Ezra’s Controversial Proposal to Change Pension

Twin Oaks has an unusual pension system.  Members need to work 42 hours a week to satisfy their labor obligation to the community.  In exchange for this work the community agrees to cover all the basic costs associated with their living (and in some cases extraordinary costs as well). These include housing, food, medical and dental (for full members), clothing as well as some recreation, education, transportation and entertainment.

At age 50 you start to accrue one pension hour a year.  I am 56, so i get 7 pension hours a week.  Currently, the 93 full members of the community have just over 200,000 labor hours in a year, which includes about 9,000 total pension hours for our “aging” population between ages 50 and 89.  There are about 20 members getting some type of pension.

Full retirement at Twin Oaks would be at 92 years of age

Full retirement at Twin Oaks would be at 92 years of age

Ezra had an interesting idea.  What if we changed the pension plan so it started later (he proposed 60), grew faster (he proposed 2 hours per year) and retired people completely earlier (he proposed 80).  Some quick math showed that this system was disadvantageous to people under 70 and better for those over.  It also added several thousand hours of labor to the community’s budgets (given the current distribution of ages).

The initial comments on Ezra’s paper were quite positive (despite Ezra’s own pessimistic forecast about the idea’s chances for success).  They noted that communards are quite vital at 50 and starting pension then seemed to many to be too early.  That while they started early we were finding even with reduced quota our population over 70 was having trouble making quota, which indicated that they might be advancing too slowly.  And that the existing pension policy was actually designed somewhat arbitrarily before the community had anyone who qualified for pension at all, so for a long time its fairness and reasonableness were untested.

But few good ideas go unpunished in my community (which might not be a bad thing, since we should be testing their veracity) and soon the critics started coming out on the paper.  The loudest complaint being “i have worked long and hard for this pension system which i have been promised and now it seems like the rug is being pulled out from under me.” It is this sentiment combined with the general unwillingness on the part of almost all pensioners to voluntarily increase their own labor obligations which will likely shoot down this proposal (certainly in the current form it will not become policy).


And it brings up interesting questions about aging in community and how we insure quality of life for our older members who start slowing down.  One of the things i observe is that on average we are more healthy than our mainstream counter parts. This should not really surprise anyone, we eat better food (much of it organic, most of it home grown, fairly small amounts of highly processed food, far less sugar, fat and salt than out mainstream counterparts), we have a more active lifestyle (with plenty of walking, biking and physical work) and much less stress (no bosses, relaxed work environment, relatively few deadlines, easy to switch jobs, no fear of unemployment).

Ezra’s proposal also makes us ask bigger questions about ourselves and how we want to treat our aging population.  We will likely form a focus group to look further at this issue and see what types of changes we can actually agree on.  Stay tuned for more details.

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

17 responses to “Ezra’s Controversial Proposal to Change Pension”

  1. Bliss says :

    Could current members under 5 years away not just be grandfathered into the old system while new people and younger ones switch to the new one? Seems like that would ease the transition. Love a good community discussion like this, even though I’m not actually in this one :)…

    • paxus says :

      Dearest Bliss:

      Exactly this type of transition is being considered. And if the pension system changes, it will likely leave a legacy system in place (or partly in place) for the current pensioners and have something different for people who age into it.

      And some of the “dont pull the rug out” comments are from people who have been here for decades, yet not yet qualified for pension. And this feels harsh to many.

      Paxus at Twin Oaks
      13 Redder 2013

  2. Vermin F. Cockwolf says :

    You could, no pun intended, grandfather in current members, or at least members who have been in the community for a to-be-determined number of years. Those who have been there for many years expecting pension to begin at 50 (or those already on pension) could opt to start at that age or to enter into the new system. Younger, newer members, who wouldn’t have to even consider retiring would not really be negatively impacted.

    • paxus says :

      There is the possibility of running a dual system, with a voluntary involvement of the existing pensioners and the approaching ones. But i have to say this proposal is very unpopular amongst existing pensioners. i have to say i think the chances for the system to be so dramatically altered are fairly low.

  3. Stephen says :

    I can see advantages and disadvantages to both systems. Each person’s individual health, familial longevity and energy level differs. In the U.S. Social Security system, people who qualify for benefits are given the choice to begin taking benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70. Each person weighs their own situation and chooses which age is best for them personally. Could you leave the current one in place while adding the option of Ezra’s proposal? That way the individual who feels that they may or may not live past a certain age is given a choice to decide what system is best for them.

    • paxus says :

      Dearest Stephen:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Were we to permit people to choose, i think everyone would opt for the current system, in part because they would accrue tremendous labor advantages by the time they reached 70, when the systems would theoretically cross, but 2 decades of lower quota is highly appealing.

  4. ezrafreeman says :

    Most of my thought process for the proposal came from thinking about how we can retire people from the system earlier– at 80 instead of 90– and have folks over 70 do less work. But I knew as I was posting it (and I was proven quite right) that the 45-65 year old demographic would have a strong negative reaction. It’s okay, I never thought the proposal had a snowball’s chance in hell, I just thought it would open the door to some interesting conversations about aging, and what we expect of people at different age/ability levels. And I think I was successful in that.

    • paxus says :

      Ezra as someone who also advances unpopular proposals from time to time, i appreciate your willingness to stand in the ire here. That said, we do need the conversation on aging and pension and how to both take care of our aging population and how to best keep them part of our workforce. Sometimes the best way to start a conversation is with a sharp disagreement.

  5. cellorelio says :

    As someone in the 45-65 age range who used to live at Twin Oaks, if I were still there, I’d be really open to this plan (though I’d want to see charts and graphs that demonstrate the costs and benefits) — provided that people with tenure have the option to age under the current system.

  6. Arvin says :

    How does the pension system (current or proposed) affect the membership prospects of older people who seek to join? Do any 50+ individuals seek membership at TwinOaks? If they do and are accepted, are they automatically “vested” in the pension system (ie, they qualify for a shorter work week, same as someone their age who joined decades before?) Or must they work the regular 42 hour work week for a certain amount of time before qualifying for a pension?

    • paxus says :

      The way the system currently works is anyone accepted over age 49 automatically is vested. There is currently an extra approval step people over 55 must go thru – i personally hate this policy, because it is often misunderstood, but we have it none-the-less now.

  7. Rico ex- aka Richard Feldman says :

    I remember a conversation with Kat, I’m guessing in the early 80s (when she would have been in her early 50s), in which she articulated a pension structure somewhat analogous to what Ezra is advocating. It always made sense to me to start pension later and have the hours increase faster once it got going. Is there any institutional memory of a previous proposal similar to Ezra’s, or is this the first pension restructuring proposal of its type?

    • paxus says :

      There have been many past efforts to reform the pension policy, tho i dont think i have seen one proposed by Kat. It is likely we will go back to archives as part of this discussion and look at previous proposals and the analysis of them. And as i wrote, it is fairly hard to change existing policies which influence so many members so significantly

  8. Mattie says :

    In my community retirement means reducing quota by 1 hour for each year over 55 years old, which is 6 years/hours different compared to TO’s policy of starting at 50.

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