The concept of retirement baffles me. I certainly see why people want to retire if they have unpleasant jobs, fun hobbies, and interesting grandkids. But why is it okay with the rest of society that individuals can simply stop contributing to the greater good?

Retirement is a fairly recent concept in historical terms. When the average life expectancy was 40, it wasn't much of an issue. I think the concept of retirement really took off when people were healthy and productive until about 65, on average, then started the rapid descent towards a dirt nap at about age 75. No one begrudged a few years of relaxation to someone who had put in 50 solid years of productive toil.

Now we have people retiring at 60 and living to 100. Do you still feel good about that? Even if the retiree has saved money for retirement, society is still picking up a big part of the tab. You have the Social Security payments that usually exceed the amount paid into the system, and all the roads, police, firemen, and other services that are being funded by other people's taxes. The list goes on.

I think about this when I hear about young families struggling with childcare expenses at the same time a bazillion retirees watch Jeopardy and wish they had something better to do. Is there really no way to solve those two problems at the same time?

If human life expectancy had suddenly jumped from 40 to 80, instead of gradually increasing, it would have been socially unacceptable to retire before your health failed. But because life expectancy inched up, we drifted into a situation where older people aren't expected to be part of the solution. I think most of them would prefer to contribute more than they are.

People who know me well don't ask when I plan to retire. I'm sure I will stop drawing comics at some point, but I can't imagine a life where I'm not adding something back to the system. I don't think I'm that different from most people.

When we think of how to patch up the ailing economy, we reflexively think about youth. We think about education, and innovation, and getting healthcare for young working people. I think we're leaving some low hanging fruit on the trees with the older generation.

For example, imagine the government coming up with some sort of carbon trading-like plan for healthcare. Under this plan, anyone who uses less than the average amount of healthcare for his or her age, during a given year, wins some extra government funding for their local school system, and that amount would be tracked and publicly reported. You'd feel like a stud to be on the top of the healthy seniors list.

The idea is that retirees would be incented to exercise and eat right, thus cutting their average medical bills. Old people are the biggest users of medical care, so the impact could be huge. And since any savings would not go directly to the retirees, they wouldn't be incented to skimp on medical visits just to make a few bucks for themselves.

I'm making an assumption here that keeping older people healthy saves society money, but I could be wrong if it boosts life expectancy. That tradeoff would have to be studied, but you get the idea that maybe there are some missed opportunities here.

Certainly retired people could be helping with childcare, tutoring, crime watch, and other functions that directly benefit society, at least a few hours per week. Can you think of any other ways to harness senior power to juice the economy?
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Oct 16, 2008
"The concept of retirement baffles me. I certainly see why people want to retire if they have unpleasant jobs, fun hobbies, and interesting grandkids. But why is it okay with the rest of society that individuals can simply stop contributing to the greater good?"

Because that is part of the American dream. To reach a point in life where you can do whatever you want and not have to do whatever you don't. Most people hate their jobs and look forward to the day that they can quit FOREVER.

"...I don't think I'm that different from most people. "

Yes, Scott, you are.

"I'm making an assumption here that keeping older people healthy saves society money, but I could be wrong if it boosts life expectancy. That tradeoff would have to be studied, but you get the idea that maybe there are some missed opportunities here."

If saving society money is the goal then you are correct. At the first sign of disease it would be much cheaper to just snuff these deadbeat retirees out than utilizing resources that have to be shared with productive cartoonists.

"Certainly retired people could be helping with childcare, tutoring, crime watch, and other functions that directly benefit society, at least a few hours per week."

I'll tell you what. I'll draw your strip a few hours a week to free you up for the childcare, tutoring, and crime watch.
The rest of the time, I'll be on the golf course which was my American dream.

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Oct 14, 2008
I run a transportation company, and my best drivers are the 60 ones. I have to pressure them into taking holidays, and I can't remember the last time one took a sick day. Now, the work is contract, so they're paid only when they work and not for holidays, but still, their dedication is impressive.

One had sent out over 200 resumes in the year before we hired him, but no one would take him on because of his age and health, despite his years of experience. He's missed one day in the three years he's worked for us, and that was because he slid off the road in a snowstorm.

I'd hire a senior or retiree before a 20-something any day!

