Some people can retire and some people can’t: A story about carrots.

“Retirement,” depending on who’s using the term, is either rigidly fixedi or impossible to define. There’s consensus that “retirement” contains certain features, but little consensus as to which or why. Like “beauty” or “love,” these terms, when used in such a way as to be intentionally vague, are useful carrots for consumers. Just keep working a little harder, you’ll get there… Just a little longer… You’re so close!

But the concept of retirement generally – wrapped up as it is in images of silver-haired fitness freaks hanging out of restored convertible Mustangs – is a horse ready for the glue factory. So let’s just finish the poor girl off.

In order to delve further into “retirement,” we must first acknowledge that language is as much a political instrument as a social one, and the manner in which it’s used can be very much indicative of its intended ends. So let’s look at, broadly speaking, the two types of language:

  • Specific, pointed, and direct language.
  • Vague, suggestive, and “politically correct” language.

The former is a tool of truth and morality, revelatory as it is of deeper meaning and open as it is to critical assessment. The latter is a tool of deception and slavery,ii subject as it is to emotional reception and open as it is to willful misinterpretation.

This difference is ultimately a matter of depth – depth upwards, up the social hierarchy, in fact.iii The shallowness of vague language makes it accessible, and therefore ambiguous, to damn near everything and anything. In contrast, the power of specific language deliberately tests our own personal depth, searching for each of our breaking points. The greater the depth, the higher the breaking point… the rarer, and better, the man.

Specific language is what separates man from beast, and as such, normal men from their betters.iv

So let’s bring this back to the concept of retirement; what it is, who it’s for, and what it means to you.

To be as specific as possible, to look past the rapacious cruft of Viagra ads, retirement is simply not having to work for a living as a reward for already having done so. Of course, this doesn’t prescribe what one does with their time thereafter, that depends on what type of retirement you’ve earned. Basically, there are two types: self-funded or state-funded.v

While the self-funded route has always existed and always will, the latter route currently operates at a simply unprecedented and frankly ridiculous State-funded retirement was a tolerable carrot during the industrial era.vii The deal being offered by the state, via the reluctant and coerced industrialist of course, was simple: the worker gives his most physically capable years in exchange for comfort once the worker’s past his physical prime. Everyone wins.viii

However, in the post-industrial western world, as government and government-sponsored jobs have come to vastly outnumber and outweigh productive, much less physical, industry, pensioned retirement is as antiquated as it is unsustainable. The numbers don’t lie. There isn’t the population nor the “growth” to support those betting on state pensions, so it comes down to this: if you’re under 35 45 55 65, you’d better start hampster-stashing because the carrot is vanishing before our very eyes.

Not that this is in anyway surprising, nor even particularly interesting. What’s far more intriguing is what retirement means for the self-funded types, few though they may be.ix As you may one day discover for yourself, and if your fortune required any hustle whatsoever to achieve, that is, any reasonable amount of agency and understanding of how the world works, is that you won’t last 6 months of idleness. It’s too unnatural.

You’ll go mad. Stir-crazy. Patently insane. Basically, you’ll die.x

The world is a beautifully selective filter, an elaborate apparatus, organically grooved over the millennia to turn inputs into outputs.xi And as much as we’re part of this world, we don’t get to change our nature just because of a word on a piece of paper or a number on a page says so.

So should you be banking on a state-funded retirement, run the numbers again and wake the fuck up. There’s no free ride.

And should you one day acquire the means for self-funded retirement, you’re likely to find that this “new” phase of life is just as much a part of your life as whatever came before. You won’t be able to just turn it off. That’s not who you are. Your productive life is the only one you’ve got and any distinction between it and some kind of regal repose is artificial to the point of fantasy.xii

There’s no stopping. There’s no retirement. There’s no carrot. There’s this.

And only this.

