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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 10, 2008
"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."

How about the encompassing question here: how do you feel about paying for any government-provided service not consumed by you but by others? I often think about this question for folks without children whose taxes pay for schools.
 
 
Oct 10, 2008
I hope to retire well before I'm 30, but then again I ahve heard a lot of people say that!
 
 
Oct 10, 2008
We live in a cynical world, and it is more than probable that the retirement age was set to protect industries against old and inefficient people, considering that after this age they are not worth the salary they earn. Isn’t it enough to thing that you “retire” someone, or you ask someone to “retire” himself? Retire in old French means “to draw back”or “withdraw”, not to have the days of your life.
 
 
Oct 10, 2008
DUDE! SCOTT!
"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."

How economically cold can a statement become. The implications can be, well....I'll leave that to comment readers.
 
 
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Oct 10, 2008
I live in Spain, where healthcare is universally free and both illegal inmigrants and rich scrounging europeans can get the most expensive of surgerys for free. Maybe our perspective about contribution is a bit different from yours...

But I'm missing the point. I honestly believe that anyone stating "I'd go crazy if I had nothing to do" is an incredibly boring person. You can have my job any day. And I do have a dreamy job. Meeting interesting people, free gifts, travels, the whole lot. But I'd find something better to do with my free time any given day, even if it implies paint, walls and oxidizing. I'll miss the perks and socializing with sober people... but the "feeling valuable to society"?? Come on. You workaholics can feel valuable filling my time and i'd get your holidays. Probably my job is better than yours.

Yup, it sounds simplistic, but It's hard for me to believe that there are so many people out there that hobbie-less and void of interests outside their jobs. And lots of them are white collar livestock! I mean: I could understand the loss of an architect, a bridge constructor, a biohazard developer, even a gardener... But what about those cubicle-bound dwellers that "will get bored in a week without a job"? Do you miss your spreadsheets?

I'm 31. And I do believe in paying a lot of taxes so we can have free universal education and healthcare (and I won't use the public healthcare, so I'm in a one sided relation with the spanish budget eaters). No irony here. I'd be scared to death about a system that would had let me die in the cold hadn't i've been lucky enough to land a job. But if I could find a way out of the loop, I'll take it.
 
 
Oct 10, 2008
Those who want to retire early, can't. And dose who can, don't want to.
 
 
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Oct 10, 2008
My father is 51 with a huge experience in information security.
He has been laid off and he's currently unemployed desperately looking for a job.
Why?
Because companies prefer to hire young freshmen, that are less experienced and even more desperate for a job, are struggling to build a family.
They are not as good but can be better bullied.
At least in Italy where I'm from and in Greece where I work, this scenario is very common.

Not sure it's good or bad, but we're already struggling with unemployment, getting elder people back to work doesn't seem like a good idea.
 
 
Oct 10, 2008
I have worked for more than 25 years until I was diagnosed with a chronic and debilitating condition so I'm in a "forced" or "involuntary retirement" at age 45. Looking back, I have made some substantial economic contribution in terms of export trade, finance and investments. I had plans for retirement which include returning to an academic environment but everything got derailed by disability. I find myself in a twilight zone where I'm not considered a senior citizen and not able to go back to work a full-time or part-time job. Most of my time is spent in treatment or therapy but I try to keep myself mentally occupied and perform voluntary service when I can providing assistance to elderly people and younger kids become computer literate. We all have plans but sometimes they don't work out the way we planned it, so it pays to have a back-up or alternative in case something unexpected happens.
 
 
Oct 9, 2008
Scott,

You should also consider the effect of a declining birth rate. This tends to increase the ratio of retired people to those still in the workforce, which further increases the financial burden on those who haven't yet retired.

This is why we should welcome the immigration of productive workers. In fact, immigration is already helping America's retirees by growing the workforce faster than the domestic birthrate alone could do. As long as immigrants come here to work-- which the vast majority of them do-- immigration is becoming increasingly necessary.

Anyway, people should be free to retire when they have saved enough money to do so, which gets easier over time-- if 30 years of labor can fund, let's say, 20 years of retirement, another 10 years of labor at a higher salary can fund another 10 years of retirement. So that takes us from a 70-year life expectancy to a 90-year life expectancy and a higher ratio of retirement to career with no net drain on the economy.

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Oct 9, 2008
2ndly, Seniors need to have the right to drive, unless they are going to require everyone to have medical exams before they have their licences renewed. Seniors--all seniors--should not have any of their social security benefits taxed. $ 250, 000 may be a lot of income for a healthy, young person, but it's pocket change for a senior citizen who has to pay for 2000. hearing aids, wheelchairs and more ER visits.

Let's not punish seniors, and prospective seniors like Scott Adams for being innovative.
 
 
Oct 9, 2008
My 1st point I will add separately from my 2nd point.

It is not just seniors who need to live more socially more responsibly. I am no liberal, but if we are going to have socialized health care, we need to require--REQUIRE--that everybody in this system cannot smoke, DWI, make moving violations with their cars, own ATV's, have multiple children and they must own homeowners insurance, so if they fall off their roof, the homeowners should kick in first. I guess I am a perfectionist. I want everything done right, even if we are going in the wrong direction.
 
 
Oct 9, 2008
My wife had the idea recently to set up daycare facilities in retirement homes so that working parents could have more affordable childcare and retirees could be kept occupied with a few hours a day of supervising toddlers.
 
