Retirement and Responsibility


It is generally believed that every able man should work in his youth. The responsibility to work is most obvious when a person fails to support himself financially, but it is commonly asserted that financial debts are not the limit of this responsibility. Even the son of a billionaire would be looked down upon if he was not somehow productive. To “mooch” is shameful behavior even one’s patrons are unaffected.

It is similarly common to believe that an old, less able man needn’t work any longer. We say that he has “earned” his rest and leisure. The point is easy to grant if the man in question has sufficiently saved to ensure his own financial security for decades forth. Many retirees find ways to be active, socially or in isolation; but we do not demand such activity. For the retiree’s relatives and neighbors, retirement is a time of thanksgiving and recompense.

Here’s the rub. These days, most people can afford retirement by 65 years or so of age. But what if a person can afford to retire at 50, or even 40? Has that person also “earned” retirement? In an era when young adults are almost universally expected to attend college, many do not even begin careers until their mid-to-late 20s. Must someone who started working later also retire later? 

How many years of labor are necessary before one can retire without social reproach? Or should the measure be toil, rather than time? 

Of course, these are all rhetorical questions. The point is that retirement, like adolescence and so many other Western customs, is an arbitrary privilege of modern affluence. A privilege long afforded eventually is perceived as an entitlement. Conservatives and liberals alike grant this entitlement. But one doesn’t need to dig deep to discover its frailty. It can be abused. It can be lost. It can be changed.

With recent discussions of meritocracy on Ricochet, perhaps it is time again to consider how our society’s expectations regarding retirement might be changed, both legally and informally.

Will major adjustments to Social Security and other programs targeting elders ever become politically viable? How distinct are these programs from welfare to the poor and unemployed? Should retirement benefits be shifted to the private sector and local communities so that individuals may be judged, face to face, by ability rather than age? Should we expect more of both the young and old? Or is it acceptable that working life is an ever-shrinking interlude between adolescence and retirement?

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There are 16 comments.

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  1. Arahant Member

    I think people should do whatever they are able to afford to do. If they can afford not to work, so be it. If they either have to or want to contribute, that’s fine.  I know one woman who will be 75 in a few months and is still working. She travels the country and even into foreign countries with her work. She enjoys it, has good health, and sees no reason to stop. On the other hand, I know a man who retired about 25 years ago when he was 55. He moved out to the country and takes care of a big yard, has had some horses and other critters, etc. Again, it’s what they can afford to do and what they want to do.

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  2. raycon and lindacon Inactive
    raycon and lindacon

    Aaron;  Does not the family figure into this subject in a big way?  A man or woman raises their children with the understanding that the care of them when old is the reciprocation expected from the effort of raising them to adulthood.

    We are now in our 70s, and Linda is a full quadriplegic.  I am her full time caregiver.  Our daughter and her family relocated from Missouri to Colorado Springs in order to help with the work.  Her husband found work here so that would be possible.

    Your entire conversation about retirement is somewhat strange within the context of the Biblical teachings regarding family.

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  3. user_936298 Member

    It depends on who is paying for the retirement. I worked with one young person who proudly told us that his father, at age 50, was retiring from the postal service. When I mentioned something about the taxpayers having to foot the bill, he said ‘when someone works for 20 years for the same employer they deserve to have a good retirement’. 
    Is that the goal now – to work for 20 years and then retire? My grandson provided the same type of scenario – he is now in high school but he plans on joining the Air Force, staying in for 20 years, then retiring to ‘just hang around the house’ afterwards. Ei-yi-yi!
    My husband’s been working since he had a paper route in grade school – and still can’t convince himself we will be able to survive on his pensions, Social Security, 401k’s, and my wages. So he still keeps slogging to a job he’s hated for 40 years.
    There is no one size fits all, or even most.

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  4. user_138562 Moderator

    Aaron, you’ve asked a bunch of good questions but I’m only going to answer a small part.  If someone retires early and it’s not on a government pension, it’s not our business as taxpayers.  However, as people, we still have our opinions.  I’m almost 48 and if I had a rich uncle who left me a treasure so that I could afford to retire right now, I wouldn’t do it.  I just wouldn’t feel “right”.  Sometimes, though, you hear about a very innovative person who has slaved away and literally obsessed over making a business.  They may have started it when they were a teenager and set aside all the normal pleasures that we take in life, like having a love life, starting a family, going on vacations, etcetera so that they could put all their focus into building a business empire.  If a person like that sells off their business, cashes out, and decides to spend the rest of their life in leisure, I’m not going to begrudge them.  That person has produced 50 times what I ever will, so I’m not going to say they haven’t worked enough.

