Why older leaders can be dangerous?


Hussain Saqib

In countries like Pakistan, everyone has to retire at a certain age, including judges. But the politicians are an exception. They do not retire; come what may.

Many developed countries of the world do not allow mandatory retirement in normal circumstances, except for certain jobs requiring mental and physical fitness, like military jobs. In countries like Pakistan, everyone has to retire at a certain age, including judges. But the politicians are an exception. They do not retire; come what may, even if they have their scions to take the mantle of leadership from them. Even Mr Fakhruddin G Ibraheem appointed to hold general elections in Pakistan, the toughest job, has crossed 85. Some people think that he was appointed to keep him under pressure for political end. And he has demonstrated that he is vulnerable to pressures.

The retirement is now a subject of discussion in the developed world. The abdication of Pope Benedict XVI citing old age being the major reason for his decision has given a reason to think that in the present age of technology, leadership capacity can be impaired by old age. The analysts have started to think that aging often has enormous effects on people’s personalities and cognitive function. Some leaders can keep up their vitality and abilities into extreme old age, but after enough time in office, a leader’s performance probably will decline, perhaps precipitously.

According to a report titled, Don’t Trust Anyone Over 70, aging can have a powerful and largely negative impact on leaders in three ways. It can greatly increase their vulnerability to illness, shift their personality, and decrease their cognitive abilities. Physical ailments can have surprisingly powerful effects on decision-making. Even common cold in old age can make it considerably more difficult to make difficult decisions, because the cold depletes the blood glucose critical for brain function. Even beyond the immediate effects of illness, aging can have pronounced effects on personality. Put simply, in general people really don’t mellow with age. Tendencies that would otherwise have fallen within an acceptable range can suddenly become problematic — a shift that, when it happens to a head of government, is particularly likely to upset foreign policy.

Most alarming are aging’s effects on intelligence. Cognitive abilities can be split into two categories: crystallized and fluid. Crystallized intelligence is what we use to carry out routine tasks. It increases over the course of a person’s life, peaking in the 60s. Fluid intelligence, on the other hand, is the ability to solve new problems. It seems to begin declining at 20. The most critical and dangerous situations are novel ones — situations that the normal functioning of governmental institutions is least able to handle and that therefore require peak performance from a leader. This is precisely when an age-related decline in fluid intelligence is likely to have its most severe effects.

If the government is convinced that those involved in the process of decision making, the civil servants, are unable to make quality input after the age of 60, how can those politicians be trusted who actual take decisions on the basis of such input. The three impairments of old age, vulnerability to illness, weak personality and diminishing intelligence suggest that no politicians should be allowed to hold public office in Pakistan after attaining the age of 65.

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