Tue, Aug 08, 2006 - Page 8 News List

End mandatory retirement ages

By Tsong Tien-tzou 鄭天佐

When world-renowned physicist Yang Chen-ning (楊振寧) quoted Li Shangyin (李商隱) -- a famous Tang dynasty poet -- during his retirement party at New York's Stony Brook University in 1999 at the age of 77, he changed the poem from "The sunset is infinitely good, but alas it precedes nightfall" (夕陽無限好,只是近黃昏) to "If the sunset is infinitely good, why feel sad about nightfall?" (但得夕陽無限好,何須惆悵近黃昏) to express his feelings.

Yang is a Nobel laureate in physics. Although there was not an age limit for retirement in the US, and he was healthy both physically and mentally, he still decided to retire and devote himself to working for Beijing's Tsinghua University.

Unlike many retirees who are at a loss after retirement, he did not feel sad. He even married a 28-year-old woman in 2004. Today, at 84, he always puts on a happy smile and lives a wonderful life, while the students at Tsinghua have the chance to learn from this true master.

Why should people retire when they reach a certain age? What is the best time for retirement? Such questions deserve to be considered.

I believe that the retirement system was produced to regulate public servants. But the private sector has also gradually adopted the system. Generally, public posts are relatively stable. Unless a public servant commits a crime, he can hardly be dismissed even if he is incompetent. Therefore, the system is the best way for him to leave gracefully when he reaches a certain age. Unfortunately, this also forces other capable employees to leave their posts, while the country suffers from loss of productivity.

In ancient times, its was difficult for people to make a living. They had to work hard every day and retirement was not an option. Even if they had children and grandchildren, they had to support a big family.

Fifty or 60 years ago, civil servants in Taiwan generally retired in their 50s, but the average lifespan for men was less than 50 years at the time. Even if they did not retire, they were more than likely to fall victim to old age and disease.

Today, the average retirement age is about 65. But the average life expectancy of men is exceeds 75, and that of women is more than 80, so retirement generally precedes death by more than 10 years.

Some military officials, civil servants, and teachers choose to retire early, because they are eligible for "full retirement pensions" once they reach 50. Afterward, they just idle away their time at home and live a boring life. Perhaps they go on a package tour once a year. Such a life is really meaningless.

As they enjoy the pensions for 20 or 30 years, they also consume precious national resources, becoming a heavy burden for all. Thus, the early retirement system is bad for both individuals and the country.

The aging population is a serious problem for this country. We all worry that if the number of young people is low in the future, there will be insufficient manpower to take care of our senior citizens. Several ideas about how the government should take care of our seniors were discussed at the recent Conference on Sustaining Taiwan's Economic Development.

But nobody talked about the huge budget for pensions as the working population and taxes decrease, or the improvement of the retirement system. It makes me feel that the government has failed to "suit the remedy to the illness," as the old Chinese saying goes.

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