Retirement and the American Hustle

Nothing changes unless something changes.

America can’t retire. There just isn’t enough money saved, for reasons like:
  • Decades of stagnant wages
  • Increased healthcare and housing costs
  • Decline of the pension
  • …and most importantly, American optimism
The problem isn’t just personal – it’s systemic. Pensions are underfunded with around $3T of unfunded liabilities – amounts the institutions were supposed to pay into the pensions but didn’t, hoping to get around to it later. They haven’t. It’s only going to get worse.
There’s a mismatch between expectations and reality which is pervasive in America, and it goes both ways. Everyone was sold the idea that each generation will be better than the previous, and it’s become so much of a given that no one is really pushing to actually make that happen… they just expect it to happen. Employers don’t pay employees in order to hoard cash and execute stock buybacks to pump their paper worth for shareholders; the wealthy are happy to underfund public education and infrastructure and healthcare because they can get around those hurdles; government expects that everything is going to be fine because markets are magic; employees don’t organize or make demands because they’ve been systemically disempowered and are just happy for crumbs.
There’s no architect’s union. No programmer’s union. No barista’s union. The only talk of Social Security is how to cut it. Companies are happy to pay less wages until for some reason no one has enough money to buy their trinkets. Everyone is complicit because no one can take responsibility individually for the entire mess, and there’s not enough social cohesion to make the sort of culture-wide compact to work together to solve the problem. In the end people look to the federal government to either institute some kind of socialist-light response or to back off and just let the market double-down on all the failures they already own. Neither one of those work any more because the aristocracy won, and no one wants to bother with a revolution because things are juuuuuuust good enough to let them ride a bit longer.
Something’s eventually going to give.