been very interested to see the progress of the FIRE movement. For those not acquainted
with the term, it stands for financial independence, retire early. Unlike
earlier frugality movements, this one has been getting serious attention from
the media. Perhaps that’s because journalists are an endangered species these
days and recognize the wisdom of cutting consumption and saving money in an
increasing likelihood of unemployment. I’m looking forward to Scott Reickens’
new book, Playing with FIRE, which is
due out in January. I’m trying to get a review copy, but you may have to wait
for me to get a copy from the library.
the frugality movement of the 1990s began, those of us who were part of it were
at first covered by serious writers, among them Nick Ravo of the New York Times, who gave Living Cheap News the mention that got
it going. Soon, however, we were covered by writers eager to make fun of the
movement. Amy Dacyczyn, after she had ceased publishing her wildly successful Tightwad Gazette in 1996 was “encouraged” by a reporter to open
up her life. She did, and the reporter wrote a scathing article about Amy’s
deprived children and bare bones lifestyle. The same reporter, who was at that
time childless, went on to write another article advising women not to leave
the workforce when they had children.
encouraged that the coverage of the FIRE movement had been overwhelmingly
positive, and every once in a while I check the Mr. Money Moustache website to
see what’s going on, which is how I discovered that Suze Orman hates, hates,
hates, hates the movement.
interview with Paula Pant, whose podcast is titled “Afford Anything,” is
available on YouTube and, I’m sure, elsewhere. It’s cringeworthy and about an
hour and ten minutes long. It’s worth listening to if you want to hear
something worthy of an overlong Saturday Night Live skit, but there’s no reason
to suffer through it, as I did, because I’m going to give you the short
you’re going to watch it, though, I suggest you first have a glass of wine and
watch the Kinsey Sicks version of “Don’t Be Happy. Worry,” which is also on
YouTube and sums up Suze’s position on the FIRE movement and pretty much everything
Suze says $2 million is not enough to retire on. Especially if you retire at a
young age. Suze seems to think FIers retire with their nest egg and start
spending it down. She does not have enough grasp of the movement to realize we
try not only not to touch our principal, but to add to it. Suze then goes on to
say things happen. You could be hit by a car. You could get run over by a bus. You
could fall down on the ice. You could get cancer. Further, artificial
intelligence is coming. In 2030, unemployment could be 25%. That means those
who are working will be taxed at higher rates. Social Security and Medicare
will be gone. Your money may not last, and you’re not adding to your retirement
check here. Do you suppose anyone who gets hit by a car, run over by a bus,
falls on the ice, or gets cancer laments not working while they were healthy
enough to enjoy their lives?
who once earned and lived on $400 a month, says a safe spending amount per year
would be $350,000 after taxes. When pressed, she says $10 million may be enough
to retire on. When pressed further about people who spend their whole lives
earning $50,000 or less, Suze says they’re more ready for retirement because
they’re used to living on less.
spends a great deal of this interview telling how rich she is. Why, just a few
years ago, she sold five of her houses, canceled a bunch of her commitments,
and moved to her own private island where she spent time on her yacht learning
how to be its captain. But she got bored and was welcomed back by her fans who
wondered why she’d ever deserted them—sort of like hearing this story from the Norma
Desmond perspective—and she’s flogging a new book.
short, Suze says she's smart and rich, so listen to her. People who didn’t have
wound up putting a gun to their heads.
compares FIers to those who got on the duck boat that sank here in Missouri.
Those people, after all, thought they were safe and look what happened, so work
as long as you possibly can in an area you love so you don’t feel that it’s
work. At this point I couldn’t help but be reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, which is one of the
texts for my history class, and I wondered if Suze had been kidnapped by the Tralfadamoreans because she’s certainly not living on
planet American middle class.
ideal retirement age is 70 at which time a person can get their maximum Social
Security benefit. (Remember Social Security? That program that won’t be around
in 2030?) She reminds us once again that $2 million is “nothing,” and that people
who retire early “don’t have a passion” and will spend their long retirement
“sitting and doing nothing,” which I found funny because it was a great effort
on my part to carve out the time to listen to this drivel.
is OK with Suze if a new mother stays home to raise her children, but once that
kid’s in school, the mother needs to get back in the labor force. She’s even
opposed to college students taking a gap year. But two to six weeks is OK if
you’ve maxed out your retirement contributions and have eight months of living
expenses in the bank.
find it amazing that anyone would let this nutcase tell them how to live their
lives. As someone who retired early—nearly 25 years ago, I can tell you it was
pretty darned easy for me. I had the guidance of Paul Terhorst’s Cashing in on the American Dream to show
me what an early retirement could be like and Joe Dominguez’ and Vicki Robin’s Your Money or Your Life to take me
through the math to show me it was possible. When I left Company L, I was
living on my passive income, so I moved my 401(k) to my IRA. I am extremely
lazy about money, and I did not want to have to think about it every day, so I
bought zero coupon treasuries. I planned not to have to touch the IRA until I
reached age seventy, and I didn’t. In the meantime, I have been able to add to
my non-IRA principal by, among other things, finding an enjoyable consulting
gig that lasted four years and living on less income than the accounts earn.
Suze, I do not have a private island, a private plane, or a yacht. And, I’m
extremely happy to report I only have one house. Woe is me.
