Saturday, January 31, 2015

Fears Of An Old Man

Just in case you were blissfully unaware of it, you’re getting older at an unrelenting sixty seconds per minute.

I’ve already endured nearly two billion seconds of aging. Many of those seconds were materially profitable. Some were fairly pleasant. A few were both, a few were neither, and a few were downright awful. But that’s life under the veil of time. It’s not only that “no one here gets out alive;” no one gets to live a perfectly pain-and-sorrow-free existence.

As time passes, things change. (Wow! Really deep, Fran. Maybe I’ll have T-shirts made of that and sell them at Cafe Press.) The changes usually include what one fears.

Some of the changes – the ones connected to the physical deterioration nearly everyone suffers over time – are fairly easy to predict. Some are subtler than that. I and quite a few of my contemporaries are coping with fears all but unique to our time and place.

Whatever your age, there’s a good chance you’ve been coping with them too.

Way, way back in the red-in-tooth-and-claw days of these United States, back before we knew the blessings of an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent government – the year 1900 – the average life expectancy was 48 years. That figure can easily mislead you: infant mortality was much higher then, and infant deaths substantially depress a mean such as the above. Most persons who survived their infancies lived considerably longer than that: typically, into their sixties at least. Though it’s hard to come by a figure that omits the deaths of the very young – where would we set the threshold, after all? – it’s likely that an American who survived his infancy averaged somewhere around 65 years of age at death.

In those dark and primitive times, very few persons experienced the condition we of today call retirement.

Conditions were different in many other ways, as well:

  • There was no income tax.
  • There were no payroll taxes.
  • There was very little violent crime.
  • Aggregate federal debt was only $1.27 billion.
  • Most Americans worked in family-owned businesses.
  • Most Americans lived within a 50-mile radius of their birthplaces.
  • Only the largest cities attempted to infringe upon Second Amendment rights.
  • There were no “alphabet agencies” and few laws to impede business and commerce.
  • There was no licensure to speak of: e.g., a doctor was anyone who called himself a doctor.
  • Localities controlled their public schools completely, with neither state nor federal interference.
  • Though the populace was over 90% literate, very few persons went to high school. (Colleges and universities were regarded as suitable only for the progeny of the wealthy.)
  • The overwhelming majority of goods for sale to the public were routinely priced in cents. $20.67 would buy a Troy ounce of gold, $1.00 would buy 0.90 Troy ounces of silver, and gold and silver coins were in regular circulation.

No, it wasn’t Utopia. Certainly there have been some wholly beneficial developments since then. For my own part, I like the idea of having a few years of retirement in which to do whatever I please and can afford. But I’d surely love to have some of the conditions of 1900 apply to our nation today.

Because of some of the changes since 1900, particularly with regard to medical products and services, I’ll have a few years of retirement in which to read, write, and generally enjoy life. However, because of some of the other changes since 1900, particularly with regard to politics and government, I fear that despite all my efforts, I might not be able to sustain myself – that I might become financially dependent on others.

If you’re near to my age and station in life, you probably fear that too.

There are three looming threats to my ability to sustain myself after I’ve retired from my salaried job:

  1. Inflation;
  2. The rising cost of medical products and services;
  3. The threat of federal confiscation of IRAs, 401(k) accounts, and private pension funds.

I’ve hedged as well as possible against the first of those threats. However, as most of my savings are in IRAs and a 401(k) account, I haven’t hedged as well as I’d have liked. When those accounts become the pool from which I draw to pay for things, I’ll be regularly weighing tax effects against the desirability of some proposed expenditure. (And as a married man, I won’t be the one proposing the majority of the expenditures.)

Aged men require more medical support than younger ones. I already need more than I’d ever anticipated. (As a friend likes to say, if I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself. Climbed fewer Cat 5 cliffs and chased fewer Cat 10 women. But that’s all past and done.) Should the cost of those medical supports continue to rise as sharply as they have these past fifty years, I might be in trouble in my seventies and beyond.

But the most fearsome of the threats comes straight from Washington. The facts are too stark to be ignored:

  • Social Security is insolvent, while its liabilities are increasing geometrically;
  • The federal debt has passed $18 trillion and shows no sign of slowing;
  • Retirees have a lot of bucks in IRAs and 401(k) accounts.
  • There are still some private pension funds around.

If you’re a wholly corrupt, conscienceless scumbag consumed by greed and lust for power who’d rather die under torture than admit to ever making a mistake – in other words, if you’re a federal politico – doesn’t the answer just pop out of a slot?

It begins to seem a matter not of if but of when.

There’s a guaranteed, 100% effective cure for what I fear. It’s called death. But though I believe in an afterlife, I’m not all that enthusiastic about embarking on it just yet. (Among other things, you’re not supposed to be confident about what God will say to you at your Particular Judgment, and I’m not. I’m no saint. Ask my wife.) Besides, I have promises to keep: books to write and so forth. I hope to satisfy Edward Teller’s dictum: to live my life so that when the time comes, I’ll feel that I’m ready to die.

Every man around my age who looks forward to a few years of untroubled retirement, regardless of his plans for those years, faces the uncertainties I face. We’re all vulnerable to the same possibilities. We’re all about equally helpless before Leviathan. And nearly all of us are frantically searching for escape hatches.

