Book Review: Poor Richard’s Retirement

Aaron Clarey, Poor Richard’s Retirement: Retirement for Everyday Americans

Aaron Clarey is a consultant and independent economist who writes books that are meant to help young men and women make wiser financial choices. His approach is no nonsense, gruff, and often cynical. But despite seeming like a complete jerk, his advice which is free on his blog or youtube channel clearly comes from a big heart (for sensitive users or those who may listen w/children around, he does curse a lot). This is evident when he, for instance, criticizes parents who don’t spend a great deal of time with their children (this is a common thread in his books and podcasts and I only listen to them a couple of times a year).

I disagree with a great deal of his material, but it’s because he’s not religious and I’m a Christian. But his grasp of markets, how they work, and what personal steps are necessary for success are second to none.

That being said, if you’re a millennial, especially one who graduated college between 2007-2010, you’ve probably wondered how in the heck you could ever retire. If so, Clarey’s book has everything you need. It contains a helpful explanation of steps one can take in order to get ready for retirement, but does something a great many similar books don’t do. He reframes what it means to live a life of meaning with a personal sense of significance. The book amounts to a sort of secular explanation of Jesus’ saying that we should “…take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

I think the argument he makes, though it veers toward cynicism is worth reading in full because of its rhetorical effect. So I won’t explain it.

The practical tips he gives are excellent. His solution to the problem of retirement is ultimately satisfying (more on that below). And he does run some of the numbers comparing costs in previous generations of those of ye olde current year in a way that is helpful and potentially guilt inducing.

Worthwhile quotes:

  1. Understand this and understand this clearly. Most two-income families are: Outsourcing the upbringing of their own children To complete strangers Passing up on seeing their children grow up So BOTH parents can work jobs they don’t like While suffering commutes that keep them from their families AND stressing themselves out in the process. (47)
  2. We engage in the rat race, pursuing pointless educations, for taxing careers, life-wasting commutes, just to buy stuff, pointless material things, while abandoning anything and anybody that really matters in life.  It’s the cause of the majority of divorces in the country, the majority of unvisited parents in nursing homes, and is ultimately responsible for all the country’s financial problems.  And to throw the burden of saving for retirement on top of Americans’ inability to just keep it together, only makes an already-miserable situation impossible to bear. (48-49)
  3. It is a full – time job to go and seek out new and interesting people who are going to make your life worth living. (134)

Conclusion

Ultimately, Clarey’s essay on retirement is an admirable little book in that it accomplishes three things:

  1. Instructs you not to retire.
  2. Tells you how to retire.
  3. Subverts the present day value system.

With respect to number three, I’ll wax philosophical. One of the reasons that a capitalist style economy can work is if Adam Smith’s moral sentiments are assumed. Capitalism helps provide a wide degree of freedom to people who pursue a sort of Aristotelian/Christian/Stoic vision of the good life wherein virtue is paramount, social trust is assumed, and while the particulars of an individual’s pursuit of wealth and greatness may vary, they typically revolve around family, invention, adventure, and philanthropy. Such a system of values simply is not broadly assumed in Western Civilization, and so capital itself is perceived as the highest and total good for man.

Clarey, an irreligious capitalist, sees this problem as a source of poverty and unhappiness and attempts to solve it by reorienting the value system of his audience. For this the book is worth ten times the price. Buy it for graduating seniors, read it if you’re in college, use it to get out of debt. It’s a good book.

Eating Meat is good for the environment?

I mean, of course it is. Farming animals requires ecosystem maintenance, whereas vegetation farming on mega farms is simply a process of ecosystem alteration through a process of chemical fertilizing, mass pesticide promulgation, and government subsidizing of non-ideal plants in regions hostile to their growth. Dr. Eades, over at protein power has a great post about this:

Human herding mimics the ‘herding’ done by large predators in the wild. That replicating natural herding creates the richest soil makes sense given that grasslands, large herbivores, and carnivores all co-evolved. Just as with diet, the closer we come to what the forces of natural selection designed us to eat, the better things work.

Here’s a Ted talk he posted about it by Allan Savory:

Youth Science Projects and American Aspirations

I came across an archived usenet post linked on social media:

How come the heros of our movies are no longer Micky Rooney or Spencer Tracy playing Thomas Edison, or Paul Muni playing Erlich or Pasteur, instead Val Kilmer playing Jim Morrison and Woody Harrelson playing Larry Flint? And movies whose heros are lawyers.