And yes, 'incent' is not a word, Scott. I've heard 'incentivize', which is clearer in meaning but still not a word.
Oct 13, 2008
hip and knee replacements will noty take HARD WORK. i'ver seen people try. their bone end crack
Oct 13, 2008
retirement was what happened when you body was too worn out to work. then your many kids , hopefully, kept you alive a bit longer. all the talk of working longer for your ss checks maybe a good thing for paper workers. hard work, the kind that makes hurt all week, is not the same thing. most of the people i know loved stopping working at 62. their bods were too far gone to take it.
Oct 12, 2008
Just to add something to the conversation, I remember 2 important topics:
- What tasks are the elderly able to perform (we can imagine elderly baby-sitting, but many can't pick up a child, or perform some "heavier" tasks. Not to say that some tasks can contribute to health hazards, and then the health-care bill just gets a lot bigger…)
- The elderly should not perform tasks instead of young people. Unemployment is already a problem everywhere, and adding more people to the same workplaces or letting people stay there longer increases a society's cost.

Here are my 2cents! =)
Oct 12, 2008
Maybe I'm being thick here, but if people that use less healthcare than average get money back in the form of extra subsidies for services around where they live, and obviously less healthy people still get the same benefits, won't that increase the overall cost of healthcare? Health insurance requires healthy people in the pool to keep costs low...
Oct 12, 2008
I think this is one of the best posts you have ever written, Scott - and given your high quality of writing that is saying something. My father is 78, a GP and with absolutely no interest in retiring. His medical advice is still accurate, his patients (some of 50 years and still kicking) trust him completely. He feels he adds to the world and does his best to get around do gooders trying to get him to stop (so they feel better).

The Chairman of my company in Japan is 83, in the office every single day, mind like a steel trap, aware of all our product and design decisions, following the markets up and downs and usually accurately predicting what will happen next to an unnerving degree.

Are they perfect? Well, is anyone?

What these two men have done for me is redefine what it means to be elderly and still working. They work within their physical limits and - true - they both love their jobs with a passion, something not everyone has. But both embody the saying "do what you love and love what you do":

My mother was a government employee in social service and forced to retire (union rules!) at 60. In the many since she has worked with guide dogs, local courts, and now with agenices dispensing food aid and rent assistance. She had it worse though, because she was forced to retire from something she loved (social welfare). She has had ups and downs, becoming depressed then fighting out of it to remain relelvant and a "somebody" to herself if no one else.

On a recent trip in China, I saw two grandparents helping their daughter with their grandhchild on a cross country travel. Language barriers stopped me finding out where they were going and why but no doubt the daughters travels were made easier by selfless grandparents.

No doubt, some people should retire. And some have had such horrible working lives no one would begrudge them, but the fact is that longevity is placing a huge burden on our social resources and none of the elderly I have mentioned above would want that. The social trading scheme you propose is so wonderfully screwy that it might just work - incentives everywhere, lots of winners (esp. tax payers) and no losers.

Is that the reason it will never happen?

Boy, I loved today's post. AND you have your voice somewhat back! Life is looking up!!

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Oct 11, 2008
hi there,

"Certainly retired people could be helping with childcare, tutoring, crime watch, and other functions that directly benefit society, at least a few hours per week. Can you think of any other ways to harness senior power to juice the economy?"

They can train people -- especially those who came out of the workforce recently.
They can help in crime watch over the net.
They can help filter unwanted patents
they can evaluate and test software
they can help broker quarrels before it gets to the courts/lawyers
they can teach students
Oct 10, 2008
Scott, I have an idea for your next book. Why don't you do an updated version of "A Modest Proposal," only substituting "old" for "poor peoples' children?" For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, try googling the above title along with "Johathan Swift." You'll get my meaning - but of course Scott, a former member of Mensa, certainly already knows what I'm talking about.

The reasons why old people shouldn't retire are almost completely government-related. The one that first comes to mind is Social Security; while you don't have to be retired to receive benefits, you do get benefits reduced if you keep working. As with most government programs, the productive are punished while the non-productive are rewarded.

Medicare/Medical (for those of us in Cal-ee-four-nee-uh, as our Gubernator calls it), allows you to sign up for it regardless of your working status when you hit 65. The socialists who have posted here hate the idea of allowing someone to get benefits that they've paid for all their working life if they have the means to pay for them from their savings, but hey, to do otherwise is to redistribute wealth from the productive to the non-productive. Are we beginning to sense a theme here?

When older people work after retiring from their careers (rather than do, say, volunteer work), they tend to take low-paid, low-stress jobs (think McDonald's, or the greeters at Wal-Mart). That removes entry-level jobs from young people entering the general work force, denying them the benefit of developing good work habits and job skills. What employer, faced with hiring either a high-school kid who generally has been taught that the world owes her or him a living, or a well-trained, knowledgeable senior who has a strong work ethic and desire to do a good job, would choose the former?

