Old People Should Resign Forthwith

Lucy Kellaway figures the best thing we middle agers can do for the young is to get the hell out of their way.

FT management columnist Lucy Kellaway, who’s just a few years older than me, figures the best thing we middle agers can do for the young is to get the hell out of their way.

This inescapable, awkward truth has been rammed home to me in the past few months as I keep meeting bright people in their 20s and 30s desperate for a job in journalism – and for mine in particular. I fob them off with platitudes about what a difficult market journalism is, but no one is fooled. The real reason they can’t do my job is that I’m doing it myself.

The same is true for almost all professions. The young can’t advance because everywhere they find my complacent generation is in situ. Thus the only way of solving the problem is to make everyone of a certain age, say over 50, walk the plank.

Before I go any further, I ought to make one thing clear. This is not a resignation letter – I intend to hang on for dear life. It is just that I can’t resist pointing out the obvious, even though it is not in my interests to do so. Forcibly breaking the logjam would not only do much for youth unemployment, it would also serve a lot of other ends.

The choice boils down to whether it’s better for people to have a decade at the beginning or at the end of their careers where they are demoralised and underemployed. The answer is easy: surely it is better to be more active at the beginning.

To have people idle at a time when they are full of energy and their grey-cell count is at a maximum is a shocking waste. And in any case, my generation has had it very good for much too long. We bought houses when they were still just about affordable. We had free education and pensions. It’s all been jolly nice, and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. Now is the time to start to pay.

One of the beauties of the young is that they are cheap. Shifting from old to young would bring down wages and would also solve the executive pay problem in one shot. Almost all the people earning grotesque amounts are over 50 – getting rid of them would mean CEO pay would come thumping down.

Now, this is presumably at least a bit tongue-in-cheek. But there’s quite a bit of truth here. To be sure, with age comes experience. But there comes a point at which the experience tends to calcify and, combined with a diminution of energy and enthusiasm, leads to diminishing returns.

Of course, the ideal solution would be to figure out a way to keep the middle- and past-middle-aged folks gainfully employed while also hiring the shiny youngsters.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Is it wrong that the first thought that came to mind was “Get off our lawns, kids”?

    Fortunately, because off global warming they are running out of ice floes on which to put all us old-sters and send us off into the Pacific.

  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    Perhaps some reverse version of Swift’s modest proposal?

  3. Andy says:

    It’s nice to seem some introspection by at least some members of the boomer generation.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    This is hardly a new complaint. The Baby Boomers faced precisely the same problem a couple of decades ago: the “Greatest Generation” just wouldn’t get out of the way gracefully.

    I note in passing that it’s not only newspaper and magazine columnists who “hang on for dear life”. The same is true of politicians, full professors, physicists, generally, first chair musicians with major orchestras and so on and so on. Just about any area that doesn’t have a mandatory retirement age.

    The average age of a concertmaster with a major orchestra is about 60. That’s in a field in which child prodigies are the rule rather than the exception.

  5. James in LA says:

    I think the actual conflict will be between those who have embraced the info age (and to a lesser extent, at least the remote possibility of shared, demonstrable facts) and those still mired in the Age of Paper, such as all the GOP candidates. Their instinct tells them No One Is Watching because in the past you could white lie your way across the country and no one could connect the dots.

    In 2012, the Video Vault is vast beyond belief, and anything wished to be known can be known, and right-quick. Every lie told is recorded, forever. And many act like this has not happened.

    On this alone, Obama will wind handily. All he has to do is stand beside video display, and press “PLAY.”

  6. James H says:

    I’m in my 30s now, but I remember that in my 20s I felt a bit trapped by folks in their late 30s and early 40s early in my career. I started at small companies, and at each one I had maybe one or two rungs on the advancement ladder within the company before my progress was stymied by somebody who’d held the job just above me for around a decade or more, and was growing moss and not interested in advancing. When this got particularly acute in my mid to late 20s, I found myself changing jobs whenever the slot above me was occupied by somebody who’d been at his desk so long that he was growing moss.

    I think it’s a common generational thing …

  7. Ron Beasley says:

    I’m 65 and remember at a company I worked at 30 years ago as an engineer we had a name for less than productive older employees – RIPRetired In Place.

  8. While I agree with Doug this article was meant largely tongue in cheek, it does point out an actual problem. At my company, for instance, currently a third of our workforce is 60 or older, which has creating a ‘bathtub’ problem. Since we’re overloaded with senior people, there’s no place for people in the middle to move up. So we get all these great entry level hires, who work for the company for a number of years, developing skills, knowledge, and experience, and then their career hits a wall, they get frustrated and leave.

    After years of this, we’ve ended up with a lot of really senior people and a lot of really junior people, and no one in the middle. When those senior people finally do leave, there’s going to be no one left capable of taking over for them.

  9. A voice from another precinct says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Doug, you are a mere child.

  10. Tillman says:

    Related: all those articles in the news going back years about how Millennials want to advance in their jobs too quickly, or feel entitled to advance quicker.

  11. JKB says:

    Cry me a river. As someone who followed the Boomer bulge, let me tell you, you have to make your own way in the world. If old people are blocking the road, make a new one. If they are slow and unproductive, well, you should be a hard core free market capitalist. Then you’ve simply to start your own business, work hard and thrive in spite of them. Then a “vulture” fund will come along and send the deadwood packing.

    If you think the old people are in your way, you should definitely be pro-market, anti-cronyism and a filthy capitalist to your ambitious core.

    Oh and if you want to thrive in journalism for say the next 20 years, get a computer and domain name, download some software, and write. Waiting to get on at old media, just means you’ll be laid off without a name for yourself when the old organizations die.