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.

No comments: