Economics, Personal finance

Perpetuating the imperfect system

My heading for this blog post was going to be, ‘Saving for retirement’, but considering how I feel about the topic, that seems disingenuous at best. Also a reader may mistakenly surmise that this is a post about personal finance (It mostly isn’t).

I should probably mention that I have nothing against the word ‘for’. As a preposition it is totally functional and relatively useful. ‘Saving’ is also fine, as a stand-alone concept. I think everyone should try it at least once. But ‘retirement’ is an awful, malignant word. Grouped together these words form (more or less) the basis for everything that is wrong with the world…. ok, I will grant you some notable exceptions. Like… global warming and short people. Debating however, why such things should be allowed to exist is to question the divine. (which is another blog post)

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Saving for retirement on the surface seems like a very reasonably exercise. But really it’s an elaborate form of masochism. Emphasis on the word ‘Saving’. I have far less issue with building a flexible income generating asset base that can last into perpetuity (through something like entrepreneurship).

Having a lot of money when you choose to retire is obviously really nice. And having more cash when you retire is obviously better than having less cash. But have you really ever considered what retirement actually entails? Besides sitting around and counting down the hours before your inevitable foamy, gurgly demise in some (cheap) palliative care facility your kids picked out for you.

Why do you want to retire anyway? Doesn’t this mean you’ve bought the program? They sold you the kool-aid. And you drank deep. You’re on step eight of your ten-step life! Next stop… smelling like the soon to be deceased and death. Some people like to imagine step nine is travel and Caribbean cruises… but its not. It’s a weird musty smell… and having suspicious looking growths zapped off your wrinkled, sun damaged skin by a dermatologist and penciling funerals into your diary every weekend as your friends and family kick off. Sounds awesome, I can’t wait. Basically I have to save and invest for my whole entire life in anticipation of this event? Seems like a great way to spend the time allocated to me.

How many happy retirees do you know personally that are getting after it? You know… living the dream? Count them on your fingers. I’ll wait… I’m willing to wager less than a handful and that’s only if you move in impressive circles. Would you swap your life currently for their life? They have money after all.

Let’s segue into something else and ramble on about science for a bit, because science is awesome. And finance is just okay. When it comes to retirement we are (mostly) using outdated models and concepts that were struck in the fifties. Expected life span. You see we all have just one lap. Lets say its four hundred meters… only half way through the race someone in a white lab-coat has changed it to 800 meters.

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My expected death is age 78. Statistically speaking. I’ve just turned 40…. Which feels $%#^@& ancient. Some days I wonder how people who are 50 get out of bed in the morning without painkillers.

Only my life expectancy is probably not 78. It’s probably closer to 100. Mind you for the proletariat its still 78. In fact probably less. I’ll probably be in a position to afford the miracles of science that are coming. The nano-machines. The new organs (with modifications). The rejuvenation clinics. The implants that tell me three days in advance that I’m going to have a heart attack (just enough time to pop down to the clinic and have flawless robotic surgery and a flat white). My two daughters will likely live to be 120… maybe longer. And for their children death maybe something that only happens to poor or unlucky people. Death is unlikely to be egalitarian forever.

Imagine at age 60 you’re going to have live another… 40 years off your retirement funds. That’s a really long time to be running down your assets. Sure, you might have a metric-fuck-tonne of money, or be an adherent of some or other ideology (like the 4% rule) or you might just conjure up a dystopian future where we trade cigarettes and blowjobs for dirty brown water and blighted potatoes, so really, what’s the point?

Round about now you might imagine this rant is against investing and pro-Epicurism. Let’s work forever and blow our money on whiskey, cigars and the experience economy. Let’s consume to the point where we need a self-storage unit to contain our ever burgeoning collection of stuff.

Its not.

My issue is more about how we look at our lives. We get these social norms and this corporate nonsense pumped down our throats as soon as we’re born. This is your life!

  1. Get born. 2. Go to school. 3. Get a degree (get into debt). 4. Get a job. 5. Work nine am to five pm 6. Buy a house (you can’t afford) 7. Buy a car (you don’t need) 8. Breed. 9. Retire. 10. Die.

Instead of retirement shouldn’t we be punting a concept of designing our lives better? At the moment the way we use our money doesn’t make any sense. We kill ourselves to hoard our money away for a period in our lives where we can’t really make full use of it anymore. Or we blow it all and use whatever we earn to finance our debt. Perhaps I am decrying the lack of some middle ground alternative.

