FROM THE STOOL

IS IT TIME FOR A CHANGE?

It wasn't too long ago that very young children were forced to work ten-hour six-day weeks in unsafe heavy manufacturing facilities. There was no Social Security, and pension benefits were non-existent. Seventy percent of our people were farmers, barely surviving on the strength of their strong backs and dogged determination.

Infant mortality was high, life expectancy short. Higher education was largely the prerogative of the haves, with most of the wealth concentrated in very few hands.

It can be argued that the Great Depression and FDR's New Deal created our middle class and provided almost everyone, with a white skin, an equal opportunity to enjoy the American dream. An enormous social change, which helped establish the United States as the model for the free world.

Over the last sixty years, pure food and drug laws, universal public education, antitrust enforcement, social health and welfare programs, student loans, private and public pension plans, shorter work weeks, affirmative action, made the good life available to more of our people and created the highest standard of living in the world.

Rapid new developments in science, technology, transportation, communications and medicine have lengthened our lives, broadened our horizon, and given most of our citizens a first-ever global perspective. Facts our, however, that life is still short, and while it now may be more than "a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury and signifying nothing," there is still only one certainty and that is that it will end. We really ought to try to enjoy as much of the adventure as possible as we will all be dead for a long time. With that in mind, it occurred to me that perhaps a major change in the way that we organize the lives of our citizens going forward is in order.

For those of us in the fourth quarter, it is hard to believe quarters one, two and three have passed so quickly. For most of us, the time we had the greatest need for cash we had none. When our desire for fast cars was greatest, they were out of reach, trumped by the need for reliable fuel-efficient family transportation. Our sexual energy and physical prowess was at its peak when we were without resources and experience. We spent the first quarter learning about life and reaching maturity, and most or all of the second and third raising a family, building a career, and trying to develop enough surplus wherewithal to fully enjoy the fourth in reasonable health and with vitality and vigor.

It seems to me we have gotten it wrong, organized our institutions and our lives in reverse. We force our best commercial pilots to retire at 58, our most able and experienced business people at 65, when their skills and talents have peaked. We have unlimited time to surf, golf, and play tennis just as our bodies begin to inevitably fail.

The best possible scenario would allow us to go directly at age 25 from college to retirement to fully enjoy raising a family - traveling extensively - and take every advantage that youth affords then plan to go to work at age 50. This would give us on average 25 years to build a career with anything over 75 a well-deserved bonus.

This could only work if our seniors were content to accumulate capital for the benefit of the next generation, and business and government were prepared to pay Social Security and retirement benefits in advance. Clearly there are actuarial issues and problems created by serious illness and premature death during the new retirement period, but is sure would be nice to be able to cut loose and play when we are strongest and best equipped to let it all hang out.

Some of my associates who have previewed this concept think I'm crazy. Perhaps you would be kind enough to send me your thoughts.