 

Paperwork and lawyering. Fixing and improving and advancing society by talk-talk, not building. A lawyer president and his lawyer wife. Crises of power that don’t involve spy planes and sputniks, but incredibly complicated and desceptive word defintions and complicated tax frauds. You think we’re not preparing to go to Mars because SF is too optimistic? Sure. But it was optimistic about whether or not the can-do engineering of the 40’s and 50’s, done by the kids who’d grown up playing with radios and mechanics in the 20’s, was going to continue. Needless to say, it didn’t. I’ve seen a late 1950’s book of science fair projects for teenagers that include things like building your own X-ray machine and cyclotron (no, I’m not kidding– it can be done). There are rockets in there, and cloud chambers, and all kinds of wonderful electronics stuff. But we didn’t go that way. Instead, we turned our children into little Clintons, and our society into a bunch of people sitting at PCs, entering data about social  engineering, not mechanical engineering. So instead of going to Mars, we went instead to beaurocratic Hell. Enjoy, everybody. It really could have been different. Nature didn’t stop us– WE stopped us.

I’m not opposed to lawyers, we need them. I even that a few of them read this blog. But the idea that the aspirations of American culture were transformed by entertainment focusing on paperwork fields and the actual content of education are obvious. My wife and I intend to home school our children. And I suspect that we’ll be buying some of those old science books.

I think our young simply feel that the world handed to them is either good enough or impossible to bend toward their own success. So their aspirations end at “make enough money to chill.”

When the wage gap closes you…

  1.  Rejoice?
  2. Try to solve other apparent problems.
  3. Move on.
  4. Complain

The answer, my friends…#4!

While I find people wielding the wage gap as proof of oppression in the United States tiresome and stupid, this article which indicates a closing of the wage gap is a new species of silly. In it the author observes:

Women want an equal partner, but there are increasingly fewer candidates to choose from. The census reports that “the average adult woman in the US is more likely to be a college graduate than the average adult man.” Moreover, today’s young, childless female city-dwellers with college degrees are out-earning their male counterparts by 8 cents on the dollar. Their higher incomes may be why they are less likely (29 percent) to be living with their parents than single men (35 percent).

And later in the article:

Almost 60 percent of women rate successful parenting as one of the most important parts of life, while only 47 percent of young men do, according to Pew.

But the problem is that despite the negligible wage gap, the author posits that women don’t want to marry men the same age as them who make 92 cents on the dollar. After all of the lobbying for employers, colleges, and governments to end the wage gap, now that it’s over and women aren’t interested in men who make the same amount as them:

The trouble with all this finger pointing [at women] is that it leaves out half of the baby-making equation: men.

Thankfully there are large swaths of society who never hear any of this weirdness.

Why did I abandon free-trade orthodoxy?

The federal income tax decreases liberty and gives government officials incentive to increase the scope and power of the federal government. Because we are a federal system in the United States, we need some form of funding for government operations. In my mind, funding that with tariffs is wiser and more constitutional. Essentially, I’m a protectionist because the debate comes down to: income tax vs tariffs or large vs small government.

This is just a sketch, of course. I suppose I could make a fuller argument, but those wiser and more informed than me have done so.

Thoughts on an income tax:

  1. American citizens are told to, in effect, provide surveillance on themselves or go to jail.
  2. American citizens are told to, in effect, add a third party to their business dealings or go to jail.
  3. American citizens are, from year to year, told to give quantities of their money to fund programs, many of which they would never buy, use, sell, or vote for, or go to jail.
  4. American citizens are at the mercy of legislators who may capriciously utilize their abilities as law makers to increase the power of the government, knowing that citizens can simply be forced to fund it.

Two thoughts on free-trade:

  1. Free trade policies assume that people are interchangeable widgets. In other words, moving industries that developed in one culture into another culture will lead to the same products being produced at the same rate, with the same competence, and with the same level of ethics.
  2. Free trade policies use a collectivist mindset. So they base their understanding of economic well-being on a form of totalitartian ideology. Property ownership, federal debt, physical health, personal debt, and personal savings aren’t the metrics used to determine economic stability, but rather GDP. But the GDP can go up even as personal liberty decreases (when people own less property, pay property taxes in order to keep the property they have, and are overwhelmingly obese and in debt, it’s hard to consider a nation wealthy).

Thoughts on a tariff:

  1. Americans aren’t prohibited from simply manufacturing an import good themselves, so tariffs incentivize creativity within national borders.
  2. Tariffs don’t punish individual citizens for not funding things (by paying taxes) they don’t approve of, unless you consider opting out of purchasing a foreign good a punishment.
  3. Tariffs, while regulating what American citizens pay for goods purchased to a degree (foreign markets simply have to sell cheaper if they want a market here under a tariff), don’t regulate how American citizens have children by heavily taxing those who make more than 70,000 a year.
  4. Tariffs, it seems, tend to lead to in fighting among politicians who want to be reelected over relieving tariffs on goods preferred by their constituents.
  5. Tarrifs, in the United States, are nearly irrelevant because State tariffs are illegal and we’re a gigantic land mass.
  6. Free-trade includes, as a hidden corollary, free movement of peoples for work because goods and services are both considered a form of economic capital. So with income tax and free-trade non-citizens are likely to take local jobs and receive local benefits funded by locals who are working and paying taxes.