Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry has a brilliant idea for saving Social Security: Make people work forever!
Old age is a period of long, gradual, inevitable decay, but I think it is self-evident that the more active you are, the more these effects are postponed and mitigated. I don’t have many statistics to quote on this but I think it’s out there and this is one of the cases where anecdotal evidence convinces me. I think we all know at least one elderly person whom, once settled into retirement, has gradually but markedly become less alert, in the broadest meaning of the word. Any doctor will tell you that the best way to postpone the effects of aging is to remain active.
Old premise: work sucks, and after decades of toil, one has “earned the right” to get paid to do nothing. New premise: work is self-defined, self-led and empowering. Small-scale and global-reach entrepreneurship is a reality and this will make work a joy rather than a painful necessity.
Old premise: most work out there is physically taxing, shortens our lifespans, and can’t be performed well after a certain age. New premise: most work out there is/will increasingly be intellectually engaging, will lengthen our lifespans, and can be performed on a part-time and/or at-home basis.
Gobry doesn’t advocate forcing people to work, simply changing the expectation. He figures that people will take frequent sabbaticals and choose more flexible schedules later in life.
This is all sensible, really, for people who remain healthy and whose jobs require no activity more physically stressful than hammering out an email, clearing a jammed copier, or lugging a mug of coffee back from the break room. I don’t envision myself ever quitting work; even if I won the lottery or otherwise became independently wealthy, I’d still want to engage myself in mental challenges.
Then again, I’m not a coal miner or construction worker or house mover. Not to be too terribly condescending, but I’m guessing those people get far less empowerment and joy out of their jobs than your average public intellectual or graduate of France’s top law school currently enrolled in France’s top business school. Further, while my technology crystal ball is cloudy, I’m guessing those jobs won’t allow telecommuting.
It seems to me that we need to figure out a way to ensure that people who work physically demanding, psychically unrewarding jobs are taken care of in old age without creating perverse incentives for the rest of us to quit work a decade too soon.
Photo by Flickr user 1Sock under Creative Commons license.