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Models for the future

(Page 3 of 4)



"We've been through a world in the 17th and 18th centuries where younger people were quite exploited by the old.I think we went through another period where older people were victimized by a social system in which the young profited. I think now there is a possibility that if things could go right in that very hopeful way, they could also go wrong.

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"I think this is really quite a critical moment -- a moment of some decades. A moment which becomes very important for us to approach and live through with a kind of broad perspective on the long history of these things.

"The problem with social security is part of a huge problem with our social-welfare system generally. Just as we're finding it increasingly difficult to afford social security, we're having the same problem with education, with health, with almost every kind of public service.

"Either we have to increase our spending in the public sector -- and it could be increased; we lag far behind many European nations in that respect -- or we could reduce the level of spending in these areas, or we could reduce the level of spending in these areas, or we could try to reform the system in some fundamental way. Those are the only three possibilities. We're now doing one and two. I think the nature of individual values in our society is such that No. 1 is not a political possibility in the future. The American voters will say, 'No more!' -- as in fact they are beginning to do. Nos. 1 and 2 are much less constructive solutions than 3.

"We're not getting much in the way of imaginative proposals of this sort, mostly because the scale of thinking in social science and public policy and politics is quite wrong -- we normally don't deal with these problems until they become a crisis. We deal with them on a kind of interval scale which really doesn't allow us a depth of insight or a breadth of reforming. That's something new in America. The leaders of this society in the early republic, and even through the New Deal, were thinking about public problems not merely for the moment -- whatever the merits of their ideas.

"John Adams was thinking on a scale of centuries. Franklin Roosevelt had a very spacious sense of time. But liberals, conservatives, businessmen, politicians, social scientists today -- everyone is working with blinders on. That's what's fatal to fundamental reform in this society."

In addition to these two scenarios, any projected view of tomorrow would have to reserve a third space for what is already happening today:

* Polaroid Corporation has initiated a sort of trial-retirement policy. Employees are offered a three-month leave of absence to "test the waters of retirement," in the words of Joseph Perkins, Polaroid's corporate retirement administrator. So far, about half retire and half return.

"For some, it lets them know they can handle retirement," Mr. Perkins says. "Others who couldn't handle it and came back -- the unretirables -- didn't lament that. It charges their batteries, and their spirits are high. They return with a new resolve."

* Harvard University now permits employees approaching retirement to spend three hours of work time a week developing postretirement careers or hobbies. The program allows for participation in volunteer activities, avocational development, or second-skills programs. Employees must be 60 and over, with 10 years of employment at the university.

* Travelers Insurance uses retired employees to help fill the 60-odd positions vacant each day because of vacations or illness. The company is also expanding its Older Americans Program to provide opportunities for those who want permanent part-time jobs.

* Continental Illinois Bank hires retirees to work in its check-processing operation, processing the heavy load of checks that come in during the first part of the month. The company also brings in retirees, not necessarily former Continental employees, as consultants and as part-time workers.

In the future it may be both easier to work and easier to retire as the numbers of those over 65 grow larger while the numbers of the young entering the job market grow smaller.