Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mandatory retirement

I’m of two minds about the news that Ontario has moved to ban mandatory retirement of workers at age 65.

On the one hand, I support the move because the leftist in me thinks it’s wrong to discriminate against people for any reason. It’s wrong to deny someone an opportunity they deserve based on their race or gender, so why shouldn’t it be illegal to discriminate against that same person because of their age.

And on a more pragmatic level, I buy into the theory that the over-65 set are blessed with years of experience and knowledge that the Canadian economy can use to get better and more efficient. To an extent, anyway. On that level, forcing sharp-minded people out the door when they arbitrarily hit a certain age doesn’t make sense from an economic point of view.

But part of me doesn’t like this new law. As a young worker myself, I have first-hand experience that a glut of older workers hanging on to high-paying jobs when they’re clearly past their prime is a direct cause of why it’s so hard for a lot of young people to get their start. I think we’ve all worked at places that were top-heavy with older, unfireable workers who were clearly just mailing it in on a daily basis. My university faculty was full of them, for example. The best profs I had were under 40, but they all ended of leaving because the tenured profs above them blocked their access to the upper levels. Leaving aside the injustice of that, I think we all can agree that just as it’s foolish to cast off useful workers solely for age reasons, it’s likewise stupid to not allow innovative new thinkers into the economy.

Maybe this is just a tempest in a tea-pot anyway. The government’s own numbers estimate that only about 4,000 of the 100,000 Canadians who turn 65 every year will take advantage of this new law. I mean, most people I know would rather spend their retirement enjoying themselves than being a wage slave. So hopefully they’ll be more useful seniors who stick around than less productive ones, as most of the pundits are predicting, and the new law will be a net gain for everybody.

My dad, for example, semi-retired when he turned 60 largely for health reasons. He soon got bored with all the free time on his hands, so he now works part-time as a consultant in his industry. His income is about a third of what it was at his peak, but he likes his lifestyle, it keeps him busy for a few days out of every week, and his health is better too.

I don’t think he really did it for the money -- I’d ballpark my parents’ net worth at in excess of a million dollars. But I like his choice. He’s healthy, he enjoys his life, and he apparently still has a skill-set in demand in his industry.

If this new law makes more people like that, I’d guess it’s a good thing. But if it becomes another obstacle to getting healthy turnover in the Canadian economy, we’ll all be worse-off for it. Time will tell I suppose.

As always, I love hearing disagreeing viewpoints in the comments section.

1 comment:

S/100/30 said...

My university faculty was full of them, for example. The best profs I had were under 40, but they all ended of leaving because the tenured profs above them blocked their access to the upper levels. Leaving aside the injustice of that, I think we all can agree that just as it’s foolish to cast off useful workers solely for age reasons, it’s likewise stupid to not allow innovative new thinkers into the economy.

Well, there's no injustice in tenured profs declining to abandon their careers for the sake of younger faculty. There is injustice in mediocres PhD programs flooding the job market so that achieving tenure is such a crap shoot these days, but as long as they need the cheap teaching labor grad students provide, schools aren't going to willingly cut back on their PhD admits.