The most dangerous conventional wisdom in the world today is the idea that with an older population, people must work longer and retire with less.

This idea is being used to rationalize cuts in old-age benefits in numerous advanced countries — most recently in France, and soon in the United States. The cuts are disguised as increases in the minimum retirement age or as increases in the age at which full pensions will be paid.

Such cuts have a perversely powerful logic: “We” are living longer. There are fewer workers to support each elderly person. Therefore “we” should work longer.

But in the first place, “we” are not living longer. Wealthier elderly are; the non-wealthy not so much. Raising the retirement age cuts benefits for those who can’t wait to retire and who often won’t live long. Meanwhile, richer people with soft jobs work on: For them, it’s an easy call.

Second, many workers retire because they can’t find jobs. They’re unemployed — or expect to become so. Extending the retirement age for them just means a longer job search, a futile waste of time and effort.

Third, we don’t need the workers. Productivity gains and cheap imports mean that we can and do enjoy far more farm and factory goods than our forebears, with much less effort. Only a small fraction of today’s workers make things. Our problem is finding worthwhile work for people to do, not finding workers to produce the goods we consume.

In the United States, the financial crisis has left the country with 11 million fewer jobs than Americans need now. No matter how aggressive the policy, we are not going to find 11 million new jobs soon. So common sense suggests we should make some decisions about who should have the first crack: older people, who have already worked three or four decades at hard jobs? Or younger people, many just out of school, with fresh skills and ambitions?

The answer is obvious. Older people who would like to retire and would do so if they could afford it should get some help. The right step is to reduce, not increase, the full-benefits retirement age. As a rough cut, why not enact a three-year window during which the age for receiving full Social Security benefits would drop to 62 — providing a voluntary, one-time, grab-it-now bonus for leaving work? Let them go home! With a secure pension and medical care, they will be happier. Young people who need work will be happier. And there will also be more jobs. With pension security, older people will consume services until the end of their lives. They will become, each and every one, an employer.

A proposal like this could transform a miserable jobs picture into a tolerable one, at a single stroke.


  1. The problem is, pretty much all retirement systems we have are working on the basis of younger generation paying for the retirement of older one. You have to have workers who earn money, from which you can take the fee to pay to the people on retirement. If we reduce the number of “productive” people across the globe, even if we can still produce enough wealth with high unemployment, the retirement system will go bankrupt. Well, chances are our retirement system here in Poland will bankrupt without that, we are the fastest aging nation in Europe.

    That’s not to say your observations are wrong, they aren’t. With growing technology potential, we can produce more and more wealth with less and less people in the production. So why is it so that politicians have to increase the retirement age, and the money you get once you retire isn’t exactly getting higher either? The system is not supposed to work in this context, and it’s not flash news that if you invested the money you pay for retirement system onto a bank account, you could make yourself a way better retirement than what the state offers. Doing tweaks in the system like this – lowering the retirement age that is – won’t do any good. We need to change the whole system, in fact, I believe we have to dump democracy as is into the trash bin of history and start fresh from scratch.

  2. Brilliant idea!

    When cyberpersons are “doing virtually all the work” and the workforce needs drop to one percent of what it is now, let there be a transition, amounting to lower and lower ‘retirement’ ages, that will take us to a point where younger people are in effect growing to self-realization as unique, creative iindividuals who will wish to ‘transcend biology’ and join the rest of us in cyberspace.

    Finally, only the most staunch (as the primary Founder of Terasem refers to them) bio-essentialists will be left “bio”, with subjective time passing for them at only one thousandth the rate of those who now have 24,000 hours a day to “get it all done”, and are largely engaged in pursuits of such creativity that we could waste the rest of our presently oh-so-short lives writing short stories about what it may turn out to be!

    Have a look at Dr. R. Michael Perry’s “Forever for All”, now online at a tab of that title, at It’s a great overview of what’s coming between now and eternity (asymptotically approached over an infinite period of time).

    Boundless Life,

    fnl (Fred & Linda Chamberlain)

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