Life Take 2

America's black colleges have for 36 years raised funds with a single powerful slogan: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." These eight words explain vividly why deprived black youth deserve help to afford college. But an even greater waste of minds exists today, in Israel, America, Europe and Asia - wasted minds 65 years of age and older. As the world ages, life expectancies lengthen and birth rates fall, growing proportions of society are warehoused, retired and dumped out of the labor force. They place social burdens on a shrinking work force and on their families at a time when many pensioners would be happy to continue to contribute actively to society. Why? Blame it on Germany and its Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who invented old-age pensions in 1881. The age for state pensions was set at 70 because Bismarck felt few people would survive to claim them (at that time average life expectancy in Europe was only 40-45 years). Later, in 1916, Germany lowered the retirement age to 65 - where it has remained, nearly universally, to this day, despite huge changes in life span, demography, and health care. Today life expectancy at birth in Japan is 82 years, and in Israel, 80, nearly double its level in Bismarck's time. Those who reach 65 have an average of two full decades more to live. In Israel, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, three-quarters of those aged 45-54 are in the labor force, and for those aged 55-64, 60 percent. But for the over-65s, the proportion drops to a dismal 10 percent. For over-65 women only, just 3 percent are in the labor force. I cannot believe only one older Israeli woman in 30 has skills society wants and needs. Of the 90 percent of over-65 men and women who are not working, how many would like to? And how much could they potentially contribute? Demographics will soon force Israel and other countries to radically change their thinking about retirees. Here, Israel can learn from America. According to Business Week, fully one-fifth of the over-50 work force is self-employed and a third of those working transitioned to self-employment after turning 50. I spoke about this issue - how to launch a second career - with my former Technion student Arie Ruttenberg. Arie has himself launched a new career, after building Israel's leading advertising agency Kesher Bar-El (now McCann-Erickson). His new venture is called Club 50, founded together with Amnon Herzig, a friend and former bank executive, and offers a variety of services to those over 50 who seek to build a second productive life. It already has 150,000 members. Ruttenberg enlisted Carlo Strenger, Tel Aviv University psychologist, as a co-author and their book "Life Take 2: The Freedom of Midlife" will appear soon. Their Harvard Business Review article "The Existential Necessity of Midlife Change" has just been published. "Roll up your sleeves," they advise. "Midlife is your best and last chance to become the real you." They offer common-sense advice for post-50 start-again success. "Radical transformation is unrealistic," they say. Chances are, you can't become a world-class concert pianist. But you can use your wisdom, skills and experience in new arenas to contribute to society. They recommend dreaming anchored in reality. Quoting British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, they define dreaming as "using the imagination to create scenarios where our potential can come to fruition." In 2003, when I was 61, I asked for - and was granted - early retirement by my employer, the Technion. After nearly 36 years of research and teaching, I felt I needed to do something different. So I dreamed. Today at TIM-Tel Aviv, I work with executives and entrepreneurs, helping them to grow their businesses and succeed in global markets. I feel I am contributing to society and I love every minute. "The life force does not just extinguish itself at age 65," note Strenger and Ruttenberg. "There is no period better suited to inner growth and development than midlife." Few social problems have true win-win solutions where everyone gains. This, I believe, is one of them. For us silver-haired oldies, we need both supply and demand - social demand for our wisdom and skills, plus the mindsets that generate re-engagement and renewed supply of such wisdom on our part. It is time to retire Bismarck's anachronism - and the very idea of enforced retirement - and replace it with "Life Take 2." The writer is academic director, TIM-Tel Aviv • The composite state-of-the-economy index went up by 0.3 percent in January, indicating a continued increase in economic activity, but at a more modest rate than in previous months. The main engines behind the increase were increased trade and services revenue and rising manufacturing production. Manufacturing production in 2007 grew by 4.6%, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. • Swiss pharmaceutical company Nobel Biocare purchased Alpha Bio Implant, an Israeli start-up specializing in dental implants, for $95 million in mid-February. In addition to making the dental implants and selling them in over 40 countries, the PetahTikva-based company also trains medical personnel in handling the prosthetics. • Shamrock Holdings, the investment arm of Walt Disney Co. is acquiring 16.9% of Dead Sea Laboratories, a creator of skin-care products under the Ahava brand, for $12.2 million, placing the total company's value at $60 million. • The introduction of British Midland Airways flights on the Tel Aviv-London air route is sparking a fare-reduction chain reaction. BMI's fares for round-trip flights to London undercut the prices of the established competitors, British Airways and El Al, prompting BA to announce fare cuts of its own for flights from Israel to the United Kingdom.