Chapter 8: The Fourth Pillar – To the Conquest of 15 Years of Life

2. Part Time Work
At this point it will be a little better to understand perhaps why the concept and the practice of part-time work form a key reference point for the organisation of an active life that can keep us occupied for 40 to 60 years and even more.
Starting from 60 years of age, with an average life expectancy of twenty years, it should be clear to all that it is necessary to ensure that one has a minimum of paid work, as a resource that is complementary to one’s other income, including pensions. Maintaining a “produc­tive”, not necessarily paid, activity that gives results for oneself and/or others constitutes, in any case, a contribution to the creation of well-being and wealth in a service economy. It represents a key factor in preserving good physical and mental health, and this can never be enough. Full Employment in the Service Economy sets out these arguments in detail.
Bearing the “double helix” perspective in mind, we will concentrate, in the following chapters, on the great debate that has been going on for at least thirty years concerning the concept and modality of lifelong education. It began from an old conception according to which life was organised into completely separate and distinct sectors: first a period of ten to eighteen years of education institutionalised through schools and universities, followed by a period of thirty to forty years of work and then by a “pension”, that less than a century ago left little available time to enjoy it, taking into account mortality rates.
This pattern was undermined not only by the lengthening of the lifespan of each person, but also by the rhythm of the evolution of society and by the increase in knowledge, the whole process crowned by the mushrooming of means of communication.
Some people love to say that we are slaves to technology. Technology, however, works only if it is we who want to adopt it and use it. Let us think of the invention of the piano. Beethoven would never have been able to compose his music on a spinet or on a guitar. Technology opened up a new horizon to him and allowed him to create his masterpieces. Let us then grasp the new technologies with a positive attitude, be open to the new Leonardo da Vincis, the new Beethovens who could have a stroke of genius, thanks to the new possibilities.
In the field of information and teaching the new technologies have probably opened up the way to the greatest and most useful innovations, for a vast public, particularly when it comes to the “double helix”. Whether one works or studies the tools are increasingly the same. Thanks to computers, students do not necessarily go to school or workers, to the factory. The workplace and the place of study tend to merge with life’s places.
It is true that scholastic institutions have, or should have, as their principal purpose that of educating the populace endowed with their own independent opinion. For this very reason they must know how to apply their faculties for judging the reality of the world of work in the broad sense. Scholastic education becomes very conservative if it thinks of maintaining an exclusion zone without being widely open to “practical” experience (known as “empirical”). Under this aspect the education supplied by business is often a lot less part time than is said.
About thirty years ago, in Japan, I visited a training school belonging to a very large video and television corporation. I expected to find highly specialised programmes, whereas more than half of them included courses in geography, history and world-level culture. This hardly corresponded to the image I had in mind which can be seen in hurriedly written articles. As a matter of fact the person in charge of this course told me, it is more important to have colleagues with a good basic training than with a highly specialised one. They will certainly be the first to be able to adapt more easily to technological changes.
Little by little democracy makes progress in business without it being mentioned. The growing levels of information and especially the education of every colleague gives them increasingly greater margins of autonomy. I was able to observe it well in the chemical industry. The more the necessity for knowledge increases at all levels the more the number of simple “performers” falls as they become real and indispensable contributors. There is certainly a long way to go, but the way is open and the prospects are good, so long as advantage is properly taken of every practical and theoretical possibility.
In the case of the “double helix” there is a battle to be fought on another very delicate front, the one relating to education based on discipline against an education that takes account mainly of the problems to be solved. At the moment a problem of any kind is encountered, recourse is always made to interdisciplinary solutions. In the construction of a house, foundations are needed as are water pipes, electricity cables, windows, bathrooms, bedrooms and hundreds of other different things. No single part of it would be of use if it is not taken together: a pipe or a cable in a wall, a wall on a floor, paint on a ceiling etc. So nothing new there, except that traditional education too often favours academic teaching by discipline and leaves to “practice” the integration of the various parts.
The supporters of academic teaching are at least partly right, when they proclaim the necessity of knowing a thing in depth. There is a danger of being superficial and this is why specialties exist and why they multiply in the fields of technology and in judicial matters. But starting from a specialty, and thinking of Jean’s case, one understands still better the necessity for, and the possibility for successive stages of education in which different paths open up like in a game of dominos. In this, one half of a piece has, for example, the number 5, but the other half can be a 3 or a 7. Education is like a tree whose branches grow in different directions; each of us follows the branches that offer him the best prospects.
Having said the above, the fact is that interdisciplinarity has been spoken of for decades but, especially when it comes to educational institutions the term rarely matches the facts. In the case particularly of a certain number of disciplines barriers continue to be erected and in the end these block the possibility of judging and of doing better.
This is why, in the “double helix” proposal a “module” education system is suggested. These modules would integrate specific knowledge of every aspect of a question with the solution to the problem. These modules should, of course, make the greatest use of the computer technology and communication revolution, and be easily accessed from the workplace, home or school. Some progress in this direction can already be seen, though sometimes slower. Twenty five years ago, I had the idea of having my students listen to some video conferences held by important economists in order to give them some reference points different from those I was able to give. I had to obtain the videos and even carry my own television set into the classroom. I was in no way offended to realise that some economists knew how to say things better than I did, or even that they expressed very different points of view. I helped my students to understand and I helped myself.
Another important point concerning education is that of keeping up to date. For certain disciplines or certain teaching, a diploma should be valid for a limited time, subject to being renewed through set procedures. How does one remain up-to-date in the jungle of information that arrives in great quantities and that must be understood, sifted, and utilised advisedly? Nothing is more important than the provision of appropriate and suitable selection systems.
Let us return to who “are or will be 65 years of age”. It is precisely the new technologies that can help us keep up-to-date in relation to the “double helix”. Maybe we have more need of it than others. We can set an example of humility and character involving the young so that they can help us understand what is, after all, also very entertaining. It takes a little effort at the beginning, but technology can and must be dominated. While waiting to become Beethovens of communication for which there are, in any case, a load of valid experiences to show. And we, we can create and suggest education modules in line with our abilities, to make the “double helix” work as it should, between the ages of 65 and 80.

