Don't miss out on life's best chapter

I strongly disagree with Mr Ng Chee Siang's assessment that retirement is a privilege that can be sacrificed out of economic necessity ("Retirement not an entitlement"; last Saturday).

From a philosophical standpoint, many will argue that the purpose of human life entails much more than simply being economically productive.

Retirement has traditionally been a chance for people to take time and explore other pursuits - hobbies and interests, personal enrichment, or perhaps rest and recreation - that they may have neglected earlier in life because of work commitments.

Mr Ng cannot seriously suggest that we turn ourselves into mindless worker bees, slaving from cradle to grave, forsaking the innate human desire for self-actualisation.

One could make just as many economic arguments in favour of retirement.

For one thing, retirees make up a valuable market segment for the service sector, with their sheer numbers and high purchasing power. To do away with retirement would be to diminish a sizeable chunk of this key consumer base.

With respect to the labour issue, the retirement of older employees allows companies to renew their workforce and carry out leadership transition. Stubbornly hanging on to older workers could aggravate the already-pressing issue of youth unemployment.

I also take issue with Mr Ng's insinuation that those who accumulate insufficient savings for retirement "should reflect on what (they) should have done when (they) were younger".

The statement presumes that there is a direct correlation between personal effort and monetary reward. Unfortunately, this may not be the case in the real world.

Countless systemic and structural reasons - such as the birth lottery, limited social mobility, cyclical unemployment, imperfect meritocracy and personal tragedy - prevent deserving individuals from building a large enough nest egg, through no fault of their own.

That is precisely the reason why financial aid and support from the state are justified and necessary.

Rather than blindly succumbing to the "mathematics" of the situation, it is the onus of the state to alter the equation, for the benefit of the people.

If we really do "work until the day we can no longer do so", we risk missing out on life's best chapter.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2016, with the headline 'Don't miss out on life's best chapter'. Print Edition | Subscribe