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Rethink retirement!

by on February 17, 2014
pic: Vanity Fair

pic: Vanity Fair

“When you get right down to it, human beings are nothing more than ordinary jungle beasts. Savages. No different from the Cro Magnon people who lived 25,000 years ago in the [pristine] forest eating grubs off of rotten logs. No different! Our DNA hasn’t changed substantially in 100,000 years. We’re still operating out of the lower brain: the reptilian brain. Fight or flight, kill or be killed. Now, we like to think we’ve evolved and advanced, because we can build a computer, fly an airplane, travel underwater. We can write a sonnet, paint a painting, compose an opera. But you know something? We’re barely out of the jungle on this planet.”
George Carlin, 3 years past retirement age.

Now that the baby boomers are approaching retirement age, the pensions we all agreed on are in danger, claims Larry Fink of the largest money-management firm in the world, in The Battle of the baby bulge (The Economist’s World in 2014). He doesn’t mention that in the 1970s, when so many new machines started making our lives easier, there was a lot of enthusiasm about “the end of work”. Nor does he quote the recent studies that up to half our existing jobs may simply no longer be needed. (Which BTW is also a good thing!) Instead, he suggests that entire populations will just have to work longer and/or move in with their kids. One can sue Larry Flint for obscenity, but not this Chief Executor.

More unwritten “truths” propagated between the li(n)es:
1.) If a retirement fund cannot meet its obligations, don’t ask the rich to chip in.
2.) Retirement money is for fund managers to play with. If they fail – too bad!
3.) Pensions are negotiable, not something our parents and grandparents fought for.

The good news, according to Fink, is that people “seem prepared to change their behaviour”. He wants to help, by informing them, through his company BlackRock, with “an instant estimate of the retirement income their current savings can provide.” Help me out, someone. On page 13 of the same publication, the disclaimer in an UBS ad (sloppy editing, by the way!) says that “past performance is not a reliable indicator or future results”. Surely, Fink cleared his article with legal. How can he be so sure unions wont get better at bargaining, and workers might start running their own firms? Both would put a huge dent in investment profits, and in fact question the whole system Fink is a part of! Is his barely legal service no more than an attempted self-fulfilling prophecy? Ponzi scheme, anyone? To Fink, the result of the service he advertises is a foregone conclusion, as expressed in his very next sentence: We (with his help, naturally) “need to look further and wider in the markets for yield.” As is often the case in the business press, the truth comes out in the end: “[Workers] and their employers should be rethinking the entire notion of retirement.”

On what authority is Mister Fink making his announcement? Pensions were won through hard democratic struggle. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. However, we never proved that money can work, nor did we have a democratic vote on whether money has to be temporarily handed over to a select group, who hands it to an even smaller group, leaving us to absorb any losses incurred in the process. These are unwritten laws which must be challenged. “The most misleading assumptions are the ones you don’t even know you’re making.

The appropriate feeling towards CEOs, however well compensated, isn’t rage or indignation – it’s empathy. Right down to the last stock-option recipient, they aren’t Masters of Mankind (all for ourselves and nothing for other people”), but the stooges of an illegitimate system that won’t last. I used to own stock, and did pretty well for myself. Chose to opt out, because it was no longer possible once I thought it through. Other people reach different conclusions (or just put blinkers on?) They are now richer than me, and might even have the added luxury of keeping a clear conscience, while projecting their own savagery onto Fink et al. The price I paid was modest: I still live in Switzerland, and no one’s coming to grab my pension yet. My heart goes out to everyone in the grey area. Don’t believe the hype!

“We’re still just a child creature, we’re still being nasty to each other, and (…) all children go through those phases. But when we grow up … man, we are going to be something. And we’re going to do it, too.” (Gene Roddenberry)

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2 Comments
  1. Ferdinand permalink

    Another guy who was happily productive well past retirement age!
    http://archive.org/details/HowardZinnAWorldWithoutBorders

  2. Ferdinand permalink

    Not jealousy, he deserves empathy! Investors project their greed on to him.
    Other thing: as DH, who left his position as head of the Swiss National Bank, disgraced after an insider deal was leaked, and even a Federal Councillor lied to protect him (she’s still alive, politically, amazingly!), he joined BlackRock, noting that one of its advantages was “It is not a bank”. Translation: less pesky regulation. Heed!

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