Yesterday I got a touch vicious and snarky.
Yeah, that never happens around here.
So what do we have? We have a catastrophe in the making.
The Boomers didn’t save anywhere near enough (average retirement assets is 79 grand, see link above — that won’t cut it), and the Fed is crushing what little they have, by inventing $83 billion dollars a month and devaluating the currency in the process, mostly so politicians can borrow 40 cents out of every dollar the government spends, and kick the can on entitlement spending down the road. And no, contrary to the talking bobbleheads on NPR, the President’s “400 billion over ten years” plan won’t help; it’s chump-change compared to our actual entitlement problems. We’d need to change that number to something more-closely resembling $400 billion per year in order to stave off the real problem, which is said programs going bankrupt. You know it, I know it, attempts to reform it have been shot down for over twenty years running, and the clueful among the Boomers have been warning people in my generation since I was in grade school that this was coming. Thank God for those who did — most folks in my generation have zero expectation that entitlements will be there for us, and are psychologically prepared for this issue. Most Boomers aren’t, and still can’t even address it without either giving it a dismissive toss or getting emotional and lashing out at everybody in sight.
Nearly half of the houses built-in the last thirty years are essentially luxury homes on half-to-ten-acre lots. Most starter homes are old, not in very good shape….and still priced out of where the average beginning family can afford. Boomers who used their houses as a substitute for retirement saving are screwed. Look around lately, and where do you find kids? Mostly in class-B apartments and low-end rental homes. “Classic suburbia” is getting old fast, and while maintaining a house with a big yard is no big thing in your 70s, it’s something else entirely when you’re an 80-year-old woman or a 90-year-old man (if the man makes it that far, see below) Desperate Boomers who can’t retire are picking up jobs left, right, and center. They have functionally zero bargaining power, and so their salaries suck, and a lot of the jobs they’re getting are part-time.
Meanwhile, Millennials face record unemployment (but hey, at least we’re not Europe, where 20% youth unemployment is considered pretty good) that is so bad it’s literally causing a demographic implosion.
So…what to do?
What does that mean? Well, it means that if the rest of us aren’t assholes, we’ve got a set of serious issues to handle, preferably without the emotional, dismissive hand-waving of those who mistake hope for a strategy. On the one hand, the world itself is getting better every damned day. On the other, we’re prisoners of macroeconomic forces far beyond our control, and we have no frontier in which to go try things our own way. Our kids hopefully will, but for the rest of us, that bolt has flown. Go SpaceX, go. Go, Skylon, go. Humanity needs frontiers. Meanwhile, the world is changing fast and faster, and we are, too.
But none of us have the raw political power it would take to fix the “big picture.” The Boomer Holocaust is a wave is too big for any individual to handle, and our Red Team and Blue Team Zombie Voter Armies are too tied up in “my team rocks your team is evil” to actually try to fix it. They’ve made plenty of Purple Team Commissions laying out exactly how it could be done…and ignored every single one.
All we can do is surf it. Riding it out is as good as it gets.
1. If you’ve got a job, save, save, save, save. Or, even more importantly, de-leverage. Get OUT of debt. Ignore the hucksterism about mortgage interest deductions — those are for the upper middle class, not for Random Guy #13. If you make less than six figures and are in a house you can actually afford to live in, you’ll be getting the “standard deduction” anyway. If you make less than six figures and actually have enough mortgage interest to beat the Standard Deduction, you have Too Much House, or are living in a zip code that’s beyond your means — you’re setting yourself up for poverty down the road. Learn this truth: housing is a cost. There’s cost of living, and cost of surviving. They’re two different things: any plan you make should minimize the latter. If you’re paying a third to one-half your paycheck simply for the privilege of taking up space, you’re in trouble. Get the cheapest mortgage you can get in the cheapest house your wife will let you buy, and then KILL IT OFF.
Yeah, I’m not gonna be making any friends here.
Yeah. Sorry. But if your housing bill takes up so much of your income that the thought of trying to saving 20% of it reduces you to frustrated tears, you need to start asking yourself some serious questions about whether the “boomer life plan” is really for you.
2. Stay fit, give your kids the gift of your example in that, and, gently and lovingly, be a bastard about making sure your parents and older relatives stay in shape. If you’re carrying so much compacted lard that it’s hard for people to give you a hug, stop whining and go work it off.