Now, Joe Biden would probably tell you that it's your patriotic duty to keep working so you can pay more taxes to keep more non-productive people happy, but you can see that many seniors consider that that's not a reasonable request. They've seen taxes rise over their lifetimes to the point where their ability to save for themselves has been severely hampered. The promise was that, if they paid their taxes and supported all the no-longer-working elder citizens (SS/Medicare) as well as the non-workers both able and unable (welfare, etc.), that the government would return some of their money as a stipend. Why shouldn't they collect it if they paid into it?

I've spoken in these hallowed halls about the hugely leveraged tax system that heavily burdens the producers and almost takes nothing from the below-50% wage earners, but I ask you to think about that. Why should we be forced to become more dependent on government to the point (see the post from the Spanish citizen earlier) that we can't imagine the horror of living without our Big Brother protecting us? Then take a look at the Spanish economy, and the desire of their citizens to invest capital in starting their own business when they know that, if they succeed, they'll be taxed through the nose.

So, Scott, this is what you've asked for, in your liberal view of America: a country that taxes people through the nose with promises of future benefits then looks for ways to weasel out of their commitments by claiming that old people are somehow unpatriotic if they don't continue to pay taxes until they drop dead. Look at all the animosity against old people in these posts. This is just another example of class warfare, vilifying another group (the elderly) who worked hard and now expect their reward.

The system is broken, and it's not the fault of the hard working senior citizens of America. It's the fault of a socialist-leaning government who has forgotten that, when you begin to redistribute wealth, the wealthy will have no incentive to continue to contribute. Go re-read "Atlas Shrugged," Scott, and the rest of you read it if you haven't.

As for me, I just turned 60. I am embarking on my third career, doing something I've always wanted to do. I'm competing with young people with specialized education that I don't have, and I'm blowing them out of the water. Why? Because I have developed business skills, generally-applicable business knowledge and a work ethic that the kids just can't hope to match.

So be careful of what you wish for, children. When you are unable to get a job because an elderly citizen can outdo you in every aspect of your chosen field and will work for the same pay you will, think back to this day, and don't say I didn't warn you.

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Oct 10, 2008
I am 62 and I couldn't stand retirement. In fact my wife has told me for the past 25 years that she thought I would go crazy if I retired. After 1 month I learned that she was right. In that time I did all the "honey-do's" I cared to do, was golfed out and bored. I hope I can continue to work for another 10 years. If the stock market doesn't recover I my have to:). Instead I have semi-retired.

While I am at work a total of 36 hours a week the job has little pressure or stress. My schedule allows me to play golf 4 times a week and still make enough that I can contribute to my 401k instead of drawing from said 401k. I really enjoy my life and can't imagine being satisfied not working.
Oct 10, 2008
There was a local day-care facility called Sunrise-Sunset. It just recently closed due to financial issues, but it had run for 15 years as a non-profit. It was exactly what Scott recommends - retirees providing childcare. They only had 1-2 paid staffers with the rest volunteers. Seemed like a perfect setup to me. I don't understand why it didn't survive.
Oct 10, 2008
Hmm... Your blogging software converted c-h-a-n-g-i-n-g into a punctuation-laden explitive. Why is that?
Oct 10, 2008
"Can you think of any other ways to harness senior power to juice the economy?"

- now with more old people!
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Oct 10, 2008
My company does not have mandatory retirement. This is a big problem.
There are too many dead-woods here who do not know technology, they are NOT effective in the work place.
All they do is calling meetings and try to get the workers to feed them information. They lie in their report to upper management to keep the job. They do not contribute to the company while making big huge paycheck.

I agree that people should continue to work one way or another, and contribute to society instead of watching TV. But there is no solution for the million retired old people on this issue of job. What can they do?

Oct 10, 2008
This blog seems to have had a strong effect on your readers. Looks like most people disagree with you. I guess I'll follow the herd and throw in my two cents.

You (Scott Adams) have a job where you produce something which is appreciated and enjoyed by tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of people. I am a computer programmer in a corporation. About 50% of my effort is spent tweaking fonts and moving text input boxes a few pixels to the left or right and !$%*!$%*! the color of lines in my applications. Another 30% of my time is spent sitting in meetings with people who don't know much about technology and making a usually-failed attempt to explain what is a good solution vs what is a fashionable solution. I often fantasize about a job where I can make people's lives better and make my company run more efficiently.

