Aaron Clarey, Poor Richard’s Retirement: Retirement for Everyday Americans
Aaron Clarey is a consultant and unaffiliated 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. Clarey’s has what all books of this sort have. 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 Clarey’s not infrequent 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.
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)
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)
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)
Ultimately, Clarey’s essay on retirement is an admirable little book in that it accomplishes three things:
Instructs you not to retire.
Tells you how to retire.
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.
People are always telling me, “Geoff, you’re such a smart guy.”
Lot’s of people think I’m a smart guy. It’s an empty compliment, but I enjoy it. Sherlock Holmes was the same way:
“I shall never do that,” I [Watson] answered; “you have brought detection as near an exact science as it ever will be brought in this world.” My companion flushed up with pleasure at my words, and the earnest way in which I uttered them. I had already observed that he was as sensitive to flattery on the score of his art as any girl could be of her beauty.
But the main reason to be smart, of course, is that it makes it easier to help people because they trust you. If you’re actually competent, then you’re smart persona is a net benefit to society.
How to do it:
I use these six steps to trick people into thinking I’m smart:
First, pick a constellation of useful skills you can use to make money by helping others: lock smithing, cooking, computer programming, small engine repair, etc.
Pick a few subjects interesting to you that seem important for understanding the world. A list might look like this: American History, Logic, Evolutionary Psychology, Exercise Science, and Economics.
Read the most important books you can find about them and consult living experts to test your knowledge. Twitter, blogs, and email make this possible.
Then, start bringing up the most important facts in conversation and discussing the ideas and difficulties in those fields with interested people.
Use the most powerful ideas to improve your life, craft your destiny, and assist those around you.
Finally, learn another language. I made the mistake of learning ancient languages. Learn modern ones first.
Once you do this, people will think you’re brilliant. Smile. You’ve got them fooled. All you did was read a bunch of books.
Over all I agree with this. The bigger question is whether or not our minds are tailored to think on such a grand scale. I think we’re probably not, but if we think on a local, interpersonal scale, we consequently build civilization. Also, from the intellectual framework Miller uses, it’s hard to say why one value (civilization vs individual hedonic pursuit) is objectively better than another. Suicide bombers and Elon Musk are both behaving, as one might put it, as they’ve been selected to. From the point of view of most people, the version of civilization without suicide bombers is best. And indeed, from the point of view of the suicide bombers, so is their vision of civilization (a world in which they’ve been atomized is the world they’ve chosen). Both visions seems self-evident to those who choose them. What then?
From a Christian point of view, seeking the good of civilization, even as an outsider is an imperative:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:5-7 ESV)
In other words, the imperatives of Genesis 1-2 apply not only to one’s personal pursuit of the good life, but also to the pursuit of civilization over barbarism. While one’s own welfare might be the ultimate goal (the Israelite’s own welfare is the rhetorical hook in the passage), the penultimate goal is the maintenance of civilization itself, even if one finds elements of that culture objectionable.
Too long won’t read: In my experience, evolutionary theory holds a weird pride of place as the litmus test of a good education in common conversation. When one is discovered to be religious, they are often asked, “but you believe in evolution…don’t you?” Darwinian theory and its modern permutations have their uses, but those uses are not practical for young people. On the other hand, learning basic home economics, learning about nutrition, gardening, andexercise in biology, how to read, basic civics, and logic.
Actual thing: When it comes to the theory of evolution by natural selection I find myself in a weird place. As far as the technical aspects of the theory goes, it explains things. On the other hand, it is a theory that is so reflexively considered to be the height of contemporary education that people go into conniption fits if somebody thinks it is false or claims to not understand it.
The problem I have with this is that the theory really is quite complicated and deals with such a high level of abstract reasoning about so many high non-abstract fields of empirical inquiry that it really is very difficult for almost anybody to understand who has not spent a tremendous amount of time in the field.
I say this based on conversations with biologist friends as well as based on email correspondence with a professor of evolutionary psychiatry. Some of these people have also pointed out to me the relative unimportance of evolutionary theory for the process of gathering and interpreting data about organisms and trends in ecosystems.
One microbiologist told me that most biologists he knows seem to misunderstand what evolution by natural selection actually entails. So, then, here’s my beef with the current state of play regarding the theory: a great deal of people graduate from high school without the ability to readproficiently. What’s the point of teaching an advanced scientific theory that is, by any metric, harder to understand than basic reading (seriously, read this post using basic game theory to explore the evolution of compassion)?
There is very little obsessive push, that I’m aware of as an educator make sure that misunderstandings about the ancient world or the Medieval and Renaissance are corrected. Yet, in high school I was taught that the ancients believed in a flat earth until the time of Columbus despite the fact that every cosmological discussion from that era (religious or not) assumed or explicitly required a round earth.
