Would a Tontine Increase Motivation?

I recently read an interesting book, Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide by Michael Kinsley. He is a columnist for Vanity Fair, a contributor to The New Yorker and a founder of Slate. Now in his mid-60s, he learned that he had Parkinson’s about 20 years ago.

He wrote about the concept of a tontine, popular in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The idea is that a group of investors each contribute an agreed sum of money to a fund. They receive annual annuity payments and, as members pass away, those funds are reallocated to the remaining members. In most versions the last member alive received the total amount remaining in the fund. Frequently this was a large sum, making that individual wealthy. It combines the elements of a group annuity and a lottery today.

It seems to me that the opportunity to become wealthy might motivate some of the members of a tontine to take better care of themselves. While genes play a significant role, exercise and healthy eating are as important, if not more so, in determining longevity. I guess they could also look for ways to accelerate the demise of other members. But let’s not go there.

But should the prize go simply to the last member standing, or should it go to the last one who’s also got all (or most) of his or her marbles? What use is a big pile of cash to an individual with Alzheimer’s, other than to help cover the cost of his or her medical care?

I’d vote for some test, as the survivors get down to a very small number, to determine who does and doesn’t have a full deck of cards, so to speak. History shows that as age increases so does the risk of dementia. The odds of dementia are about 12% at age 65, increasing to almost 50% at age 85. Unfortunately, two-thirds are women, partly due to the fact that they live longer.

Ronald Petersen directs the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He said, “Exercise is probably the best means we have of preventing Alzheimer’s today, better than medications, better than intellectual activity, better than supplements and diet.”

I believe that tontines are now illegal in most countries, but the idea of exercising regularly and eating healthy in order to enjoy a longer life with a high level of cognition can lead to more enjoyment of whatever wealth we may have. Perhaps you’ve seen the bumper sticker, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.” Not true; whoever dies last with all of his marbles is the real winner.

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