One of the central premises of the information-innovation-intangible economy is that we need all the brainpower we can muster. Yet, some of our most experienced brains are leaving the workforce. But there is an alternative, as the New York Times’ John Tierney explains in the “The Adams Principle.”
The work ethic is alive and well among America’s retirees, or at least the ones who bombarded me with letters after I suggested raising the retirement age for Social Security. They said they would be glad to keep working if I could find them a job.
In theory, this shouldn’t be a problem because employers ought to be clamoring for workers as baby boomers hit retirement age and the pool of younger workers shrinks. In reality, though, older workers face discrimination. While some companies are recruiting them, many employers are still leery, partly because of irrational prejudice against the old, but also because of perverse incentives in current policies.
. . .
Most workers could keep going longer if they and employers reconsidered the old assumption about a career trajectory. They could learn from the example of John Quincy Adams, who was elected to Congress after serving as president. He dismissed objections that the new job was beneath him, and voters didn’t discriminate against him for being overqualified.
Adams started his new career at age 63, just about when the typical American man now retires. He wasn’t especially spry, once calling his body “a weak, frail, decayed tenement battered by the winds and broken in on by the storm.” Yet he stayed on the job until his death at age 80.
He accomplished so much in those years that he is remembered as a better congressman than president. You could call him an inverse example of the Peter Principle, someone who succeeded by being demoted below his level of incompetence.
But I prefer to draw a different lesson. Call it the Adams Principle for employees and employers: if the president can flourish after a demotion, so can anyone else.
I’m not sure Adams would agree that his time in Congress was a demotion. If fact, he often referred to it as a promotion, since it was the one public office he held where he was directly elected by his neighbors (elected as Senator by the Mass State Legislator and his term as President through an election in the House of Representatives).
However, the point is well taken. The “retired” have more to offer than simply being “re”-“tired”.