Historians point to “stages of life”. Some group these into “youth”, which includes playing and learning. This is followed by a householder stage, where family, fame, power and wealth become important. Our economic growth models assume these householders, shall be the warriors who support the young and the old. However, lifespans are increasing, creating a greater burden on those householders. When lifespans were shorter, we created social paradigms where a person would work until 65, then live out the balance of their lives in leisure, called retirement. This paradigm was created at a time when the life expectancy was 62, not 92, as well may become the case now, due to medical technology and living healthier lifestyles.
With increased lifespans and rapid changes in technology, it is easy for people to become obsolete. For example, 60 years ago, 40 % of the population was engaged in agriculture, and 26% in manufacturing. These figures have dropped to 2% and 8%, respectively, and even those who are at the top of their game through “lifelong learning”, are obsolete. They have great skills and knowledge in professions that our society no longer needs.
My proposal is that people should retool, after working in a field after 20 our 30 years. It is difficult to make a strategic career move, to start over in a new, more relevant industry while you are a householder. A talented plant manager, with a $100K income, 3 cars, 2 kids and a large house, would be hard pressed to abandon this, to move into education, health care, government or non profit sectors, where his income might be cut in half. It is easier for a a young single person, with few obligations and expenses and an income of $50K, to switch to another industry that pays $45K to $55K. But there does come a time for many, when their children have left, they have divorced, they no longer need 3 cars or the big house. At 50, they may live another 30 years in good health, an amount of time equal to what they have already worked. They have a responsibility to remain relevant, work and remain functional in society for another 30 or 40 years. This might better be accomplished by starting a new career in something that is needed, rather than expand upon their knowledge in something that is irrelevant. It would be unusual for a person, working in one field, to seek a degree in a field completely different from the one they are employed in. For example, it would be more likely that an engineer, get an M.S. or a MBA, than to get a B.S in nursing or government, teaching, or non profit management. Many try desperately to hang onto what they know, which is obsolete and irrelevant. What employer would assist a supply chain manager to become an urban planner?
To truly “start over”, targeting a competitive salary of $50K, a person needs to reduce their expenses, their consumption and cost of living. One way to accomplish this is to return to a university lifestyle, full time. This is a strategic move, that requires “organized abandonment”. of what has been the path, a thought from management guru Peter F. Drucker. “Yesterday’s breadwinner should almost always be abandoned on a fairly fast schedule,” Drucker asserted. “It still may produce net revenue. But it soon becomes a bar to the introduction and success of tomorrow’s breadwinner. One should, therefore, abandon yesterday’s breadwinner before one really wants to, let alone before one has to.” As Drucker declared: “Of course innovation is risky. But…defending yesterday-that is, not innovating-is far more risky than making tomorrow.”
Many would agree that progress occurs either as a direct or indirect result of education, where society is either building upon past knowledge and practices, or creating new or disruptive technology, social or economic forms. As a society, we invest in public K-16 education through taxes to support our children in public schools, and we like to think that innovations are “born in the dorm”, or will manifest later, as a result of that education.
We reduce the cost of that education to the student, through taxes and supportive legislation and policy.
We are wasting our national human capital, by not retooling, re-educating, abandoning the past, and starting new. This requires right sized living at lower consumption levels. If we do not, we will suffer the consequences of placing a high social burden on society to support both the young and the growing population of old.