Out with the Old!

Are old people squatting in jobs younger people should get?

The London Telegraph reports on an unexpected phenomenon observed in the British workforce:

A million jobs have been lost since the Great Recession began – but the number of pension-aged people in work has increased by 200,000. Immigrants, too, are finding employment in ever-greater numbers. Since the recession started, our population of foreign-born workers has risen at a rate of 300 a day – while the tally of working natives has been falling by 600 a day... How can someone with a shaky grasp of English step off the bus and walk straight into a job? And why are pensioners doing so well?

On our side of the pond, we have lost rather more than a million jobs.  While there are still many millions of illegal immigrants earning money, not nearly so many are jumping the fence.  It's also reported that older workers have a much harder time finding a new job than before:

Nationwide, the average unemployed worker age 55 or older looked for a job without success for 10 months last year, the longest stretch on record... Only a quarter of workers age 50 to 61 who lost jobs between the middle of 2008 and end of 2009 were re-employed within a year. For those 62 and up, the results were even worse, with 18 percent landing a new job within a year.

On the other hand, what were the Golden Years for the Greatest Generation are a lost cause for many if not most Boomers - none of us will be able to afford to stop working.

The Way It's Supposed To Be?

One of my grandfathers retired in his early 60s with a pension provided by his giant corporate employer.  Three decades on, he and his wife are still active and ticking, having enjoyed a wonderful time of travel, hobbies, and watching the grandkids and great-grandkids grow up.  His erstwhile employer is long bankrupt; fortunately, he chose the one-big-check pension payout and invested it wisely.  There's enough remaining to get by even after all these years.

To suggest that today's workers will luxuriate the same way would bring on bitter, derisive laughter - more young people believe in alien abductions than believe that they'll ever get Social Security, much less a private pension.  Most, including your humble correspondent, expect to work until they drop barring an unforeseeable stroke of luck.

While elder Americans may not be having such an easy time finding jobs as their British counterparts, they're still trying.  I am personally acquainted with several people well into retirement who've re-entered the paid workforce as a result of their investments crashing.  We all know people in their 60s who're still beavering away with no hope of ever being able to stop.

Popular Delusions of Politicians

FDR's original argument for Social Security was to end the eternal problem of old-age poverty, but that wasn't his only rationale.  In a time of 30% unemployment, the original Keynesians believed it would help matters if the elderly could be induced to retire and open jobs for younger men.

This doesn't work; in fact, it's a fallacy so common as to have its own name, the "lump-of-labor fallacy."  It's based on the assumption that there is only so much work to be done, and that for someone to find a job, someone else has to first lose that job.

Some years ago, France provided proof of the fallacy, when their labor laws were changed to set the maximum workweek at 35 hours instead of 40.  Quoth the Keynesian economists, simple math tells you that this will automatically create 12% more jobs and thus end unemployment!

It didn't, of course; unemployment rose instead.  Adding employees increases inefficiency, as a moment's thought illustrates: will you have an easier time running a company with one person working 40 hours a week, or 40 people working one hour each?  Even the French figured this out and backtracked on the change.

Yet there is a germ of truth to the idea that older workers obstruct youngsters from moving up.  In a stagnant economy, there aren't new companies being created or growing rapidly; thus, most of the senior-level positions already exist and are already filled.  What do you do when your only hope of advancement is for your boss to retire or die - and, his investments having been decimated or even annihilated, retirement is not an option?

Prophecy Is Difficult, Particularly About the Future

It wasn't long ago that serious people worried about a labor shortage caused by boomer retirements.  You can get a good laugh reading this piece from 2007 fretting about that and floating ways companies can try to keep elderly boomers in the office and off the beach.

Turns out that the best way to accomplish that is to destroy their investments, eliminate their children's jobs, and have no jobs for their grandkids.  Where once the young had to support the old, now the elderly often have to help out their floundering descendants.

No, there is not going to be a labor shortage anytime soon, nor will we see mass retirements of boomers within the foreseeable future.

There's only one place where we urgently need retirements, and that's Congress.  People have complained about geriatric politicians, time-servers, and term limits for a long time, but now pundits are drawing a direct link between Boomer philosophy and our venal political culture:

At the level of public policy and moral leadership, as a generation we have largely failed.  The Boomer Progressive Establishment in particular has been a huge disappointment to itself and to the country.  The political class slumbered as the entitlement and pension crisis grew to ominous dimensions. Boomer financial leadership was selfish and shortsighted, by and large.  Boomer CEOs accelerated the trend toward unlimited greed among corporate elites, and Boomer members of corporate boards sit by and let it happen.  Boomer academics created a profoundly dysfunctional system that systemically shovels resources upward from students and adjuncts to overpaid administrators and professors who by and large have not, to say the least, done an outstanding job of transmitting the cultural heritage of the past to future generations.  Boomer Hollywood execs created an amoral morass of sludge — and maybe I’m missing something, but nobody spends a lot of time talking about the towering cultural accomplishments of the world historical art geniuses of the Boomer years.  Boomer greens enthusiastically bet their movement on the truly idiotic drive for a global carbon treaty; they are now grieving over their failure to make any measurable progress after decades spent and hundreds of millions of dollars thrown away.

On the Boomer watch the American family and the American middle class entered major crises; by the time the Boomers have finished with it the health system will be an unaffordable and dysfunctional tangle — perhaps the most complicated, expensive and poorly designed such system in the history of the world. All of this was done by a generation that never lost its confidence that it was smarter, better educated and more idealistic than its Depression-surviving, World War-winning, segregation-ending, prosperity-building parents.  We didn’t need their stinking faith, their stinking morals, or their pathetically conformist codes of moral behavior. We were better than that.

We see the unhappy results today.  We don't need to force people out of jobs or office because of what the calendar says; the problem is precisely "the Boomer Progressive Establishment," or more particularly the Progressive Establishment as epitomized by that generation.

Their parents, the Greatest Generation, knew better; today's Generation X is fast learning that liberal progressivism not only doesn't work, but we simply can't afford it.

Out with the old - the old, tired, failed philosophies of statist liberalism!

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Economics.
Reader Comments

Solutions are so easy a fifth grader could do it. What seems to be an insurmountable hill to climb by the media and the politicians in DC are the simplest of ways, freedom. Freedom from regulations, freedom from the tax code, freedom from lawsuits like the kind the ACLU brings to court, freedom from the federal government where states rights are returned as decreed by the Constitution. With this new found freedom, or should I say the return of our freedoms from an overbearing federal government, mankind's innate spirit of innovation would be unleashed and we would again be the shining city on the hill, the one that made America the envy of the world and the place to go with an idea. We need not as a nation sit in a corner and wring our hands and cry, "woe is me, I've been dealt an unfair hand". We need to throw off the yolk of collectivism and return to what made us great, freedom.

When the next election cycle rolls around it will be the one that decides what we as a country want to be. In my estimation, if we choose the philosophy that our Founders gave to us, we have the chance to become great again. To insure that we don't turn the reins over again to the likes of obama, Pelosi and Reid we need to teach capitalism in the schools from the first grade all the way through doctorate programs in college. If one does not understand this economic wonder then it is easy to see why they would vote for a free lunch.

November 24, 2011 1:50 AM
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