A Modest Proposal
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – I'm sitting here on a beautiful autumn morning, looking out the window. People are walking in the street, heads down, going to important places in their business lives, leaning into the duties that lie before them. Me, I'm not going anywhere. In a couple of minutes I'll go get a cup of coffee. Later I'll think about lunch, which is, as you know, the most important meal of the day, with the possible exceptions of breakfast and dinner. After that I'll begin considering what to do this evening between dinner and bedtime. Then it's up again tomorrow for the same drill.

If that sounds like a retirement dream to you (minus golf), you're wrong. They're paying me for it: In between the coffee and meals, and planning for the coffee and meals, I work. The nature of my work is unimportant. It's not odious; it's probably a lot like yours. Much of the time I like it, but that's not the point. I have to be here. Therefore I am. Of all the places in the universe, from the tip of the claw of the Crab Nebula to the bottom of the deepest terrestrial ocean, here is where I am required to be.

We think of retirement as something for those who, having put in years of service, yearn for a pasture with holes and flags in it. But after five or ten years near the beginning of things, when every challenge seemed terrifying and every situation filled with opportunity for advancement, I have felt one thing very strongly: Work is for the very young and the very old. Retirement should be reserved for those who can enjoy it--those old enough to have achieved some wisdom and perspective but young enough to feel the blood in their veins and possibly somebody else's too.

It's a simple idea, easy to execute. After a minimum tenure of employment--say, ten to 12 years, the worker, in the full flush of adult vigor and capacity, would be required to take a retirement package that included a decent severance, a guaranteed stipend, and an adequate continuation of health insurance. After a time the lucky individual, having enjoyed years of carefree retirement activities, at the age of 58 or so, would be expected to return to the ranks of the employed and work until unable to do so any longer, at which point he or she would be expected to get lost.

Think of the benefits to every generation! The young and zesty would have a host of jobs at their disposal and no pesky 40-and 50-year-olds blocking their way up the ladder. Those proud, mature folks in the high summer of their years would roam the planet doing as they wished. Perhaps the most blessed in this plan are those in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, who are now consigned to the rag bin of demography just when they want to work most. In my plan this group reenters the workforce with amazing energy, a lifetime of experience, and a full understanding of how boring life without work can be. What a boon to any office this industrious, sociable group would be, laboring harder and eating and drinking lighter than their younger counterparts, and willing to kiss the feet of any organization giving them something meaningful to do! Anyone who has spent an afternoon at a retirement village knows what I mean.

And what a good deal for our organizations! The workplace would be heavy with two kinds of employees--those who are young, eager to serve, and cheap, and those who are old, desperate to work, and even cheaper. Flushed out of the system, at least for a time, would be the heavy-drinking, driven, neurotic, daydreaming, expensive employees in the broad plain of middle life. True, their retirement packages might be expensive. I know mine would. But as they do now, the very young and very old would bear the brunt of that expense because their employment is so darned economical and--since they want and need to work--likely to stay that way.

Ah, my friends, what a world it would be ... all the kids and older citizens locked up in the jobs that keep the economy functioning ... and the rest of us free to play, to ply the waves, to search for the meaning of life until we were so sick of it that any job would be appreciated, our adventures paid for by the companies that take advantage of us at either end of our lifespan.

There's a huge, unstructured world out there, waiting for those of us with the youth and the imagination to enjoy it. Retirement rules, dudes! Let's get it on! Tempus fugit!