How to Pool Risks Across Generations: The Case for Collective Pensions

We are pleased to announce the latest publication in the Uehiro Series in Practical Ethics, How to Pool Risks Across Generations: The Case for Collective Pensions by Michael Otsuka (2020 Uehiro Lecturer).

book cover how to pool risks across generations photograph of lake and mountains

Oxford University Press

  • Written by a prominent political philosopher who has also served as a union negotiator on behalf of the 200,000 active members of a multi-employer UK university pension scheme
  • Discusses actuarial, financial, and regulatory considerations, grounded in concrete practices, institutions, and rules
  • Defends the collective, multi-generational, society-wide provision of pensions, involving our sharing of one another's fates through the pooling of longevity and investment risks across both space and time
  • Sheds light on the concepts of intergenerational justice, reciprocity, risk-pooling, cooperation, mutual insurance, the nature of a bond, and the stringency of a promissory obligation


How to Pool Risks Across Generations makes the case for the collective provision of pensions, on fair terms of social cooperation. Through the insurance of a mutual association which extends across society and over multiple generations, we share one another's fates by pooling risks across both space and time. Resources are transferred, not simply between different people, but also within the possible future lives of each person: from one's more fortunate to one's less fortunate future selves. The book opens with an investigation of the longevity and investment risk that even a single individual on a desert island would face in providing for her old age. From this atomistic starting point, it builds up, within and across the chapters, to increasingly collective forms of pension provision. By joining together, it is possible to tame the risks we would face as individuals each with our own private pension pot. A collective pension can be justified as a 'social union of social unions': an enduring corporate body, which is formed by agreements to pool risks, in a manner that involves reciprocity between the various individuals that constitute the collective. Even though all individuals age and die, a collective pension scheme remains evergreen, as the average age of members remains relatively unchanged, through the influx of new members to replace those who retire. It is therefore possible to smooth risks indefinitely across as well as within generations, to the mutual advantage of each.

Publication details

Published by Oxford University Press on 27 June 2023

ISBN: 9780198885962


Professor Michael Otsuka (Rutgers)

2020 Lectures: overview and audio recordings of the lectures

The book's OUP webpage 

The Uehiro Series in Practical Ethics on OUP website

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