 
Oct 9, 2008
1. Why do people retire so they have time for stuff they always wanted to do but never had time for? Can't they work and have hobbies? I am trying to do a lot of fun stuff now, while not bothering to save a lot for retirement. I'll keep working, but the stuff I like to do (hiking, biking and world traveling) is really fun now, I'm not sure I'll enjoy those things when I have a "new" hip.

2. I love the idea of utilizing retirees on juries! Even if its just volutary, I know some people would sign up. They get entertainment a sense of civic duty and allow us working folks to stay productive. Can't we certify some jurors? Like getting them to really learn the system, wouldn't they be better jurors if they had some experience?

3. I'm a civil engineer and most of us work until very late. We have an 88 year old at my office, still doing it. Another well over 70 and he has taught me (I'm 30) a hell of a lot. His attitude is like a national treasure.
 
 
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Oct 9, 2008
As someone who retired from his job working for a corporation to pursue his hobby (that happens to pay handsomely), your opinion on this subject loses validity. You opine on a subject that is now merely an abstract subject to you. When an engineer approaches a certain advanced age (50ish?) it becomes VERY difficult to find a job that is both satisfying and rewarding. When a company decides that he/she should depart at ~65 or earlier what next? Wallmart greeter just to continue to contribute even though the money is not needed? Personally I will need to find something to do with a schedule just to keep my sanity, but who the hell should have the power to tell me that I HAVE to do so?
 
 
Oct 9, 2008
The mistake we made was over 50 years ago. We should have indexed Social Security and Medicare bennies to life expectancy, and limited it to the least capable of our citizens, as FDR intended. When SS first started in 1934-35, you had to be 65 to get it. The average life expectancy then was 60. Had we indexed SS to LE 5, men today would not be eligible until 82, and women 87. Means testing would have guaranteed that super-rich centenarians like the late Bob Hope never would have collected SS checks. I guarantee you the system would have remained self-sustaining and unburdensome. But today, a lot of "benefits" were added to SS on the fly that were never originally intended. When I was in college, I had a friend who received SS checks. Why? Because technically he was a "dependent" and his dad was over 65. Nothing more. When "disability" was folded into the SS system, strings of waste, fraud, and abuse ensued.

But of course, if one advocates this sort of reform today, one would be dismissed as heartless. My dad was forced to retire at 70. He didn't want to. I suppose it killed him in the end. As long as I can move, think, and add value, I intend to do so. And I'm planning my 150th birthday party.
 
 
Oct 9, 2008
The problem with actuarial life expectancy statistics is that we are all individuals and have different life expectancies. The averages are just that, averages, as some die much younger and some die much older. For the most part if a person can afford to retire early fine, then they can enjoy the fruits of their labor for a longer period of time. There are no guarantees that they will live to the life expectancy the insurance company bean counters predict.

I have seen in my own family those who worked for 40 years or more and drop dead within months before or after their retirement. This left them ( and their spouse) no time to enjoy their retirement years. I say retire as soon or even sooner than you can do all the things you planned on doing during retirement.

Then if they get bored or want to work there are plenty of things that anyone with resources and time on their hands can do to benefit society. Shipping Mom and Dad (or Grandma and Grandad) off to a retirement home is happening less and less, especially with the well off baby boomers coming into the retirement picture.

These elders are already active people in the community, participating in the family, still paying taxes, spending, consuming, voting, raising hell and adding to the over well being of society. Magic is the relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren. They are a source of wisdom, experience, stability and a national treasure. There are lazy and selfish people in every class and segment of society, always has been always will be.

Life is a crap shoot so place your bet!
 
 
Oct 9, 2008
I don't know about the rest of society, but seniors definitely contribute to my financial bottom line. I work part time as a personal trainer, and have started working with seniors in the past year. Let me tell you, old people tend to be much more concerned about their health than young people. They also have disposable income and time on their hands. The few hours a week I spend with seniors amounts to about a third of my income.
 
 
Oct 9, 2008
I read somewhere that Bismarck in Prussia, as a sop to the masses, decided to provide "Social Security" to the population for when they couldn't work anymore. At that time, his actuaries figured out that most people would be dead by the age of 65, so he set the retirement age at 65. So that might be where the age of retirement come to be.

It reminds me of the initiation of the income tax , as a way to soak the rich. Only people above a certain (high at the time) income would be taxed at all.

It shows how time has a way of overtaking the best & the worst of intentions.
 
 
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Oct 9, 2008
Wow. Somehow I read the last line as "Can you think of any other ways to harass senior juice to power the economy?"
I am sooooo going to hell. Great post, btw.
 
 
Oct 9, 2008
Where do you get the idea that retirees have stopped 'contributing to the greater good?' We may not be slaves to a (now extremely evidently!) decaying system and we may not be firmly under the control of the pointy-haired bullies of that system, but we sure enough have a lot of experience and now the freedom to pitch-in and help out wherever we are.
Oh, I see! You mean we have stopped making already wealthy barons filthier and filthier rich. Ah, yes, that's it! Well, that's true. We have also gained CONTROL of our own lives and can use our imaginations to interact with those we know and come to know, AT THE PERSONAL LEVEL that big business has no knowledge of, nor care!
To find out how much we contribute, you would have to interview each of us, one at a time - we all have a story.

Cheers!
 
 
 
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