider a typical job, where the company wants the employee to be energetic, quick on their feet, and able to work long hours, it is understandable that the company would prefer a younger person. Especially if that younger person earns less than the older person. And that leads to a perception of people in their 60's at some point becoming "too old to work".

In November of this year, the United States of America will have a presidential election in which the average age of the two candidates is 80. Partisan commenters argue that their candidate is "sharp", while pointing out the age-induced gaffes of the other candidate. But the sad reality is that both candidates are too old for the job. Both have shown signs of dementia in public, and being able to still pass a basic cognitive test isn't exactly a job qualification for becoming the leader of the free world. It was probably a good thing that JFK was 45 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and not 80, because we can be sure that the president didn't get much sleep during those two weeks, and was under a lot of stress.

Electing somebody around 80 to the office of US president also has a weird constitutional aspect: In American politics the office of the vice-president is considered to be some sort of a joke, and the vice-presidential candidates are selected as an after-thought in the presidential campaigns. But the probability of somebody around 80 dying of natural causes over the next 4 years is rather high. Actuarial tables suggest the chance could be up to 25%, although those tables are for the general population, and one might argue that a president gets better health care. Still, the probability that the 48th president of the USA will be one of the vice-presidential candidates of the 2024 election is certainly unusually high.

How do we bridge the gap between considering a 60-year old "too old" to do a regular job, and an 80-year old still young enough to perform one of the most important jobs in the world? Shouldn't there be a mandatory retirement age for politicians? It isn't just presidents, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell are both only retiring at over 80, in the case of McConnell after showing serious age-related decline symptoms in public. How do we bridge the gap between companies complaining about a lack of skilled labor, while simultaneously giving early retirement packages to their most skilled people?

I think that retention of skilled labor could be achieved by replacing early retirement packages with age-adjusted job descriptions. Companies should have jobs for older people, in which their skill and experience is valued more, and the hours and conditions are adjusted to their diminished physical abilities. If you send two electricians to solve a complicated electrical problem, there would be no harm in one of them being old and experienced, while the other is young and energetic. Macro-economical it makes more sense to create value from experience than to draw an arbitrary "too old" line, just because the 60-year old isn't fully suited to do the same job as the 30-year old. With most OECD countries having serious financing problems of their pension schemes in the coming decades, that might be quite necessary. And maybe even old politicians could be given advisory roles, rather than being in the heat of the action.


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