In a perfect world, I would like people to have more freedom in life. I say perfect world, but in reality I’m talking about my insane dream world. The freedom I’m thinking about is mostly economic in nature. Everyone would have their house paid for. They would also have zero debt on consumer items like cars. Finally, healthcare and retirement would be on an automatic path. What I mean by automatic is that there would be a relatively quick timeline to where investments would get you into a lifetime annuity position on both healthcare and retirement. This is assuming healthcare does not go to a single-payer system as I suspect is inevitable over time. I want to make the point that an early and aggressive retirement program is very different then something like the universal basic income. With universal basic income, everybody gets a check no matter if they do anything in their life. With an early retirement system, a huge chunk of your productivity is saved for the second half of your life. One is just wealth distribution, The other is the more preferable option in my mind, is hard work, investment, and aggressive saving.
The closest analogy that I can come up with, is that In my fantasy world everyone has an equity position in their life that is something like a military vet with no debt and 20 years in. They got their base pension, They also have lifelong healthcare. Ultimately this creates tremendous freedom to do what they want in life, when they want to do it.
There is a downside to this, from an economic standpoint, and really also a personal growth standpoint. If someone is okay with a modest lifestyle, it also means they can do nothing. I think of this as the “I don’t need to, and I don’t want to” attitude. People who do nothing but modestly consume, aren’t really benefiting the world outside of their own personal life. They aren’t driving creativity, productivity, or anything really that helps the advancement of civilization. Also, even if we step away from the economic or community benefits, personal growth is good. It’s like mental exercise. It keeps an individual from getting left behind as the world changes around them.
So How do you combat, I don’t need to and I don’t want to, attitudes? One solution is to engage people with meaningful work. Ideally people in this more advanced part of the population could/would only work part-time and do other creative and community enhancing activities in the remaining time, The conundrum with this approach is that many jobs need more than part-time. A large percentage need workers with energy, innovative attitudes, and full time engagement. This puts us right back to the problem of the: I don’t need to and I don’t want to, attitude. If you don’t have to work 60 hours a week, why would you? Sadly, I can’t offer an answer from my own life experience, but I’ve been watching those in my circle who are closest to this reality.
My first story is about my role model for the worst possible outcome if a huge chunk of society doesn’t have to work. It’s a story of Miss Louise. Miss Louise worked for 30 years for the state, and then quite literally did the white rocking chair retirement. She has kids and grandkids. You would think if you were retired, had all your needs met, that you would want to engage with your grandkids. When she moved to her retirement home, she picked a place several hours away from them. I look at that situation and I feel like it’s a lost opportunity cost for society. I think of all the things the kids are not getting out of Miss Louise, and all the things that Miss Louise is not learning from the kids. By not being a part of their life, she’s not engaging with the change of the culture as the next generation grows and develops its own normal. Every day she’s a little bit further from the mass of society. As an example I doubt she’ll ever push herself to learn how to use or engage with things like Twitter or other newer tools we are using to connect and communicate as a culture. Ultimately I worry because over time I believe she will be more disconnected and alone.
The second story is about Miss Jessie and it is analogous to miss Louise’s story. Miss Jessie had a part-time job after she retired. She leveraged all of her knowledge from her career into a job that was not high pressure but definitely required a deep level of knowledge of the her industry. Unfortunately, as things changed such as the adoption of new technology, she slowly stopped getting engaged with the process. There was limited desire to learn new things as she got older. She only wanted to do what she was comfortable with and only on her own time. She didn’t need to work, but she did enjoy the extra money. Eventually she was let go because the organization needed more than she was willing to give. The moral of this story is even those that wish to give part-time, tend not to engage fully if they don’t have to.
The third story is about Ms Matilda. Miss Matilda is engaged with the process and does not want to give up the job. Ms Matilda works very hard and long hours. She even spearheads industry groups. What she doesn’t do, and what I believe is related to the, I don’t need to and I don’t want to, attitude has to do with the change in the way she manages the business. Everything is paper. it doesn’t matter how many computer tools are available, sign in sheets are done with paper, requests are done with paper, notifications are done with paper. It’s all done with actual physical paper. To me, this lack of desire to adopt more efficient methodologies and technologies, is holding her organization back, and holding her back. Eventually, she may fall into the same trap as Miss Jessie.
The final story is about Miss Katie. you would never know Miss Katie doesn’t have to work. She works hard, she adopts to new technologies and processes as often as she can, she’s engaged with her customers and her industry. Nearly the opposite of everyone else on this list, Miss Katie cares so much about her clients and organization that she’s putting in 110% and will until she physically can’t anymore.
I think these four stories are interesting insomuch as they identify some of the different paths you can take when you don’t have to work. They also highlight the potential issues of structuring society so that larger populations can retire early. FYI, It was just coincidence that all four of my examples were females. Over the years I’ve seen similar attitudes out of men as well.
I think the moral of the story is that there are traps to what we would consider as early retirement, where one can have all their life needs and reasonable wants met without having to work. Our first example literally didn’t do anything. It’s like they’re a benign lump on the butt of society. The next person we looked at wasn’t aggressive, she eventually became incompetent at her job. Then there is the one who is starting to slow down but still makes it work through old school methodology like printed forms and formal sign-in sheets. Finally, there is the one who is still top of her game but didn’t have any balance.
My thoughts on this are still a work in progress but I have come to some conclusions. The first conclusion is that there is real power and personal development in having to meet your life needs through work. I believe that people are motivated to engage in new things if they need to keep a job. I simply don’t see these types of behaviors in others who have to work to keep their health care or have to meet a mortgage payment not to mention other necessities of a quality life. In effect, having to work forces people to better themselves. Like muscles, if you don’t work your mind and attitudes, they will atrophy. That’s not good for anybody because eventually you lose the ability to be flexible in life.
Another conclusion has to do with the speed that things change. If you have more and more people with a laissez-faire attitude towards work because they don’t have to do it, they will do things at their own pace, which is much slower than a workforce that has to work. The larger the percentage of people who make up this part of the workforce, the slower all of society will change.
The question to ask is: Is that such a bad thing? On a very macro level people will eventually have less because of the slowdown in economic activity. Aside from better health care, and possibly the advancement of third world nations to first world quality of life, I can’t really see A need to move more quickly.
My final conclusion is that I’m split on this. I love the idea of restructuring our world so that we all work really hard, and then leverage the benefits of that work through saving and investing to get to a point where we don’t have to work much earlier our lives. Where we all have more of our lifespan to be creative, be engaged in the things that we’re passionate about, and potentially work at things which better the world but don’t have a ton of financial benefit associated with them.
On the other side I look at these people and I realize if you don’t have to work, the probable result is that the vast majority will only work the way they want to. It will be in their comfort zone and most won’t push themselves if they don’t have to. Many will not work at all. I find this troubling as there are simply many negatives to not working and conversely many positives too continuing to work and push yourself to be more than you currently are.
I’ve always longed for the financial independence light at the end of my work tunnel and I’ve always wanted that for all working professionals. I’ve always believed I would continue to push myself harder than ever if I was financially secure to the point where I didn’t have to work. I now see that there are some real potential drawbacks to hitting that huge lifelong goal, potentially for me, and definately for everybody else who achieves it. I honestly don’t know what the answer is right now but somehow, somewhere, there has to be that mix of not needing to push yourself because of the never ending demands of having to work, but pushing yourself enough to continue to make a positive impact on the world and yourself. I do know that this is something that will continue to bother me. Maybe if I ever do get to the point where I’m financially independent, I can use my newly found free time to work on this problem. I just need to remember to continue to push to better myself throughout the whole process.