Men and women both need to build some muscle for functional strength, and to do enough stretching to stave off typical hip flexibility issues that turn into raging, crippling back issues — like sciatica. You’d never imagine one tiny muscle running under your ass could cause so much pain elsewhere. You don’t have to try to turn them into gym rats — but if you can, great! Anybody who’s been to the Y knows how happy the geezers who make themselves work out there are compared to everybody else in their age group. Gardening helps, too. But as much as it may sound like an alien world, your horizon is measured by the health of your connective tissues; when you’re banged up and “going to the bathroom” takes as much effort as it used to take to walk down to the corner store, the world becomes a very isolated and lonely place. Getting old is now a race to see if you can stay healthy long enough to benefit from the just spectacular improvements in biology and medicine that are just around the corner. We blast cancer with gamma rays now as a matter of course
3. Consider multi-generational living. Unless your folks did everything right and managed not to lose everything in one of our various bubble/crash 401k scenarios, there is a very, very good chance that they will need serious help, and soon. My mother has passed, but I can say categorically that if she were still around she’d find herself hard-pressed to support herself right now. You’re going to need to help. That’s a lot easier for all involved if it’s one rent/mortgage check, rather than two. Especially if you’re a single Mom. A grandmother is no substitute for a Dad…but it beats the shit out of not having either, and the mutual care tendered in both directions is a good thing and can make everybody happier. Nursing homes suck; it’s a cold fact of life that sometimes they’re necessary, but when the nursing home employee isn’t allowed to do CPR and is supposed to just stand there and let you die instead, let’s just say that the writing is on the wall. No, really, hit the link: that happened.
Going multi-generational isn’t politically correct — it’s what people used to do from necessity. Unless the technologists can significantly improve the quality of tissue regeneration and robotic exoskeletons fast enough for the Boomers to benefit from them, it’s likely to become a necessity again. That doesn’t mean that it has to be misery and disaster. The idea that people should only hang out with other people their age is one of the stupidest, most poisonous ideas ever to take root in America (but the Boomers, like many of their parents, are invested heavily in it, so if push comes to shove, expect heavy resistance. On the other hand, most grandparents like the idea of seeing their grandkids more than once a year, so the sales pitch shouldn’t be too hard).
4. Build non-monetary wealth. If the Fed continues its genocidal double-down on “wealth creation,” along with the rest of the world devaluing their currencies like mad, then eventually inflation (and possibly hyper-inflation) will follow. While nobody expected the Fed to pull some of the nifty tricks it has, this time isn’t different: the stock market is only looking high right now because the Fed is pumping over a hundred million per hour into it, and the bobbleheads talking “housing recovery” know it’s worth their jobs to admit that it’s just another reinflated bubble. People who have static savings will see the value of those savings decline; cultivate friendships, and especially cross-generational ones. Chickens are good. Gardens are good. Lots of buddies (and preferably not just in your age group!) are even better.
5. Cultivate the Future. Yours truly Happycrow is trained as a historian, so that may sound odd coming from this department. But the future is where it’s at, and it’s where a lot of our sources for societal optimism are going to come from. Most social and political problems have technical roots, and that means that most social and political problems have technical solutions. Can’t travel to see your relatives? Can you afford Internet? Videocalling that was the stuff of science fiction twenty years ago is FREE if you’ve got an internet connection and a computer with a camera built in (and the majority of them now do). It’s called Skype. I wasn’t just joking about those robotic exoskeletons, either. They’re real. A sense of awe at the wonder of the future adds to optimism and a sense of gratefulness for what others produce. And that attitude almost exactly correlates with happiness no matter what age group you belong to. Here’s my morning go-to optimism shot: it’s called Next Big Future. Here’s another one.
6. Stop associating with poisonous doom-and-gloom people. Yeah, I’m really gonna make friends with this one. But while a certain former Reagan staffer has called me the most cynical man he’d ever met (I take that as high praise considering the source!), I’m an optimist. Optimists can afford to be cynics: we already know how bad the world can get. Pessimists, on the other hand, are always finding out.
If your friend never has anything good to say about anybody else, and their sense of humor is basically an excuse to trash-talk people 24/7 , if their sense of life accomplishment is bogging you down with the maximum amount of their bullshit and drama…. then they’re not your friend. And they’re bad for your health. Don’t try to catch a falling knife — if they want to be miserable, let them be miserable….with somebody else.
7. Be a producer, not a consumer. Make something, even if it’s just pointless little crafty things that amuse people. If the economy really goes tits-up, you’ve got something to sell while everybody scrambles for chickens they can keep in the back yard. If it doesn’t, you’ve got instant easy gifts to make people happy. Making and producing things points you outward as a human being. That’s a good thing.
8. Turn off the fucking television. Television makes you inert. This is no time to live like a houseplant.