Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Why Koreans still work at 75?

Tyler cowen links to an interesting post about age and employment across countries. The article suggests we rethink the early retirement norm. Here are my comments:

First, retirement should be a personal choice depending on factors such as health, financial comfort etc. It was nudged into a norm through the use of social security. Instead of the lump sum social security, we must rethink the size, frequency and conditionality of social security payouts. We may, for example, decide on step -wise increasing payouts starting at age 55. We may, as another idea, keep the size of payout restricted for those in employment, within the principles of fairness and social justice.

Second, even if we accept the principle behind retirement, the exact age itself must change. The retirement age is a leftover from a effort dominated era. In those times, productivity waned with strength and thus older you got less productive you were. But no longer. We are now a predominantly knowledge economy. And knowledge productivity increases with age. (It also vanishes with new knowledge.)

Third, in the short term, whether adding the retirees to working population helps or not depends on skill profiles. If skill profiles of older workers is different from younger workers then entrepreneurs may devise methods to deploy these skills to economic gain. However, if these skills are similar to those of younger population then demand supply equations will come into play and overall effect will either be lower wages or unemployment. 

Fourth, in the long term, younger workers will get re-skilled (hopefully fairly quickly) and create a skill difference that will help the economy.

Fifth, whatever new form social security takes, it cannot undermine the promises made earlier. Government or any party must be held accountable to the promises they make. The lives of individuals are based on these promises. Had the government not promised social security, people may have saved for themselves instead of spending everything.

In sum, the idea behind social security is laudable. The implementation leaves a lot of scope for improvement.