Sunday, June 12, 2011


Recent economic news about the problem brewing of a "Lost Generation" prompts me to write on a subject which I have been contemplating for some time now - or is at least closely related thereto. The problem, as described in some detail here and here, that the older generation of workers in this country isn't going anywhere - thus "plugging the system" and not leaving any job openings for the youngest (entry level) generation.

It is time to examine the whole concept of retirement - or at least the modern version. It is obviously understandable that as we age, our abilities change, especially in more physical endeavors. Yet that would seem to lead on toward changing jobs over a lifetime - not quitting entirely. But what has developed in the US (at least) is the idea that, in the middle of a productive life, one should just give up and enjoy 100% leisure for the remaining part of your life. Worse yet, given modern life spans and pension plans, that may amount to 25% or more of a productive life. This leads to things like the "30 and out" process I see among some colleagues, wherein, having finished college at - say - age 22, they put in their 30 years and at the ripe old age of 52 years old, retire and spend the next 30-plus years doing nothing other than "killing time" and playing.

Any objective reading of the situation has to show the insanity and absurdity of such an arrangement. First, in many fields, the 50-some years old are the best, most educated, valuable part of a work force. To take a 55 year old engineer, or manager, or teacher, etc. and put them "out to pasture" is to discard 15 years of their most knowledgable, productive time. To be replaced by a 20-something "greenhorn" who will need years of learning to be as productive as the old-timer they replaced.

Economically speaking, a society - or civilization - cannot succeed where one fourth of the productive value of each (or most) member is simply discarded. It unsustainable - period. THe only reason is has worked out this way for the past two generations is that they have been the beneficiaries of the unbelievable economic growth and thrift which was produced by their ancestors in the past 100 years. They are the ones who have been standing on the shoulders of giants. But as the markets tank and the economy stagnates that model simply no longer works. This system will have to be discarded - sooner rather than later. And when, here in the United States, millions of "baby boomers" are facing the reality that they may actually have to work years longer than they thought, sooner may actually be now.

The tantalizing side story is centered around the fact that the "boomers" are completely oblivious to the fact that they ARE "standing on the shoulders of giants". They think THEY did it all! And more than anything, that reality, which they by-and-large refuse to face is about to be thrust upon them - aggressively - by the generation under 40 who are about to refuse to "pay the freight" for their insanely wealthy parent's generation. I may be wrong - and I hope that I am - but this is going to get ugly.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Town Where I Work

Yesterday, I was broke - dead flat broke. Yes I had a bit of money in the bank, but none to spare, and certainly no cash to spare. But it was Tuesday, the day of my bi-weekly trip with my boss to get spaghetti at the eatery a few hundred feet up the street. My lack of cash for the $5.25 lunch special of salad, spaghetti, and garlic bread, combined with the availability of some two-day-old leftovers prompted me to beg off and eat in my office. I never mentioned my impecunious state to my boss, or he would have insisted on buying my lunch, and I'd look like a beggar - something that I did not want.

So I ate my lunch - happily. But then, around 2:00, I got the need for a cold drink and caffeine dose, so I scraped around in my car, desk, and pockets, and came up with the princely sum of $1.38. Not quite enough for the big iced tea I wanted ($1.50 including tax) but I decided to go up the street (to the same eatery) and see if thay let me owe them the 12 cents.

Now this place is small, old, unpretentious as they come, and has a general air of happy-to-get-by comfort. Hard-working waitresses and cooks, healthy portions of good food. So, I went in, and immediately they got my tea. I met the waitress at the register, and sheepishly handed over my four quarters, two dimes, two nickels and eight pennies, explaining that it was all I had. She waved me off thoughtlessly as if to say "don't even worry about that". Then she inqured as to my absence from the "ritual" spaghetti lunch and I explained that I was broke.

At that point she became upset, as did the other waitress who overheard the conversation, and said "Don't you EVER skip a meal here because of that!! We know you are good for it and know you'll pay us when you can." The manager heard the conversation and affirmed the statement.

I love the town where I work. It is basic, blue-collar, honest, and true. It's funny how hard working honest people without a lot of money are wiling to help out when needed. That's the way I was taught to be. I am saddened by the fact that the world is corrupt and so different than that ideal, but I am even more heartened by the fact that that ideal is out there, still surviving, in places like the town where I work.