The point being that simply because something is true is not typically considered a good enough reason to demand that everybody knows it when they graduate. We don’t do that with Optics, Economics, the Canons of Rhetoric, how to use a soldering gun, exercise science, etc. Yet, when a highly technical meta-theory that requires input from game theory, physics, statistics, economics (of resources), chemistry, genetics, paleontology, cellular biology, and advanced skills in inductive and deductive logic comes along…that is just like totally necessary for people to learn.
Personal experience The only time knowing about evolutionary theory and the authors who write about it and the finer points of the theory has every helped me is when people who found out I was a Christian wanted to make fun of me for believing the earth was 6000 years old (which I don’t). So the greatest benefit I’ve received is rhetorical one against a group of people who saw me as a place holder for an ideology with which they disagreed. In almost every case, btw, I’ve discovered that my reading about the topic is deeper and broader than the person (whom I’ve usually barely known) attempting to make fun of me when they find out I attend church Sunday morning. I suppose another benefit might be the rich experience of learning for learning’s sake.
I question the value of accruing facts for human flourishing. Evolutionary theory helps my biologist and agricultural engineer friends to do their work, but it is doubtful that having a hamfisted and outdated understanding of Darwinian theory does anything helpful for the average person outside of the intelligentsia (seriously, do we make people understand assembly language so that they can use computers?).
It seems like the better method is to say, “the state of play in biology when this text book came out was x, y, z because of evidence a, b, and c. As new evidence comes along or new ways of interpreting that evidence are produced, you can expect that our understanding will change. Now on to taxonomy, cellular processes, dissections, human anatomy, and applications to basic health and self-care.” The kind of help that a biology class could provide if basic data on human nutrition, exercise, and well-being were provided as well as tools for further research would be so useful. Learning what scientists said about Darwinian theory when an eight year old text book was being written is so much less useful.
I try to study human performance in sports and cognitive tasks on a regular basis. It’s very helpful for my role as an educator and leader.
Dr. Ritchie is a post-doc researcher at the University of Edinburgh where he is researching the development/decline of intelligence across the life span.
The point of the book is essentially to clarify the facts of the case with reference to intelligence:
“The research shows that intelligence test scores are meaningful and useful; that they relate to education, occupation and even health; that they are genetically influenced; and that they are linked to aspects of the brain. (44-45)”
Through the book Ritchie deftly explains the research with reference to each of these issues. For me to go through how he shows this would make the book superfluous. But some of the most interesting points are:
The differences between male and female intelligence are not in terms of the average, but in terms of the outliers. The mean IQ of men and women is roughly 100. But men skew more toward very low IQs and very high IQs. More men are significantly below average and more men are significantly above average (1226).
While eugenicists were interested in early IQ research, the earliest intelligence scientists were interested in helping the less intelligent to succeed. Not only so, but just like the Nazi discovery of a connection between smoking and cancer, the findings of the early eugenicist IQ researchers have been supported by later research (1192).
Multiple intelligences theory isn’t backed by current scientific research (355).
“Nevertheless, we’re lucky that the tools for raising intelligence – which might partly have caused the Flynn Effect – seem to be staring us in the face, in the form of education.” (1168-70)
The take away of the book is basically this: Intelligence, which can be measured by IQ, matters. The books that claim that hard work is more important than IQ are likely mistaken. Also, education appears to actually increase people’s IQ. This part is really important and while Ritchie never mentions him, it goes nicely with Arthur Whimbey’s research on training people in sequential problem solving and slowly improving their processing speed.
If you’re an educator, psychologist, parent, or political science major, I recommend that you read this book.
I haven’t done a science fact of the day lately. Work is time consuming. Don’t forget, science facts of the day are my thoughts on and descriptions of what scientists say. In other words, it’s a fact that some scientists have said it. What I write is not necessarily a fact of nature nor something I even take to be the case.
We examine the impact of a user’s weight on his or her outcomes by means of the body mass index (BMI), which is a height adjusted measure of weight.18 Figure 5.5 shows that for both men and women there is an “ideal” BMI at which success peaks, but the level of the ideal BMI differs strongly across genders. The optimal BMI for men is about 27. According to the American Heart Association, a man with such a BMI is slightly overweight. For women, on the other hand, the optimal BMI is about 17, which is considered underweight and corresponds to the figure of a supermodel. A woman with such a BMI receives about 77% more first contact e-mails than a woman with a BMI of 25.
This is expected. Men with a slightly higher BMI probably have more muscle mass. And women whose BMI was so low in 2005 and prior (when the study was done) probably ran a lot.
