Is the “Common Good” Really in Your Best Interest?

Card Image
Posted by The Savvy Retiree on February 2, 2016 in Money Saving Strategies, Personal Finances

“History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.”— Yuval Noah Harari, from Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Our beat here is how to achieve a truer, more fulfilling existence…one that does not depend on the accumulation of trinkets and gizmos, but that stands alone as worthy and valuable in and of itself.

A monumental task, we think you will agree.

And now, along our humble path of inquiry, we are confronted head on by a shocking discovery…

The very foundation of civilization itself will be shaken…the ideas that underpin all we thought we knew, uprooted…the terra firma on which we strode so confidently, yanked unceremoniously from underfoot.

And plenty more hyperbole, besides!

You see, we’ve been duped. That’s right. We—all of us, your editor and fellow readers alike—have been sold down the river.

It is fair enough to say history itself has lied to us…

More on all that below. But first, something of far less importance…

You will not have failed to notice, The Savvy Retiree Daily Reader, the tumultuous action in the financial markets of late.

The headlines sound eerily like those in the days of 2008, right before the proverbial [unprintable] hit the fan.

Now, as then, stocks are down from New York to New Delhi…Shanghai to Sydney. Across the Old World and into the New, investors’ computer screens bleed red.

Are we headed toward another “financial cliff?”

Or even…over one?

We note with measured caution that, going back to 1949, the average bull market for stocks has lasted just shy of four years. Average returns were 145%. (According to data from Putnam Investments.)

The current bull run—which began in March of 2009—will celebrate its 7th birthday next month. So far it has returned an outsized 175% gain to grinning investors…give or take.

With those epic numbers in mind, we wonder whether we are closer to the end of the current cycle, or the beginning?

We are not given to know, alas…only to observe.

To be sure, The Savvy Retiree Daily is not a financial publication, per se…but we keep a squinting eye on the markets for you just in case.

“Just in case what?” we hear you ask.

Well, just in case something of interest happens. Something that might, for instance, impact your day to day. Something that could dislodge your retirement plans, say, or drain your bank account…or even interrupt your cocktail hour.

Or maybe it’s to highlight an opportunity…a chance to capitalize on a particular distortion, to take advantage of a moment…or to step aside from an oncoming train.

In financial markets—as in life—one never knows what’s around the bend. It pays, therefore, to be prepared for anything.

But more than any of that, the markets tell a tale so utterly human it is difficult to resist from eavesdropping. Wrapped up in “the print” (the closing numbers for the day’s trading), we uncover high hubris, fantastical folly, and characters of such unfathomable pomp and arrogance as to make the cast of a Greek tragedy blush.

It’s entertaining, in other words.

Of course, like much of what is reported in “the news,” stock market tales usually take the form of the “collective narrative.” That is, they are general in nature, not specific. They reflect the average outcome, with precious little sensitivity for the individuals making up the numbers.

Take the man who puts his life savings in Company A. It goes bankrupt before lunch due to some scandal or another. He likely cares little that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (note that last word) finishes higher on the day…

The same is true in other fields too. GDP figures…unemployment data…so-called “happiness” indexes.

A woman discovers her husband is cheating on her with his younger secretary. What does she care about the “general” trend in national divorce rates? She wants to wring the scoundrel’s neck!

Or how about the man who complains to his doctor that he’s too short. Little relieved is he to hear that “on average” the American man is taller now than he was a generation or two ago.

And what of the young couple who decide to take up base jumping…safe in the knowledge that “average” life expectancy is ever and always on the increase…

The tool of average is nothing new, of course. History is full of such “collective narratives.” They help us grasp—however feebly—the sheer enormity of concepts like time and space.

One can’t very well follow every Fred and Wilma through the evolution of our species. So it helps to have a general tale to follow along…a montage, of sorts, to wrap our wee little human brains around.

But these collective narratives don’t always serve their authors well…

And here we come to the meat of the sandwich…the Truth and the Plenty…the shocking deceit that the past has so wantonly perpetrated on the future.

Throughout history, collective narratives rarely accord with the highest possible happiness for the individual. In other words, what is good for our species collectively might not necessarily be good for you individually.

In no shortage of cases, just the opposite is true!

Imagine for a second that, throughout history, our kings and dear leaders…our high priests and tzars…our community organizers and army generals…have lied to us.

Imagine that the idea of the “common good” was not the intended goal at all…but a means by which to subjugate the commoner.

Imagine that your own path to true happiness lies elsewhere…

Yes, yes. We know. The idea strikes at the very heart of our modest quest for independence. It is the collective myth that entombs…

Of course, the significance of this realization demands genuine analysis…deep thinking…and probably one or two trips to the wine store.

Ah, but we’ve run out of time today.

Your admittedly rattled editor is off to meditate on this one for a while. We’ll get back to you with our findings in Wednesday’s issue.

Featured Image ©

T&P Tool Shed

Don’t be a Background Character in Someone Else’s Story

Some folks opt to remove themselves entirely from the broken system and take complete ownership of their lives.

Living “off-grid” might seem like an extreme measure to most, but we’re not talking about buying a compound in Mexico and accruing a small group of True Believers. We’re talking about buying a plot of land, living debt-free, and being completely self-sufficient.

These days you can carve out your own slice of the good life without costing you a fortune or sacrificing all the modern comforts. There are large plots of land going cheap (even free) across the U.S., and innovations in alternative housing—like log cabin kits and tiny homes—make it easier to get setup than ever.—Ed