- A recent survey shows that many Americans have no retirement savings – or even enough to cover a $400 expense.
- Its easy to place blame on economic inequality and unfair policies, but Alexander Green explains that we all need to take responsibility for our own financial success.
According to a Federal Reserve survey from earlier this year, a quarter of all working Americans have no retirement savings.
None. Zero. Zilch.
In fact, almost 40% of Americans said they dont have enough money to cover an unexpected $400 expense.
This has brought on the predictable complaints about economic inequality, our rigged system and how capitalism is broken.
Thats Bravo Sierra. And you know it.
Lets consider a few basic facts… always a good starting point.
In 2018, U.S. median household income reached a record $61,937.
Unemployment is at a 50-year low. Wages are growing at the fastest rate in more than a decade.
And, as the Federal Reserve recently reported, U.S. household net worth is also at a new all-time record.
If capitalism is broken, please do me a favor. Dont fix it.
But not everyone is sharing equally in the prosperity, critics say. What they dont say is that people in free societies everywhere have unequal outcomes.
You want great economic equality? Visit North Korea. Or Cuba. Or Venezuela. Everyone is equal in their misery.
Capitalism isnt broken. Whats broken are public education and todays context-free journalism.
For starters, academia and the mainstream media apparently dont realize that capitalism is an economic system, not a political one.
In a free market system, highly skilled people who work the most get paid the most. Less skilled people get paid less. And people who cant or wont work dont get paid at all.
Then our political system – through taxes and transfer payments – leavens that inequality.
Of course, millions of folks, whether they have high incomes, low incomes or something in between, dont live within their means.
They have comfortable salaries. (And homes, cars, trips, meals out, and closets, attics and garages full of stuff.) What they dont have are savings. Not because the economy is broken but because they dont live within their means and set something (anything) aside.
Or perhaps they saved but – because theyre risk-averse or uninformed – never invested those savings to earn higher returns.
True, some lucky ones are born with higher IQs and into more affluent households with better or more devoted parents. Thats life. And, as your mother told you when you first complained about it at age 4, it isnt fair.
No politician, no law, no social program and no magic wand can change that.
Good or bad, we all must play the hand were dealt. You do that by 1) making the very best choices you can and 2) taking responsibility for your actions.
If you don’t do those things, trust me – you will not have a happy, successful life.
Yet some today – especially politicians running for office – dont want you to feel responsible for the life you created with your choices.
Didnt stay in school? Not your fault.
Dont have any marketable skills? Not your fault.
Cant keep a job? Not your fault.
Cant stay out of trouble with the law? Not your fault.
Had kids you cant support? Not your fault.
Never saved a dime… and certainly not $400? Not your fault either.
Welcome to the new post-responsibility society, where individual efforts dont matter and its wrong to judge others by their character and actions.
Sorry. I dont buy it.
I have a middle-class background myself. I grew up in the South in a home without air conditioning. (I also went to crummy public schools that werent air-conditioned.) I had no great genetic gifts, no connections, no inheritance.
In college, I could not afford to call home except on Sunday evenings after 7 p.m. (Remember those days?) I didnt take (because I couldnt afford) a commercial flight until I was in my mid-20s.
As a young man, I worked a succession of tedious, brain-dead, low-paying jobs, including waiting tables in a tavern, maintenance on a truck terminal and the night shift in an auto parts warehouse.
I lived in modest accommodations, drove a beater car (the stereo was worth more than the vehicle), never ate out, owned no valuable possessions, spent little on entertainment (hiking, swimming, reading and tennis are free) and virtually never traveled.
(When I did, it wasnt far. I had no passport and certainly no money to spend abroad.)
Yet two things stick out from this period:
1) Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the system was rigged, capitalism was broken, or some friend, family member or government bureaucrat would bail me out…
2) Those were some of the very best times of my life. After all, none of my friends had money either, so we made our own fun. (A good meal and lively conversation dont cost much.)
I never felt poor. Why? Partly because I saved a little bit of every paycheck. (Frankly, I was afraid of what might happen if I didnt.)
Being broke is a temporary condition. Being poor is a state of mind.
I fully support most social welfare programs, incidentally.
Some adults are constitutionally incapable of making a good decision, but there are often kids to consider.
Others are struggling, and it really isnt their fault. They have severe physical or mental disabilities, emotional problems, terrible luck, or truly lousy circumstances.
But could this possibly describe 40% of Americans? Of course not.
We all make regrettable decisions. But the best of us face up to them. We dont search for some person, circumstance or aspect of society to blame.
The people who encourage you to do that really arent your friends. Its not your fault is not empowering. Its disempowering.
After all, if you didnt help create your circumstances, how can you change them?
Its when we take what Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin call extreme ownership that we can solve our most pressing problems, financial or otherwise.
If you are an able-bodied adult who cannot get his or her hands on $400, you havent maximized your marketable skills, or worked long and hard enough, or lived within your means, or regularly saved and invested a portion of your income.
Or all of the above.
Fortunately, you have the power to change that.
There will always be some who expect to thrive and prosper in a post-responsibility society. But they are headed for inevitable disappointment.
Why? Because we do not live in a post-reality world.
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