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PPG-SGH organized a cutting-edge seminar on pensions

10/27/2014 category: information conference workshop meeting others 

The international seminar ‘Pensions for the 21st century’, organized by the Polish Pension Group of the Warsaw School of Economics (PPG-SGH) with logistical support of Institute for Structural Research and financial support of the Polish Confederation Lewiatan, took place at SGH on 25-26th September 2014.

The event had an experimental character. Instead of a standardized program, presentations, key-note speakers and after-conference publication etc., we risked a  free-flowing discussion on fundamental issues of pension economics. No assumptions, no intellectual restrictions, just a simple debate on how much knowledge and experiences of 20th century may be applied to the fundamentally different situation in 21st century. The discussion referred to even the most  basic concepts, definitions and classifications. This initiative was needed because in the discourse on pension issues participants (not only journalists, but also economists) formulate views as if these issues were obvious and not worth any further consideration. The discussion was possible due to the fact that the PPG seminar included persons of outstanding  research achievements and, capable of thinking outside the box. They would refrain from making the problems ideological, and respect the variety of opinions.

The list of participants with global research and policy-making achievements in the broad area of pensions proves the elite character of the event. It included Nicholas Barr, Axel Börsch-Supan, Agnieszka Chłoń-Domińczak, Elsa Fornero, Vincenzo Galasso, Marek Góra, Robert Holzmann, Irena E. Kotowska, Bernd Marin, John Martin, Heikki Oksanen, Wojciech Otto, Robert Palacios, Edward Palmer, Ryszard Rapacki, Michał Rutkowski, Istvan Szekely, Salvador Valdes-Prieto. Doubtlessly, each person alone could be a ‘scientific highlight’ of a highly-valued international conference. Worth noting is that during the seminar each of us relinquished affiliations, titles etc. – the quality of discussion was  all that mattered.

It was structured by sets of fundamental problems-questions divided into 4 groups. Instead of presentations, sessions were initiated by 3 short speeches that organized issues and introduced to the hours-long discussions on the topics in each group. The themes were as follows:

· what is the essence of  a pension system and what in fact do we know about it?

· how useful are common typologies (e.g. PAYG vs. funded systems)  and to what extent they mislead us?

· how to link period of activity and period of old age in the life cycle, to achieve positive effects in both stages?

· how to cope with the fact that pension economics issues are  often counterintuitive (even economists are misled on occasions), and at the same time they are subjects of wide popular discussions and, much more seldom of knowledge-based political decisions?

Prior to the seminar it had not been clear  whether the experiment would work. Many invited guests were  anxious, as there had been no seminar like this before. However, we succeeded in assembling a group of people with remarkable expertise, sequestered for hours to  challenge their knowledge, reframe it, search for new research inspirations, and reject all  typical boundaries.

 Finally, it must be noted that the meeting had no utilitarian goals  such as a publication of after- conference proceedings worth x points, and leading to an adequate reference in the annual report. After the seminar it was clear to all that the experiment succeeded. In times in which  conferences are often organized  ‘to score points’ (as a result of an administrative approach to research), the seminar was a breath of fresh air thanks to the successful implementation of the new formula of rigorous but policy-oriented meeting and experience exchange. A  restricted number of attendees allowed to reach  an effect of intimate, direct and  extraordinarily interesting discussion, which for sure inspired participants to further inquiry. The  quality of discussion, and the commitment and passion of participants confirmed that research seminars are worth organizing in this formula.


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