I really envy you. You obviously feel like you make a contribution to society. For the most part, it feels like I'm PAID NOT TO make the contributions I'm capable of. Sadly, I'm paid so well that I would be optimistic to hope for a 30% paycut in a comparable position at another company where (roll the dice) my time might generate more value and I might feel more fulfilled. Since I'm not much of a gambler, I'll stick to my six-figure income for moving text boxes left and right and trying to convince people that the banner graphic uses the same shade of blue as the divider lines in the table.
Oct 10, 2008
The Ministry of Education in Taiwan just notified me that I have to retire at the end of this semester (Jan 31, 2009) because I'll be 65 this month. I am happy to be forced to leave my present job, but I have the option to work for another 10 years for another university -- I think I've got the job lined up already, but it's not a done deal yet. In any case, I also proofread and edit English-language technical papers written by native speakers of Chinese, which provides a decent living when my clients pay on time. I have no intention of retiring from the working world. Not because I am interested in contributing to the greater good of society -- I have yet to go back and read Mill and Bentham on that utilitarian concept, but I don't dismiss it the way most self-centered American individualists do when they wave their free-market and deregulation flags as the USA Titanic goes down to the bottom of the sea once again. There's something to be said for the greater good, especially when one considers that all the right-wing John Galt wannabes who post here don't seem to realize that they are not and can not be the kind of Utopian libertarian individualists that they think they are and still live around other people. To be one of those guys, you have to be autonomous and self-supporting in every way and have social intercourse with wild animals only, but no form of human society.

I also don't plan to retire because I can't afford to. I have a sick wife, her sick mother, and a junior high school child to support. Maybe by the time I'm 75 I can think about retiring from the working world. However, I love the work I do. It gives me great personal satisfaction and instant gratification, much like you must get when you finish a comic strip. That's much better than teaching. I also liked being a house painter for the same reason: instant gratification and great pleasure after doing a good job.

Many years ago I read that most laid-off Americans did nothing with their forced temporary retirement. They spent their time watching TV and rented movies. Thoreau was right. Most persons live lives of quiet desperation. This is too bad. If I had to quit working for some reason or other, I would have no problem keeping myself occupied all day long without worrying about whether the TV was going to burn out. There are hundreds of thousands of good books that I haven't read, dozens of interesting languages that I haven't learned, books that I haven't recorded (I like to read stories and speeches aloud and practice doing it every night for between 15 and 45 minutes), and millions of essays that I haven't written.

When my parents retired and moved to one of those old people's homes for the modestly rich, I was happy that they were happy, but I couldn't stand the idea of hanging out, the way they did, with a bunch of old fogeys every day. Why would anyone want to surround themselves with expiring candles?

When I can no longer take care of myself, I will simply end it all by going to the top of a mountain, finding a flat rock under a white oak tree, sitting in a traditional TM position, and repeating, like Chief Dan George did in _Little Big Man_, "Today is a good day to die". If it's cold enough, I might get lucky and freeze to death before I'm aware of what's happening.
Oct 10, 2008
Disregarding the societal consequences of retirement, the personal consequences have been thoroughly depressing to me. You may have heard that the average TV viewer's age is now over 50.

From what I have seen, a huge proportion of the boomer generation worked hard their whole lives so that they could retire and spend 10 hours a day watching television. It just stuns me that an entire generation can reach such an age without finding any substance in life, anything more deserving of their time and attention than the tube.

I think they could contribute to the work force, to something. But even if not, how have they not found something better to do?
Oct 10, 2008
The Social Security system is set up so that those that retire early get less per month so the total lifetime payout should be the same.
Most of the services you mention are covered by sales and property taxes. Retiring does not reduce ones participation here.
Don’t you think that retirees had to deal with childcare in their earlier years? Why should they be saddled with this now? Retirement does provide built in childcare assistance if the parents live near the grandparents and the kids can get along with the parents.
If you look more closely I think you will see many retirees are doing a significant amount of volunteer work in their communities.
What makes you think you are entitled to our hard earned savings? We scrimped and scraped and sacrificed for our children during our younger working years and now you want to take it away from us now?
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Oct 10, 2008
since when is "incented" a word? i mean a real word?
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Oct 10, 2008

You've written before on the virtues of "happy" societies. If we use happiness as the most important measure of a society, then the best society has the highest average happiness.

If people are happier when they are not working, and if the cost to support them is minimal, in terms of happiness, to the working portion of society, then a population with some percentage of non-workers will have a higher average happiness than one without.

To improve on this, if that society provides this happiness for a rolling percentage of its population, nearly everyone in the society will, at some point in their lives, get to experience the highest levels of happiness.

Isn't this pretty much what we Westerners have with the retirement model?
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