A Smilansky paradox: Beneficial Retirement

This is my second post on Saul Smilansky’s ’10 Moral Paradoxes.’ My first post addressed the paradox of Fortunate Misfortune. Now, I would like to address the second paradox Smilansky discusses in his book; the paradox of Beneficial Retirement.

 Smilansky claims that a large share of those in a particular job/position should consider retirement because of the likeliness of someone better than them replacing them; a better replacement would be beneficial. Particularly, this applies to typical ‘offical’ jobs (e.g., doctors, researchers) that often are less exposed to competition than many jobs in the private sector (at least once you are in the job). I don’t like this idea. This implicitly demands that everyone (because the argument really applies to everyone) put everyone else above themselves, and I think that is to demand (and hope) for too much from people. And, the situation does not exactly support a stable society, where half the workforce (at any given time, the way I read Smilansky) gave up their job and went searching for other jobs or did not contribute at all. It hardly sounds like a beneficial situation. I guess that since Smilansky writes books on philosophy (instead of applying vacant jobs), he considers himself at least in the top half among philosophers. I am alarmed; me, an amateur philosopher, easily finds holes and problems in much of his thinking. On p. 28, Smilansky claims that the difficulty can be seen when he claims that a doctor cannot ‘sensibly and consistently’ make the following statements:
1. I am a doctor because I want people to be healthier; and
2. I will continue to work as a doctor.
(Smilansky presents the statements for three different examples, but that does not make any difference and is unecessary, I think.) Well, I conjure that many doctors are not doctors because they want people to be healthier, but rather because of a range of reasons, possibly, but not necessarily including wanting people to be healthier. Also, I disargee with Smilansky’s claim that the replacement is probably better than those employed for half the workforce. (Half is very much; where do all those people come from; is there enough buss drivers in Norway to replace half of them currently employed with those unemployed?) Of course, half is just a number and could have been whatever, the point is that it is relatively large. This particular issue requires some refinement, and I am surprised that Smilansky does not discuss this. The betterness of a replacement employee depends on the time scale the skills are measured; I am certain that seniority and experience is very important in many jobs, and when a replacement has gained that seniority and experience he might turn out to be better than the first employee. Ironically, he would never get the chance, because all these recently retired competitors with a lot of experience is knocking on the door and the newcommer is morally required to give up his job, according to Smilansky. Secondly, the benefit of the better replacement has a large time lag compared to the inital retirement of the previous emploee; the benefit is less worth when we have to wait for it.

Following my arguements above, I think there are two big problems with the paradox of Beneficial Retirment. First, it would not be beneficial if people were to consider retirement all the time. Second, it doubt the benefits to be reaped. Paradoxically, Smilansky may be aware of these problems, because he imposes a set of ‘underlying conditions’ for the paradox which avoids the problems I raise (p. 24). I find no reason to excuse Smilansky, however, for imposing unrealistic conditions. The conditions turns the paradox into a hypothetical paradox which may find its best use as entertainment.


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