Income strongly affects the success of men, as measured by the number of first contact e-mails received.
This makes sense. Dating with your self-interest in mind for women includes the well being of any children or potential children. It would be stupid to not care about income and it’s not shallow for women to do so. A lot of people bristle at the fact that the silly song said “girls like cars and money” but the song writer was just observing facts. In a similarly “shallow” way, men prefered that women look attractive. But again, if the invisible hand of biology is operating, then men will probably be more interested in women they perceive (for good or bad reasons) to be fertile and potentially good mothers.
Anyway, the article interested me because I am asked by a lot of young men for dating advice. I usually tell them: seek first God’s kingdom (virtue is more important than marriage) but then make more money and get more muscles. The empirical data generally back up these observations. Another case in point would be the extremely annoying body builder at my old gym. Women would be repulsed by him at first (he’s too huge). But he’d mention, “My lambo” and suddenly the girl would end her work out and follow him around for his. My wife and I observed this well over a dozen times over the three years we went to the gym.* Now, I mentioned the “invisible hand of biology,” and this is real. But the fact is that relationships are more than biology, they just aren’t less than biology. Romance can transcend biology but you cannot subtract biology from it.
Here’s the song I mentioned:
*Incidentally, he tried flirting with her while she was doing deadlift. She simply said something terse like, “I’m working out.”
To write a good reference letter, you need three ingredients:
A Word Processor
I recommend Libre Office.
The Gift of Gab
As to the third, here is the generic reference letter that is guaranteed to get anybody into whatever they want to do. They probably won’t need a resume:
To Whom It May Concern,
This person is better than your other candidates’s. Don’t even think about hiring/accepting/considering them.
My student/colleague/employee has every trait necessary to succeed. Not only so, but they certainly exceed your competence. Trust me, this person is the best. I once saw him/her create tremendous synergy in an output flow organizational paradigm.
More importantly. Big heart and destroyer of many enemies’s. Your organization will fail without this [insert name here…honestly, they won’t need the name at this point, you could put anything here], believe me.
Professional Reference Writer
Note: This is probably not good advice. On the other hand, I would hire this person in an instant. Also, try to use apostrophe ‘s’ for plural a few times. This forces the reader to see how smart you are.
Proverbs 29:18 KJV Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
Having a vision for who we want to be is crucial for all personal growth.
As a consequence, such a vision is important for spiritual growth.
The Christian vision for human excellence and happiness revealed throught Scripture, but most intensely in Jesus Christ.
In the first post in this series I wrote about what it means to grow in grace.
In it, I explained Dallas Willard’s V-I-M paradigm for personal transformation.
In VIM, the V stands for vision. Our vision is our picture of what we want to be true about ourselves in the future.
Having a vision for strength, longevity, and durability can help you to joyfully endure the grind at the gym. Similarly, having a vision of future food (like the ant in Proverbs 6) can help us to ensure that food by gardening little by little each day.
In the case of growing in grace, our vision is the character of a human being fully alive and conformed into the image of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
This is a powerful vision which has fed the souls of God’s saints for quite some time.
There are three important things to remember about this vision:
It is about growing into somebody who is like Jesus and who does the kinds of things he said to do.
Jesus’ ministry cannot be replicated, nor should it be. It was his and his alone. Nevertheless, his character, which was on display in his life and explained in his teachings and that of his apostles is the goal for his disciples. We should envision ourselves as destined to be fundamentally strong, courageous, self-controlled, clever, confident, creative, productive, truthful, loving, humble, and forgiving in all the ways Jesus is in the gospels.
The vision is not a vision of sameness of personality or calling.
In one sense, all Christians have the same calling: love God and love neighbor. In another sense, Christians have diverse gifts and callings insofar as calling refers to your unique life circumstance and whatever legacy you can leave that is unique to you.This is not the same for everybody. Christians might be scientists, farmers, plumbers, pastors, homeschool mothers, philosophers, artisans, waiters, slaves, and so-on. Jesus does not call all of us to be itinerant preachers like was. Similarly, we aren’t all to have the same personality and interests. Some people like novels and poetry, some people don’t. Some people love tidy desks, some don’t. Some people like spicy food, sarcastic jokes, and terrible music. The New Testament never prescribes conformity of gifts or personality.
The vision of Christian character must be rooted firmly in Scripture. Because the vision of Christian growth in grace is based on Jesus Christ, it must be rooted in Scripture. What this means is that our vision of Jesus is subject to change insofar as we understand Scripture more correctly (or by accident, less correctly) over time. The vision is not merely impressions about Jesus and his will which flash before our intuitions and feelings (as in many super-spiritual versions of Christianity). Instead it is a robust picture of Jesus based primarily upon the gospels, but also upon the whole Bible.
