The debate on pensions is off to a bad start. Because we are focusing on the wrong questions and on outdated issues.

Ever since pension systems were created (probably first for soldiers in the Roman army), a great many means have been used to determine the beneficiaries and organise the financing.

Today, where funding is collective, the focus is on the retirement age, the same for everyone, which seems fair when the retirement of the inactive is funded by those who work. But this misses at least two important dimensions: some people have been contributing since the age of 18, others only since 25 or more; and it is obviously scandalous that those who have been working since they were very young should have to work until the same age as those who have studied for a very long time in order to be entitled to a full pension. Especially since those who start working early obviously have much more strenuous jobs, since they are usually jobs that use physical strength.

Others recommend that this objection should be met by taking into account only the number of years of contributions. Thus, everyone would leave when they have financed the system for the same number of years. This would mean, if the number of years is 42, that one would retire at 60, or at 67, depending on the length of one’s education. This generally corresponds to systems in which everyone finances their own pension.

But this does not solve the main inequality: the number of years of healthy life after work varies from 5 to 15, or even 20 years. This is the main inequality.

An ideal system would therefore be one in which everyone had the same healthy life expectancy at the end of their working life. This is the only number that should be discussed: not the age of departure, nor the number of contribution quarters, but the number of years of healthy life after a career. This may seem difficult to work out. And yet, today we know very well the life expectancy according to careers and we could decide that everyone should have at least ten, twelve or fifteen years of life in good health after their career.

Of course, this would mean varying the age of retirement according to the occupations carried out. If someone spends his entire career in a manual trade, he would leave very early. If he switches to a more sedentary and intellectual occupation, his career would be longer. This system would therefore be infinitely more socially just.

The main reason, in my opinion, why this is not done is not technical: talking about retirement age or the number of quarters of contributions allows us to talk only about past life, not to mention the end of life; whereas talking about the number of years of life in good health after a career means facing up to the fact that we are all mortal, and that this time to live, especially in good health, is limited.

This is also why we use the ugly word “retirement”, which refers to a dark period, which leads to death. That used to be true. It is no longer true. And this word, which has such a detestable connotation, should be replaced by a more accurate expression, such as “healthy post-career time”.

Many people think of life after their career as a time of fulfilling activities; and more and more so-called “retirees” continue to work for pleasure, or to improve their standard of living, after the official retirement age; finally, more and more people then have socially useful activities; not only as parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, but also as very active members of associations of all kinds. With non-monetary activities of considerable social utility.

If we were to talk in these terms, we would succeed in moving the debate to where it should be: how can we ensure that everyone’s life expectancy in good health is equal and as long as possible? How can we ensure that everyone is in a position to make the best use of it, for themselves and for others? This would mean talking about prevention, hygiene, education, food, sport, pollution, culture and democracy. In other words, the real determinants of living time.

Painting: A happy tune, Eugenio Zampighi (1859-1944)