If you’re in the fortunate category of the young and strong, and are currently unconcerned about your future as an old fart, remember that sixty-seconds-per-minute bit. Be aware that when you vote, you’re exercising an influence over the future. If your vote is directed by a gimme mentality, or by envy of persons seemingly more fortunate than you, remember that what goes around comes around. Whether you realize it or not, you’ll be setting an example for those who come after you, and you’ll have your turn under their crosshairs sooner than either of us can imagine.

Fear, like pain, can be useful, but it’s no fun. A fear that you can do nothing to offset or to brace for is the worst of all. And the older you get, the more such fears you’ll feel.

Take it from one who knows.


Anonymous said...

I hear you brother. I have been saying I will work until I die for several years now. I do not see retirement in sight.

The last paragraph about the young and strong brought an old movie immediately to mind.

"Logan's Run"

Then popped into my mind the Zeke Emanuel, "health care reform" and death panels.

Will we see a day when "palliative" care is all a person over 65-70 gets regardless of health issue?

Reg T said...

Anon, we're pretty close to that day already. The scum that Occupy the White House, Congress, and the innumerable three-letter agencies talk about how much they like England's NIH. I understand that one of NIH's rules is that, if you are over fifty, you will be denied dialysis.

And infants over there get palliative care if they have serious health issues post-partum. I think I've read that there is an actual protocol for terminating those infants we would fight - usually successfully - to keep alive.


I think I understand you dilemma, to a certain extent.I pulled both of our 401k's after the Greek debacle, where they were "nationalized" by their government. Didn't want to take a chance that it would happen here, plus growth was pretty poor, with the interest rates in effect. And I've never entrusted my money to "growth" stocks or other risky adventures.

And I don't think private pension funds will be safe. Think of what the banks currently do in informing the Feds of $10k deposits, frequent deposits under that amount, etc. etc. The private groups will roll over and play dead if/when the Feds decide they are willing to grab those funds.

I retired at 58. Between our 401k's, a big chunk of equity in our home, and some small pensions from two places I had worked, my wife and I had plenty to make ends meet.

I had a pretty good respite from bad law and bureaucracy, quitting at the VA in 2008 and continuing to the present, including traveling around the country and some time spent on a sailboat (used) around the Florida Keys and the Bahamas. We were able to enjoy ourselves, eat out occasionally, and travel, even with a monthly income that many folks would consider inadequate (under $2500/month), but with cash available for things that proved necessary along the way.

What capital I have now is purchasing tangible goods that will hold their value even in the face of the heavy inflation that is occurring, with some plans for what to do when it all comes tumbling down, as it might.

I'm glad I pulled the plug early, especially having come home yesterday from the first of two major back surgeries. Hopefully, by the end of the year I will have regained enough function that I can resume my normal activities such as hiking, metal working, and such.

All you can do is all you can do. The bottom line for me is that I am grateful for what I have and don't sweat what I don't. A good wife, good food, an incredibly scenic location complete with peace and quiet, a decent little private library (not _quite_ as large as yours :-) and lots of wildlife to observe (elk, mule deer, hawks and eagles). I no longer even feel much urge to roam.

Ownerus said...

By my observation, for the most part the only people who get to retire are government employees. Since my only government job ever was four years in the Marines and having spent the ensuing years in small manufacturing companies and ultimately my own company manufacturing products of my own design, it's unlikely I'll ever be able to retire. At 61 I still work 60-70 hour weeks, much of it standing on failing knees. There is indeed "income inequality" in this country but not what the usual purveyors of that phrase mean. In our new feudal system the nobles of government employment get to retire on the backs (taxes) of the serfs of private industry. As our sputtering economy implies, I think this is not "sustainable".

Income derived from voluntary sales to satisfied customers is very different from income taken at the point of an IRS gun.

Radio Patriot said...

First, let me thank you for becoming a "follower" of my radio program. I often use your posts as material, giving you proper attribution, of course, and urging my listeners to head your way.

Second, I just celebrated a milestone birthday on the very day you wrote this. And I am struck almost speechless that the concerns you have as you age are mine as well. I have had a number of conversations with others about how to protect my retirement nest egg, currently earning an income for me thanks to Merrill Lynch. I draw from SS as well, but we have no guarantee that will be there in the days to come.

I've thought about pulling my investments out and buying gold or property, but one doesn't get a guaranteed monthly check to cover living expenses that way.

I've thought of hiding stacks of bills under the mattress, the carpet, inside my freezer or scooped out books on my library shelves, but again, if it's not earning dividends, it will soon be dissipated, leaving my mattress far less lumpy, and me without a sou.

So I think twice about what I buy, cinch my household budget belt wherever I can, and hope the $$$ lasts as long as I do.

Thanks for sharing your rumination, Francis. Somehow it's weirdly comforting to know I' not the only one in this leaking boat.

The Radio Patriot

Francis W. Porretto said...

Andrea, you're a gal after my own heart. Live long and prosper! And thanks for the generous mention of my drivel.

(I wish I could stay up late enough to catch your show live, but as I get up a 4:00 AM, it's a mountain too high to climb.)

All my best,
Fran Porretto