The Retirement Industrial Complex

A few weeks ago I was perusing one of my favorite forums – the Bogleheads – and saw a post about one of my other favorite online places, Mr. Money Mustache.

The gist of the post was questioning whether he was a hero or some sort of scam artist, and what played out in the commentary revealed a lot about the people who are active Bogleheads. It started like this:

 

Mr. Money Mustache: Hero or Foolish?

Postby StarbuxInvestor » Mon Mar 31, 2014 10:10 am

Personally I don’t get this guy or want his lifestyle and see no way this is going to end well when he is older. Am I missing something? That said if he and his family are happy then more power to them.

 

It had become clear to me lately that most Bogleheads aren’t like me. First off, they are doing way better in their financial lives. The ones who post frequently seem to have worked many years in high paying jobs. Though they are extremely in touch with their finances, I am a bit sad to find out that they seem to be out of touch with “normal” people. I still haven’t yet been able to figure out the younger ones who report decent incomes (~$100k), have only been in the workforce for a few years, yet have 401k and IRA balances in the six figures. I hesitate to use the term “trust funders,” but I suspect a lot of them have either inherited money or had their expensive degrees paid for by their parents.

After reading the Bogleheads Guide to Investing, which I love and recommend, the Bogleheads forum is the last place where I’d see a champion of frugality attacked. But I am not surprised. The Retirement Industrial Complex has infected most of our brains with its ideas: retirement is out of reach for almost everyone, you need at least two million to retire, safety net social programs will not be there, you will have to work until you die.

 

Re: Mr. Money Mustache: Hero or Foolish?

Postby KyleAAA » Fri Apr 11, 2014 2:15 pm

physicsgal wrote:Everyone says we need to all be consumers to keep our economy going, but what if we could all just have less stuff, all work less, and all be happier, have more time with our families and strengthen our local communities.

I think this would actually make people less happy, but that’s another discussion. Despite all their complaining, people like working.

 

When I posted on Twitter about the Retirement Industrial Complex in this thread, I got a reply from a financial planner (he is fee-based, which makes him one of the “better” ones), asking what it was.

 

 

 

 

While these points made by the Retirement Industrial Complex are legitimate points of debate, I’m afraid they have morphed into hammers to beat us into retirement submission. Cleverly wielded by money magazines owned my multinational financial conglomerates, their propaganda corps does not exist to give you sound financial advice. They exist to put forth, amplify and endlessly repeat their shadowy goals: to trap you in a cycle of wage slavery and debt that you voluntarily accept.

Every survey, every blog post, every person you talk to confirms this. They don’t believe there is any point in putting money away and spending less than they earn because they will have to work until they die anyway. The Retirement Industrial Complex has fully succeeded, turning a nation of historically thrifty and hardworking people into a nation of consumers, people who exist only to consume things like Android Jelly Beans, Google Glass, and face razors built with Dyson balls.

That’s not to say that there isn’t some fun and wisdom in this lifestyle, minus the working until 70 part. The healthcare industry is dutifully managing their department, inventing new ways not to give us more years of relaxed enjoyment, but new knees, new hips and hearts to keep us working, earning and consuming.

The success has been so profound that we have become their unwitting militia. People who talk about retiring “early” are scoffed at, both because no one thinks they can do it, but because they aren’t viewed as a team player, planning their escape from the world of collective punishment. If you were trapped in a prison you thought was impossible to escape, or that escape was even an option, you would react with disgust to your cellmate who talks about escape.

I get that, I really do.

And you see those attacks on the Bogleheads forum. I think
it is more rooted in the notion that their very life plans are being questioned. Though they made all the right moves, many of them were made to ensure they could keep an 80 percent consumption level in retirement. They are afraid of losing their stuff. They are afraid their grandkids won’t think they are cool if they don’t get the iPhone 8.

Like I said, I get it, I really do. And I try not to judge individuals on how they live their lives. But I really think it’s time for a wholesale change in how we view our lives. Since the 1970s, our productivity has been spiking; wages have been flat in America since the 50s. A recent study showed that the American middle class was not keeping pace with places like Canada. We are breaking our backs working to support a myth that is no longer true. I’m not saying this isn’t the best country in the world – it’s a great place to live and raise a family. But we seem to be working only to further widen the gap between rich and poor, satisfied to let the single-income household become a two-income household, earning less with two workers than our grandparents earned with one.

What’s next, the four job household where both parents proudly work two jobs?

When is the tipping point going to come? I’m afraid to even ask what has to happen for people to wake up and rekindle that spirit of America, the spirit of protest, the spirit that threw cases of tea into Boston Harbor – all I see is a spirit that says “yes I’ll pay more for that tea, and while I’m at it, let me see how many crates I can carry on my back for you, boss.”

I want to say that the Millennial Generation will figure this out. Hopefully their faces buried in their phones will see that it’s not worth it, killing ourselves for the 1%. Hopefully these Millennials will build a robot army to do all this shit work for us so we can spend time philosophizing with our families. Hopefully we can take the duty of money creation away from private banks and make them into…banks.

I’m sorry but I don’t want to work for 50 more years. I don’t want to work 50 years, period. If that makes me lazy, so what. I’m lazy. Call me whatever you want to call me, just don’t call me early for work.

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3 Comments
  1. 2mm to retire?! I sincerely hope not. I don’t plan on traveling the world, not that I don’t want to. I just can’t see working long enough to amass that much. Not that it’s not possible if you start early and live a bit frugally. If I had my time over…
    debt debster@ debtdebs recently posted..Found moneyMy Profile

  2. I think there is a lot of ideas around there that are fairly unreasonable. There isn’t anything wrong with not wanting to work for your whole life. It just takes planning and doing what you can in as reasonable way as possible.
    The Wallet Doctor recently posted..How to reduce your food costsMy Profile

  3. I hear you. I’ve been getting bashed lately by some friends and family members because I’m thinking too much about money. To which I reply that I making all these changes in my life so I don’t HAVE to think about money.

    I don’t judge them for spending $400 on a pair of sunglasses that do the same job as my $5 pair, but apparently trying to save your money is a sin somehow.
    Aldo @ Million Dollar Ninja recently posted..Introducing “The Friday Five”My Profile

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