___ ___ ___

  1. Well, at least as much as law can ever be “rigidly fixed.” Of course, retirement age starts out as 65, then creeps up to 67, then there’s really nothing stopping it from hitting 100 or higher. If life expectancy keeps inflating…
  2. There are broadly speaking two types of slavery: conscious and unconscious. Vague language is most certainly an instrument of the latter, more pernicious variety, and its therefore this that I find most objectionable. The conscious type is, well, people being people.
  3. The social hierarchy you currently observe when you look out your café window doesn’t measure anything of the sort, as Donald Sterling well demonstrated. Social hierarchies, therefore, are a largely abstract concept to the western reader. Not that she need worry, social hierarchies have been here all along and they’re as natural as birds flying south for the winter.

    Even if the noodle twisting of socialism has obscured this point for some, this is really no different than the misdirection by religions with regards to human evolution. A little book learning and she’ll be right as rain.

  4. Oh gee golly, is that offensive to you? Are you put off by the idea that some people are in fact markedly and measurably better than others? Grow up. It’s 2015 already.
  5. The state-funded retirement model was all well and good until the post-WWII baby boom completely distorted the demographics. Today, as the productive capacity of the western world is in decline, like a deer passing through the stomach of an anaconda, the whole creature is slowly and progressively immobilising. And the thing won’t be able to move again until that big bulge has come and gone.

    Compared to this, Bitcoin is merely icing on the cake, if still icing bathed in acetylene.

  6. Not that state-funded pensions didn’t start off small, cute, and cuddly, it’s just that the “no one could have predicted” schtick is getting tired.
  7. By “tolerable” I mean that the economy was growing quickly enough that the state could impose taxes on the productive members of society without them feeling too much of a pinch, and that everyone could feel all morally superior and “progressive” at the same time.
  8. And as long as the state controls the currency, this “everyone wins” scenario can continue almost indefinitely. All the while, the industrialist takes his lumps and the world gets optimal stocked.
  9. Not that this is historically aberrant. The state-funded model, on the other hand, is exceptional for a reason, and not in a good way.
  10. Just as I did when I tried to take a mini-early-retirement/sabbatical a couple years ago. I lasted two weeks. Maybe three. After which I legitimately thought I was going to die. I don’t recommend it.

    Those who’ve taken a maternity leave are welcome to throw in their two cents as their experience with this particular sort of time off work. Maybe it’s not so bad?

  11. Where you come from is where you’re going. You might hate the ground your parents walk on, but you’re going to end up very much like them. As a notable Russian author once remarked (though I can’t at the moment recall which one), when you grow up you’ll have your mother’s intelligence and your father’s character. You might think that you can be anything in the world, but you’re likely to follow in the steps of your ancestors.

    These are not certainties, only probabilities. We don’t know when the next block will be mined, only that it will happen on average every 10 minutes. There will be exceptions, but being exceptional is only desirable if it’s in the positive, not the negative. Building on the path laid out for you is your surest, though far from the only, path to greatness.

  12. And if you really can just stomach day after day of golf and lawn bowling, you never had a productive life to begin with. At best, you just won the historical lottery and found a job that was necessary but not yet economically replaceable by machines. Lucky you!

9 thoughts on “Some people can retire and some people can’t: A story about carrots.

  1. Anyone living in NATO-world (savings-confiscation land) should add the price of emigration to his calculated cost of retirement.

  2. Too bad Enron ruined the whole pension thing for everyone. Probably ruined even before that, but still, we can’t seem to have nice things ever.

    • Pete D. says:

      Eh, Enron is an effect, not a cause. They could’ve only existed in an environment where regulatory capture is rife. Essentially, anywhere where money and state are intertwined would see similar corruption.

      It’s just how the incentives align.

  3. […] of someone surrounded by papers in an office, slowly counting down the years and decades until retirement/death, cannot compare to the card player who’s so alive in the moment that he rarely knows if […]

  4. […] the latter group ever catches the carrot dangling in front of their faces… or not. […]

  5. […] Health Inspectors. I still maintain my certification with them, though I’m listed as “retired.” […]

  6. […] so many pensionless professionals (and entrepreneurs) have relied on to save for their hard-won retirements. Or are you going to tell me that none of these matter in the face of perceived social prestige […]

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