In the previous post, I showed how two passages Scripture support the idea that Jesus is the prototype for human character and happiness. I’ll add one:
18 Now, while we all, with unveiled face, contemplate the glory of the Lord, we are transformed into the sameimage from one degree of glory into another (this is from the Lord, the Spirit). 4:1 For this reason, having this ministry, just as it was mercifully given to us, we do not lose heart, 2 but we renounce the shameful tricks [of our opponents], neither walking in trickery nor falsifying the word of God, but by shining light on the truth we commend ourselves to the consciences of all humanity in the presence of God. 3 But if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in their case, the God of this epoch has blinded the minds of those who are unfaithful so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we are not preaching ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants on behalf of Jesus. 6 Because God is the one who said, “From darkness let light shine,” is he who shines in our hearts for the understanding of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Observe the sections in bold. Christians are transformed as they contemplate the glory of the Lord into that same glory. But what, in Paul’s argument, is the glory of the Lord? It is related directly to the content of the gospel of Jesus Christ: the image of God. It is to this image that Christians are to be conformed (also see Romans 8, Ephesians 4, and 2 Peter 1:3-4). And this glory is found, again in the face of Christ. The meaning is clear: the human life of Jesus from birth to ascension which is contained in the gospel which Paul preached is the matter for Christian contemplation and personal transformation. In the exercise below, I will include passages that go beyond this, but this is because the whole canon of Scripture is a witness to the whole person of Christ.
I recommend reading passages of Scripture like Psalm 1, Psalm 23, Psalm 119, Proverbs 1-9 and 31, the four gospels and Acts, Romans 12-15, 2 Peter 1:3-11, and 1 John (all of it) in order to get a picture of the type of person that Jesus wants us to become as well as the results of that type of character. What is on offer (eternal life, entrance into the wonderful family of the church on earth, present happiness, strong character, joyful generosity, creative concern for others, a life based on love, justice, and wisdom, an infinite reference point for self-improvement, and experiential knowledge of God) is amazing. When you read these passages try this exercises:
Write down the positive character traits mentioned (in teaching or on display in the lives of Jesus and the apostles in Acts).
Write down the positive results the text uses to entice you and I toward those character traits.
Write down the character traits you need to grow toward.
Write down the character traits you need to grow from (lack of self-control, ungratefulness, irritability, pornography use, stinginess, thievery, and so-on).
Now, simply pray for forgiveness for your sinful character traits and ask the Lord’s help in becoming more like Jesus Christ. If you’re concerned to put on Christ, then you’re precisely the type of person that Jesus is willing to assist in becoming like him (see especially Matthew 28:16-20).
 This might not seem very academic, but Arnold Schwarzenegger talked about vision in a very compelling way here:Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Dobbins, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998), 437, “As I alluded to in Chapter 5, the first step is to have a clear vision of where you want to go, what you want to achieve. “Where the mind goes, the body will follow” is a saying I have always believed in. If you want to be Mr. America or Mr. Universe, you have to have a clear vision of yourself achieving these goals. When your vision is powerful enough, everything else falls into place: how you live your life, your workouts, what friends you choose to hang out with, how you eat, what you do for fun. Vision is purpose, and when your purpose is clear so are your life choices. Vision creates faith and faith creates willpower. With faith there is no anxiety, no doubt—just absolute confidence.” He also talks about this exact thing in this video:
Previously, in the formerly current year, many people expressed their inability to even. Here are two examples pulled from a quick twitter search for the phrase:
In this tweet, we read about a woman who is having an eye-brow problem and cannot even because of it.
In this tweet, an anonymous wo/man, who appears to protest ‘man-spreading’, ‘can’t even’ at the prospect of a Trump presidency. It’s hard to imagine the hysterics this individual is currently experiencing.
But I submit to you that you can. You can even. And here’s how:
Stop publicly emoting about your inability to even. Simply note the emotion and ask, “How can I even solve this problem?”
Write down what you will even do fifteen times a day, “I, so and so, will even do ‘X’.”
In ye olde current year, many people think that being a Christian is a matter of irrationality, bigotry, or political conservatism. While all of those things bear some weight upon whether one is likely to be a Christian or upon the sort of Christian they are, I think there are other reasons entirely. In the following posts, despite my not being some philosopher, historian, or theologian, I’ll give my reasons for being a Christian with respect to the three phases of persuasion in Aristotle’s rhetoric: ethos (appeal to personal credibility via knowledge, expertise, and moral connection to the audience), pathos (appeal to emotions), and logos (appeal to logic and facts).