3. An Act of Social Conquest

In the open letter that is the next chapter I will seek to trace the principal points concerning the Welfare Society which anticipates the integration or reintegration of all those who are 65 years of age into productive activity at least till the age of 80. It is a question of progress and social conquest which is translated into the creation of a fourth pillar alongside the other three.


Young and old people: representative inversion

Graph 1: Evolution of the mass of people of 20 years of age and of 60 and over Evolution of the proportions of people of less than 20 years of age and of 60 and over in the European Union

Source: The demographic situation in the European Union, 1995, Luxembourg: Office of the Official Publications of the European Communities

This fourth pillar is founded on part time work, at least a part of which must be directly or indirectly paid while a part can be of the voluntary kind. In the latter case, we repeat, the economic value of numerous unpaid or free activities that in a service economy, are indispensable to the good development of the whole economy and society, should be recog­nised.
At the Geneva Association, from 1988, a series of studies, conferences and publications were organised on the “Four Pillars”. The documentation relating to this research pro­gramme, including the book (in English) “Gradual Retirement”, is available on request.
In order to take a glance at a few figures, we include some significant tables from one of these publications, The Future of Pensions and Retirement, 10 Key Questions.
The United Nations provide other projections that confirm these tendencies.
I will spare the reader other statistics on the subject; they are thick on the ground and more often than not they serve only to spread alarm on “population ageing”.
This is all a false alarm as I continue to stress in the next chapter too.

Table 1: Population of the over seventies in percentage of the total until 2050


Source: Eurostat and Official Federal Swiss Statistics

Table 2: Percentage of the change in the age band 24-65 in the G7 countries and Europe from 1950 to 2050
Source: UN (2000)

It is all a false alarm as I continue to stress in the next chapter too.

Often thse figures are also presented to show another idea, whose perspective is not correct: the one according to which the “old” industrialised world will be invaded by the young people of the third world. In reality the phenomenon of the the lengthening of life expectancy is a phenomenon of universal tenedency with few exceptions. The devastation caused by economic crises, hunger and plagues such as AIDS have effects that are globally linited and – at least so it is hoped – increasingly contained thanks to provisions that are put in place too slowly.

The graph below shows that the band of people over sixty and over seventy five has already begun to increase more than proportionally even in the developing countries.

Graph 2: The band of elderly people in the population of the developing countries
Source: UN Population Division, 1996

Whole books and infinite reports reveal the serious problem of financing pensions in Europe and the rest of the world. In the Geneva Association study mentioned above, Alan Walker<sup>*</sup> of Sheffield University writes: “In fact, in Europe the principal problem for financing pensions is not so much about population ageing so much as the togetherness of low birth rates, the employment structure and pension practice. Over twenty years or so it has been observed that the young entered into the job market increasingly later because of longer studies, and that workers, willingly or not, retired increasingly younger. It could be said therefore that Europe had almost doubled the number of pension years while reducing the number of contributions by about 25%.”
Let there be no mistake. The project for an active life between the ages of 65 and 80 is not an obligation imposed by financial problems, though they remain important. Active life after the age of 60 is an act of social conquest. It represents an opportunity to considerably improve life expectancy and the quality of life. In Alan Walker’s comment we can see how much the organisation and the practice of education need to be reviewed, probably towards the “double helix”, in any event in a way that avoids compulsory lay-offs.
The battle is not primarily one of technology or economics, but rather it is essentially cultural, and the way is rife with hidden dangers.
As can be read in the book on the “double helix” it is often said that older workers are too much of a burden on dynamic businesses that want to adapt quickly to changeable market conditions. However, the studies that state the opposite are growing in number. Often older workers feel implicitly discriminated against, which still happens to women. As a result it is not rare to see how women and the “elderly” intensify their efforts to be better, and they succeed in doing so.
Here is a comment from an American company that makes room for older workers: “They have experience, they can be trusted, they work hard and conscientiously, they are more flexible than their younger colleagues when their tasks are changed”.
A four pillar strategy for those over 65 years of age (maybe even 60) must also lower their wages. In Switzerland, for example, there are no longer second pillar contributions to pay and those of the first are considerably reduced. The salary too, being complimentary, cannot reasonably be compared to the last amount obtained before the introduction of the 4 pillars system. On the other hand taxes are paid on the total income, something that is equally reasonable. And even the 65 year old worker, having between 15 and 20 years of active life ahead of him can give up a part of the income from the first two pillars, or accumulate them for a later time. The essential point is that a real fourth pillar be preserved that will allow him to remain active and take part in society, and that it constitutes the best guarantee of his long term financial stability, thus avoiding the arrival of the day in which he is no longer capable of doing anything.
The 4 pillar strategy also implies that we, the interested, should know how to be organised.
The “third age” organisations do not do enough to prepare an active and productive life for the over sixties and sixty-fives.
In the United States there is an Association of Retired Persons (AARP) which has over a million members. With a fee of ten dollars per person the available budget is good.


* research program on the Four Pillars

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