Ernst Kaiser

Ernst Kaiser (1907-1978) mapped out the actuarial basis and calculated the first pensions of old age and survivors’ insurance (AHV). After 1945, he also became actively involved in international expert committees on social security.

Ernst Kaiser was from the canton of St. Gallen. He studied mathematics at the universities of Lausanne and Geneva. From1931 onwards, he worked as a demographer and statistician in the Medical Section of the League of Nations Office for the Monitoring of Epidemics, later occupying a position as an internal financial controller. During his time at the League of Nations, Kaiser became acquainted with the French mathematician Lucien Féraud, an expert on actuarial methods. Féraud encouraged Kaiser to write a dissertation on old age pension financing models. However, the disbanding of the League of Nations at the beginning of the Second World War as well as the general mobilisation of the Swiss army forced Kaiser to put off this project. He entered the service of the Confederation in 1942; after a brief period in the Federal Census Office (the precursor to the Federal Statistical Office), Kaiser worked from 1943 onwards on the implementation of old age and survivors’ insurance (AHV) at the Federal Social Insurance Office (BSV). In cooperation with Arnold Saxer, director of the BSV, and Peter Binswanger, head of legal services, Kaiser was one of federal councillor Walter Stampfli’s most trusted civil servants. In his role as BSV head of mathematics and statistics (1946), he applied the expertise gained during his time at the League of Nations and outlined a funding model based on payroll contributions and derived the first formula for AHV pensions.

Dubbed the ‘mathematical father’ of the AHV, Kaiser resumed his doctoral thesis under Lucien Féraud after the war at the University of Geneva, where Féraud had been teaching as a mathematics professor since 1945. Kaiser submitted his work on the contribution model of pensions in 1950. This reinforced Kaiser’s reputation in Switzerland as well as among international experts in actuarial mathematics. As an active member of the International Social Security Association (ISSA), Kaiser was also involved in technical aid coordinated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). However, he spent the major part of his career at the BSV, becoming its vice director in 1962. Kaiser oversaw the continuous revisions to the AHV, improvement to pension indexing (the adjustment of pensions to the development of living costs) as well as the introduction of the disability insurance (IV) in 1960. Being a proponent of the harmonisation, or at least the coordination of social insurance programmes, Kaiser considered the expansion of social security to be a crucial part of social progress.

In 1966, Kaiser began working as a lecturer for social and economic mathematics at the ETH Zurich and developed original econometric approaches. He also worked on preliminary drafts for the Federal Law on Occupational Provision (BVG). He was appointed titular professor upon his retirement in 1973. He passed away on 25th April 1978, shortly after a meeting of the Council of States experts’ commission discussing the introduction of the BVG.

Literatur / Bibliographie / Bibliografia / References: Leimgruber Matthieu (2008), Solidarity without the state? Business and the shaping of the Swiss welfare state, 1890–2000, Cambridge.