Why not retire at 130?

Friday, September 10 2004 @ 03:36 PM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto

More than eight years ago I sent a letter captioned "Why not retire at 130?" to the editor of the Japan Times. This letter got printed only after I persistently asked the editor to clarify the selection criteria he had applied when he decided my letter wasn't worth printing. There must have been a lot of, or at least some, reactions to my proposition but not a single reply letter passed censorship. Instead the Japan Times continued to print letters complaining about trifling and irrelevant matters such as droppings from ill-disciplined dogs in the neighborhood. On the surface Japan seems to have changed a lot since the mid-1990s but the situation with agist and sexist bias has remained essentially unchanged. That is why I now post the 8-year-old letter on my own blog.

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I have just turned 60. That means I will reach mandatory retirement age in less than two years according to the Rules of Employment of the Swiss company at which I am working. Perhaps I would be allowed to stay on for some more years if my employer was convinced that I would behave. And then, am I supposed to bow out? No way!

The media prefer to take up bedridden people or those suffering senile dementia. But in recent years gerontological studies have revealed that people over 65, including those in their 70s or 80s, keep growing instead of declining if they are trained, given opportunities and exposed to stimulating real life instead of segregated into nursing homes or the like, and measured in terms of ability for "contextual" thinking rather than abstract thinking. In this context, I cannot but suggest that the mandatory retirement age, "teinen", be raised to 130 in every company doing business in Japan.

Why 130? My rationale is simple: According to "The Fountain of Age" by Betty Friedan, the world-renowned antisexist activist-turned anti-agist activist, Otto von Bismarck of the Second Reich set the mandatory retirement age at 65 for the first time, though a little arbitrarily, when life expectancy at birth was a mere 37. If you divide 65 by 37 and multiply the result by today's life expectancy, you get 130 something.

You may ask, "Arithmetic aside, how do you think a corporation can afford to retain such old people that long?" There is a way. As anyone who has worked on an exercise to reengineer the business process following Michael Hammer's formula must have noticed, there is an enormous amount of redundant manpower in the workplace. Some argue the jobless rate would top 10 percent if corporations in Japan got rid of all redundancies. Before Hammer theorized how to streamline the workflows in 1993, "restructuring" had almost always meant a cutback in jobs using the wrong elimination criteria, e.g., age. If we use the right criteria such as "non-value-adding jobs should be totally eliminated from business processes," that would certainly create jobs for senior employees rather than further deprive them of employment opportunities.

Japan's 1986 Equal Employment Opportunity Law was half-heartedly meant to outlaw sexist biases. Ever since, discrimination against women, though a little less explicit, has remained a widespread practice. Much less can we expect anytime soon our lawmakers to pass a bill similar to the 1977 legislation in the United States that says having any mandatory retirement age is unconstitutional. But let us older people raise our voices to make them heard by those equally aged legislators.

If I am nuts about this, then all the U.S. lawmakers who voted for the 1977 anti-agist bias law must have been nuts, too.

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