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.

Jordan Peterson’s Online University

Over at Captain Capitalism, Aaron Clarey made a point I don’t find fully convincing.

It’s a brief and hidden point in a post I otherwise agree with entirely. He mentions Jordan Peterson’s desire to offer a liberal arts education online and calls the degree Peterson would offer worthless. 

Now, in context, Clarey has affirmed that which I affirm: that the modern university’s liberal arts program is worthless. He describes it here:

Yes, liberal arts degrees, especially the social justice warrior slop Coursera is serving up, are worthless, pointless, even damaging to the students naive enough to take them.  Yes, these courses/degrees will ruin their lives, at minimum sending them down the career path of poverty and e-begging, at worst replacing family, love, freedom, and excellence with a fervent ideological addiction to socialism.  And yes, you can learn this slop for free, with the exact same employment prospects, as going to the library and reading ALL the liberal arts/Marxist books you want.

With this I absolutely agree and majoring in that crap not only leaves you nearly unemployable, but it also makes you resentful and teaches you to reject the past and every good thing you might learn from it or that it has given you.

But I think that the vision Peterson has for a liberal arts degree is of the sort that made those degrees worth having in the past. Clarey has a “Clarey test” for whether or not a person might have good advice. One of them is whether or not they have a worthless degree and he gives history and other humanities degrees a pass if they’re before the Marxist/Postmodern shift in the universities. If Peterson’s vision is like this, and people learn to think logically, creatively, precisely, and deeply through his program then I think it would teach people to be extremely happy in an economic and spiritual sense. 

Anyway, Clarey’s book are good. I recommend them.