Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Jimmy the Greek's Retirement Advice

My friend, Peter, discovering that I am floating (flouting) my resume publicly, has presented me with some persuasive arguments why this course of action is either unwise or unnecessary. His first consideration is a kind of Pascal's Wager with the Social Security Administraton, though I think Jimmy the Greek's Retirement Advice is closer to the spirit of the thing: it's a safe bet that anyone is either going to live for a while, or not. Social Security is a betting pool in which we are entitled to bet against the government. If we wait until we've optimized our benefits - say at age 70 - then we're betting that we live long enough to cash in the most chips we can at the window. We're also betting that we live far enough past 70 to enjoy this modest increase in winnings. But if we go for the cash early, even though it's a smaller pot, we're betting that we might crap out tomorrow. If we cash in early and survive, then of course in the longer stretch we'll come out ahead (and of course if we don't we will be beyond caring). And then there's the partisan/political wrinkle to consider: with the Grand Old Privatizers in conrol of the Congressional House, it's anyone's guess if your chips will be negotiable when you do take them up to the window. This casino may close before your roulette wheel comes up red or black. The current Republican ascendancy makes your odds better if you take the money while it's still there and run - don't worry about the break-even point, take it while you can and spend it like you stole it. This is the argument from wisdom.

Then there's the argument from necessity. The less you need, the less you need. And admittedly I don't need much (although even the little I do need seems to get harder to pay for). This is the "Simplify, simplify, simplify" argument, or as my alter ego tells me daily, "I have enough money to last me the rest of my life, unless I buy something." (This is known as the Jackie Mason School of Economic Theory.) There's something to this of course, although those who think this way and try to bring it off usually end up in the early stages looking something like this:

(Thoreau was, as it happens, an intellectual forebear of the Digital Age: "An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. . . . I say, let your affairs be as two or three . . .  and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.") 

Eventually, after years of simplicity, self-denial, staying in the front yard, buying gasoline in mason jars, making furniture out of logs, hunting the neighbors' pets after dark, and learning to think of "found objects" as "art" 

 "You'll never believe what I found!"

 the man of simplicity begins to look like

"Brother, can you spare a dhoti?"

It is evident by now that I am a Lamarckian, which is to say that I subscribe to the discredited biological theory that hereditary traits are acquired through external, environmental factors such as simplicity, abject poverty, starvation, having to walk everywhere, and so on. For example, let's imagine that, over a million years or so, lions ate every single wildebeest . . . no, that's not going to work. Well, in its simplest terms, Lamarckianism suggests that if a woman enceinte, or a mother-to-be, were startled some dark night by an oncoming motorcycle, she would bear a one-eyed offspring. Lamarck was initially thought to be discredited when his detractors pointed out that the original Homeric Cyclops was born before the era of the motorcycle. But recent archeological studies have unearthed remnants of the Stradivarius 1200, the preferred mount of the ancient Parthian marauders.

The Stradivarius 1200

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