As insults go, one from junk email should incite small reaction. It was standard marketing puff I hadn’t asked for. Well I know such emails come from managerial delusions of grandeur, someone in a tie or uncomfortable heels whose starry eyes are too enamored with the products and services they are responsible for pushing to realize nobody will care about another email pimping for them, not even the people paid to write them. But this one is so insipid it begs the question: were the people paid to write and design this one paid?
“Important Tax Tips and Information from TaxAudit.com” came to me last Monday (May 12). From the supposed desk of Mark Olander, CEO, this competent but undistinguished memo features personal finance articles that are an odd mix of bland and “how to get rich at a respectable, legal clip”. A slip of the finger opening instead of deleting, I scanned the opening paragraphs with their alluring read more links: selling a house, rental properties and taxes, blah. Chance had me scroll one tick more, to this:
For many of us, saving enough to retire may not be possible. But before we toss our hands in the air, let’s look at this problem in an entirely different way. What about working longer? Maybe loving what we do? Staying vibrant in mind and body for as long as possible. Read more
Morning is quiet under fluorescent light, the tea cooling, sun in the windows, and in that moment of held breath I experience a riot. Shock, of course, but politely contained, like a dowager served cold tea. A writer’s slump at the last sentence that isn’t a sentence. And then the hot flush of insult. I feel like last fall when someone tried to break into my house: violated to the point of dispensing physical harm.
No Gen-X-er would write such tripe. Your lead graf contains an incomplete sentence. Who the fuck are you, puff email writer?
For no reason that is good in the literal sense, I click through. The essay (I know the fashion is to call such thing “blog posts”, but my indignation forces me to hold this writing to a higher standard) is 600 words of loose and gushing prose that holds a theme as well as one expects from a middling freshman English paper. Author Eric Linden, The Wily Tax Blogger, has a “varied” background, “ranging from the rock and roll business to high technology. He loves tax law, prunes, and swimming laps in the San Francisco bay.”
Armed only with this knowledge, perhaps your Old Man Grumpus impressions are similar to mine:
- These qualifications (to be generous and call them such) sound appropriate for fast food, “hospitality”, or, to paraphrase Mike Myers’ character Wayne, a wide variety of nametag and hairnet jobs.
- Someone with a love of tax law would surely put a ring on it with a degree from an accredited college. Wouldn’t such a person proudly name this institution before a love of prunes?
- “Rock and roll business” is a rich mine of unseemly implications. No musician I know refers to their craft as a “business”, and loathe dealing with money as an evil. Does the swimming help you play whatever it is you play better? Or, to select another likely stereotype, make you more wily at stepping on others?
- Are you proud of this bio? It would embarrass the thirteen-year-old me. It’s an insult to no-good kids.
Thus needlessly incensed, I read through Linden’s prose. Key gems [sic]:
- I mean, I am a frugal individual right? Heck, I have never even had a car payment. I drink Folgers! Well, okay, I do occasionally have a $2 Starbucks espresso but dang it that is rare! I can retire and live these Golden Years too, right?
- For many, saving nearly $3 million is a stretch, if not outright impossible. This is not to say it cannot be done, but unless something drastically changes, many of us may never be able to retire.
- But before you toss your hands in the air with despair, let us look at this problem in an entirely different way. What about working longer?
In the piece, Eric uses dang twice.
The essay’s key message is: if you were born between approximately 1965 and 1985–the height of the West’s consumption and material wealth, and the greatest period of wealth in all of human history–you have walked into the party in its waking up wearing a lampshade phase, and you, dear Generation Xer, get to clean up, go to work forever, and pay everything off.
This doesn’t disturb me. It’s self-evident. Humanity exceeded the planet’s carrying capacity some time ago, or will soon, or will this century (depending on your mood and the assumptions behind your reference. I leave this research as an exercise for the reader.) Most of the money in the Too-Big-To-Fail banks is not even paper, just numbers on a hard drive your ostensibly democratic government handed to them over your overwhelming objection. The planet’s human population is over 7 billion, with about 216,000 humans born every day. There has never been enough to go around, and I don’t see how this can get any better with fossil fuel depletion, climate change, and the near-total domination of big business capitalism.
Retirement is a very modern idea, one I believe is an historical aberration restricted to the big industrial economies of late. (This isn’t my idea, though one I can’t find a good reference for.) Never before the Twentieth Century, and FDR’s New Deal in America and the socialist reforms in postwar Europe, have so many people been able to live for so long, in such health, with such material security from their own savings plus socialized pensions (which Social Security was not really intended to be, but ended up becoming). Everyone alive has grandparents that were able to live their final years with dignity and some leisure due to these changes that would have been unthinkable as recently as, say, 1920. A paper I read twenty years ago in college claimed Social Security was the greatest anti-poverty program for the elderly in human history, and I think that’s more or less right.
But you can’t spend what you don’t have, something the financial wizards and tech nerds do not understand, or are in denial about. All the debt from all those pointless wars, the bank bailouts, and who knows what else stares out of the accounting books–both the public ones and all the secret insider ones. That the richest rich pay less than everyone else doesn’t help. Are people worried, indifferent, angry, helpless? Are they those things toward the right things? It’s hard to know, especially if you have the TV on.
I turned 44 this year. I hope to be one of those that exceed 100, as Eric notes half of us Xers are expected to. Piling up enough money to reach an arbitrary age and then never work again doesn’t seem realistic. I’ve done several different things already and expect to do more. The world is changing and the consumerist model won’t last anyway–it can’t, if we want a habitable planet. Good work which offers real value and sustains something larger than the individual is good, and not just because it keeps you busy. We all need meaning.
Wily Eric infuriates me for his lack of meaning. It is projection to assume he is an early-twenties know-nothing who scrabbles together food money with little writing jobs and “rock-and-roll business” and doesn’t know what couch he’s crashing on tonight, and I risk becoming a grumpy old man by imagining him so. But his juvenile style and tone show a lack of serious thought.
Dear Eric, have you considered why people will not be able to retire at 65? Could it be because their jobs pay too little for them to save anything? Or that they may be lost to the system because they’ve been out of work so long they gave up looking? Maybe they got seriously sick–a sure road to financial ruin in America.
Eric counsels staying vibrant and loving what you do. How vibrant are those over 70 you know? My 86-year-old grandmother worked as a waitress up to the day she died, and she was as vibrant as she was lucky. Septuagenarians may be sprightly, but can they keep carrying mail, or switch to that as a career? Doctors are seen as cerebral, but most are on their feet all day. Even vibrant 70+ folks beg the question: what of the aged’s mental competence? The culture is full of jokes about the old not being able to drive or operate their phones. Shall we consign them to work too? At what?
In the most literal sense, Eric doesn’t understand what he’s talking about, and this is why his offhand suggestion to “do what you love, forever” enrages me. You write about working for forty years and then finally hanging up your computer mouse. If you think that’s work, you don’t know what work is.
Back in rock and roll’s heyday, when the Boomers were your age, the most serious breach of the social contract was to sell out. I understand that’s changed, but do me and my elders a favor. When you sell out, be tasteful and do it in private.
Eric, I hope you got paid for that gem. In money, I mean. Stay vibrant!