Is this just some terrible burden we’ve all taken on where we actively try (and very often succeed) to defer our lives. Money (and by association our investments) should be the scaffolding we use to build our lives around, not some weird end game strategy.

I used to believe in the whole retirement fairy tale. I mean it’s worked for my old man. (hasn’t it?) He sits around, reading, pottering around in his workshop, annoying his offspring, bickering with my mother and watching hours of network news. Slowly he is trickling down his funds to zero or close to that…  a fuse burning down towards the great white light and the acrid burning smell of litigation (when his children will murder each other for the scraps of his estate)

We imagine free-form days as the ultimate reward after a long hard trek through life. But in reality nothing is more frightening (and potentially dull). When did being old and rich somehow morph into something to aspire to?

Young and rich would obviously be better. And middle aged and rich would be the compromise position between the two extremes. In reality none of those outcomes are very likely, although we are constantly told that outliers in this field can be studied and emulated (just buy our book). In our post-industrial revolution lives we are more like cogs in a very big machine, all grinding on in the same direction on some predetermined path unable to alter our destiny.

This is not a blog post about solutions. Besides, who am I to make any form of judgement call about anyone else’s life and how they plan on spending it? For the most part I’m just wondering out loud about my own unique circumstances and a system that I’ve decided is stupid. Or maybe this is just long form justification for a (mostly theoretical) lifestyle decision that I a trying embrace.

In any event I do think it’s something worth thinking about. Broadly this post is about future proofing yourself. (you know for when the robots come). And not being complacent in our assumption that the status quo will simply continue ad infinitum.

10 Comments

  1. erroneouschoices

    January 30, 2019 at 3:16 am

    You speak my mind in a very Jo way.
    I love love love this post.

    1. Jo

      January 30, 2019 at 7:11 am

      Yay! Ha ha. A Jo way. I have become an adjective. Which… to be completely honest has been a life long dream of mine. *starts to tear up*

      1. erroneouschoices

        January 30, 2019 at 5:53 pm

        Lol you’re possibly every part of speech including interjections and expletives. Just my use of the English language

      2. Jo

        January 31, 2019 at 5:48 am

        I think some might argue that this constitutes more of an ‘abuse’ of the English language than a homage to it.

  2. jim-

    January 30, 2019 at 4:14 am

    The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, he said:
    Man.
    Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money.
    Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.
    And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present;
    the result being that he does not live in the present or the future;
    he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
    The system if you choose to embrace it, is nothing short of slavery where most scratch out a life making others wealthy. Thanks for the pick-me-up speech asshole.

    1. Jo

      January 30, 2019 at 6:58 am

      I always found the Dalai Lama to be a little folksy… until I read… I think it was a Christopher Hitchens article about the Tibetean Theocracy and what motherfuckers they actually are… eh… were. In any event… humanity is strange. On this we agree.

  3. saynotoclowns

    February 1, 2019 at 2:33 am

    I so agree!
    My dear old dad was a public school teacher. In his fifties he thought, what the? This sucks. When some kid brought a knife to school, he reassessed his life. I am proud of him. He loves to garden, he is a master gardener. So he quit teaching and started landscaping for people instead. He is now 85 and still doing it!! He doesn’t charge people enough for his brilliance and hard work, but he gets so much joy out of it, and he is so healthy. He’s generous to a fault with it, but he believes he should share something as beautiful as a garden, it’s truly soul food. And he taught long enough that he still meets former students who thank him for being such a great teacher. Win-win. My parents are both healthy and still living in their own little house. Just inevitably slowing down…My Dad has a number of tablets he takes at meal times, not one of them is a pharmaceutical. Rosehip oil (cured his arthritis), minerals and vitamin B etc.

    In our ministry life, time and time again we have seen families ripped apart because of inheritance issues. It’s so so awful.

    Hey, so you have another daughter now? Congratulations!

    1. Jo

      February 1, 2019 at 11:04 am

      Your old man is a true paragon!

      I do. She will be one month next week. Thanks!

      I thought you had melted away by now… crazy weather.

      1. saynotoclowns

        February 1, 2019 at 11:32 am

        Yeah, he really is. In a number of ways.

        And you’re welcome! I’m happy for you! Is everyone healthy?

        Ugh, haha no kidding. It has been crazy but where we live, it happens every year. I just haven’t been around WP much the last couple of months.
        How has the weather there been?

  4. Abnormal behavior – Go Darke

    April 12, 2019 at 3:30 am

    […] events that punctuate our modernity. In the extremely short period of time that the concept of retirement has been around it has managed to become so ingrained into our psyche that we don’t even […]

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