I have had almost a quarter of a century to do pretty much as I pleased.
it’s time for another glass of wine and another viewing of “Don’t be Happy.
been pointed out to me that I’ve been neglecting my blog lately. I found out
the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) has a program for seniors that
lets us take a class for $25. We don’t get credit, and, while we probably don’t
have to do the assignments, I’ve been doing them anyway. The class I’m taking
is a history class, and the assignments are papers. One reason I was excited to
take the class is I wanted to get out of my routine and be around people who
are not part of my generation—not that there’s anything wrong with my
generation, but variety is the spice of life.
shouldn’t be a surprise that classes these days are a lot different than those
I took fifty years ago. In the “good old days” lectures were simply that. The
teacher would talk, and we’d take notes. Nowadays the lecture is on PowerPoint,
and we get to watch the occasional film clip on YouTube. The professor is
excellent (and since I can’t flunk, I don’t have to suck up). Alas, he’s
retiring after the next semester.
that’s what’s been occupying my time.
I came across a book I highly recommend, and I’d like to get the word out.
August I saw an obituary in The New York
Times that caught my eye. Isamu Shibayama, an ethnic Japanese detained
after Pearl Harbor died at age 88. During the war, of course, many ethnic
Japanese were put in detention centers, so you’re probably wondering what’s so
special about Mr. Shibayama. What’s unusual about him is he was detained in
Peru, where he and his family lived and where Mr. Shibayama was born in 1930.
The family had emigrated to Peru to work in the cotton industry and had become
quite wealthy, which is probably the reason they were rounded up and, with
2,000 other ethnic Japanese living in Peru, shipped to the United States and
interned in Crystal City, Texas. After the war the U.S. wanted to deport the
family to Japan because they had entered the country “illegally.” More on that
later. While fighting deportation, Mr. Shibayama, still classified as an
illegal immigrant, was drafted in 1952 and served in Germany. After he
completed his service, a helpful immigration official recommended he go to
Canada and re-enter the U. S. from there after which he’d have to wait five
years to apply for citizenship. In 1988 Japanese-Americans who had been
interned were awarded $20,000 provided they were still alive to receive the
money. That only applied to citizens or permanent residents. In 1999 a
coalition of Japanese Latin Americans won reparations of $5,000. Mr. Shabayama
and two of his brothers declined the payment and sued. They lost that suit and
appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human rights in 2002. Mr.
Shibayama’s brothers are still awaiting a decision.
was news to me that the U. S. had citizens from other countries kidnapped and
interned here during the war. But wait, there’s more.
I read a review of Mary Jo McConahay’s The
Tango War: The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds and Riches of Latin America
during World War II and got a copy at the library. The book was an
eye-opener for me. Latin America has a great many strategic materials, from oil
in Mexico to cotton in Peru to tungsten, necessary for armor-piercing weaponry,
in Argentina to rubber (which was a biggie in those days before synthetic
rubber) along the Amazon.
In the early days of
aviation, Italy and Germany started airlines to serve Latin America, shaving
time off land routes that meandered over mountains and often flying where there
were no roads at all. Latin America was largely made up of European immigrants,
many of whom were from Germany and had constructed villages that looked German
and where German was the first language. The Germans, especially the wealthy
ones, would, like the Japanese, become targets for deportation and internment
in the U. S. Both German and Japanese deportees had their property and
businesses confiscated and their assets frozen.
The reason for the U. S.
detaining ethnic Japanese and German deportees was to have prisoners to
exchange for Americans held in enemy prison camps. While to a degree this may
seem justified, many of these detainees, like Mr. Shibayama, knew little about
the countries of their ethnicity and did not even speak the language. How many
of us can speak the language of our forebears unless that language was English?
Another act by the U. S. was to confiscate the passports of people being
relocated to the U. S. unwillingly and then arrest them for entering without
papers! This was all news to me, and I thought I knew history!
The book discusses
American efforts to win the hearts and minds of Latin Americans with the aid of
Walt Disney (successful) and Orson Welles (not so much). J. Edgar Hoover makes
several appearances, mostly fighting for turf against what would become the
CIA. Hoover may well have screwed up what could have been a warning about Pearl
Harbor because he personally did not approve of the extracurricular activities
of a double agent who was code named “Tricycle” because of his ability to bed
two women at once. Ernesto Guevera Lynch, an anti-fascist and father of Che
Guevera, reported on suspicious German activity in Argentina. His reports were
Ms. McConahay discusses
the Mexican airmen who ferried aircraft over the Pacific and made bombing runs
over Formosa and Luzon and the Brazilian combatants who fought bravely in
Italy, where they are remembered, and returned to Brazil, where they were
forgotten in no small part because of a government unwilling to share the
limelight with heroes.
As interesting as the war
coverage is, what Ms. McConahay describes after the war is just as intriguing. In
his 1999 Hitler’s Pope: The Secret
History of Pius XII, John Cornwell described the wartime activities of Pius
XII. Ms. McConahay does as well, but she explains that Pius saw the war as a
battle between atheistic communism and fascists who, although they were
anti-Semitic murderers, were not anti-church. (The same approach this
administration is taking with Saudi Arabia—they may be murderous bastards, but
they’re good business partners.) Ms. McConahay says that Pius XI, Pius XII’s
predecessor, condemned Nazi neo-paganism and the “so-called myth of race and
blood” shortly before he died. Pius XII, however, took a different route. The
church set up “Ratlines” to allow Nazis to escape using its network of
monasteries and parishes. Among those who traveled the Ratlines to Latin
America were Joseph Mengele, Adolf Eichmann, and Klaus Barbie.
Ms. McConahay follows the
activities of former Nazis into the 1960s and 1970s, where they proved helpful
to Latin American dictators who set up camps for dissenters, many of whom
This is a history book
that’s long overdue.