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  5. user_1184 Member

    Aaron Miller: How many years of labor are necessary before one can retire without social reproach?


    • #5
  6. user_1184 Member

    Aaron Miller: These days, most people can afford retirement by 65 years or so of age. But what if a person can afford to retire at 50, or even 40? Has that person also “earned” retirement?

    In a free economy, the measure of one’s contribution is his earnings.  Someone who can afford to retire at a young age has, by definition, earned it.  Congratulate him.

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  7. AR Inactive

    Why does one’s work need to be compensated to be respectable? If a young man inherited a large sum of money and instead of continuing to flip burgers, work in an office, etc (paid work) chose to labor in another monetarily uncompensated way, say posting on Ricochet or some other form of uncompensated speaking/teaching or perhaps composing music.

    Is that decision somehow suspect because the man no longer has to produce goods or services people are willing to pay for? What if he instead wanted to invest him time and energies in his family instead of working for a paycheck he has no use for. Is that somehow dishonest, unfair, or suspect? Of course not.

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  8. HeartofAmerica Inactive

    People should do whatever they want to do…retire when they want or remain working. I’ve seen people (at my company) that retired the minute they were eligible in their early 50’s and some who have over 50 years of service and are still there.
    However, given what is going on at my employer right now, if I could financially do it…I’d retire and leave a job available for someone else on my team so they could stay employed.
    Life’s short. Be happy. Don’t worry about what your neighbor’s think.

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  9. user_517406 Inactive

    I agree that people should do what works for them, but the retirement age wrt Social Security should go up dramatically, with the exception of those who have bad health problems.  People live longer now and should work longer.

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  10. user_428379 Thatcher

    I have a good job, that is not physically demanding.  I plan on working until I can’t.  I have friends who worked blue collar jobs that were physically demanding, and over a thirty year period, took a toll.  I would say they deserve their union pension which is quite generous.

    I want to work until I’m at least seventy.  But…. I work in IT.  That field is not friendly towards the aged, so we’ll see.

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  11. user_615140 Inactive

    Do whatever you can do, having regard to your physical and financial capacities, to preserve or enhance the common good. That might be fighting fires, or baby sitting the grand children.

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  12. Salamandyr Inactive

    As long as their hand isn’t in my pocket, I don’t care what other people do.  I don’t live my life for them, and I sure as heck don’t want them living their life for me.*

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  13. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie

    My father is old enough to remember a time when retirement was considered a rare privilege accomplished by a wealthy few.  In my experience, nothing ages people quite as much as not being busy.  If a person wants to retire and can afford it, it’s certainly that person’s choice, but I don’t think it’s good for anyone to have an expectation of years of idleness:  We can’t afford as a society to subsidize it for most people, and it does the older people themselves far more harm than good.  Obviously, if one does hard physical labor as a younger person, it may be necessary to find a different kind of work later in life.

    My current employer unfortunately requires people to retire at 70.  I’m hoping that someone challenges the requirement as age discrimination before I get to that age, so I don’t have to do so. In the same line of work, my previous workplace had several people who worked very successfully and productively into their late 80s.

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  14. Proud Skeptic Inactive
    Proud Skeptic

    Whether you retire or not is 100% whether you can afford it.  I can’t imagine why anyone who has had a productive working life…even if it is only 25 years…should be vilified because he is financially able to retire at 50.

    The norm is 65.  This is because defined benefit pension plans and Social Security are designed to begin at that time.  They could also be designed to start at 50 or 60 but the required contribution would have to be higher.

    There are lots of folks who continue to be productive into their seventies.  In reality, for whatever reason, most people seem to stop being as productive around 60 so it all works out fine.

    I was able to retire at 56 largely because of a benefit the company I worked for since I was 22 ended up paying off extremely well.  My own assessment of my performance was that I wasn’t contributing as much as I used to.  It was time to step aside and let younger folks have their shot.

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  15. user_84826 Inactive

    One of the things that worries me (as I realize that I can retire if I want to) is what my friends call the “after breakfast problem.”  For all, too many fellows (funny, women seem never to join in these conversations), the answer is to mix that first gin & tonic.  Not a satisfactory answer.  I think that one should work as long as you can be productive.  Anything less would be a betrayal of yourself.

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  16. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    I subscribe to the Rabbi Daniel Lapin Theory of Retirement: Don’t.
    I’m 65, have a job that I like, and I intend to work and be productive as long as I can.  No Public Dole for me.

    • #16
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