Ethics of ERE

Simple living, extreme early retirement, being wealthy, ...
jacob
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Post by jacob »

@pax - Ultimately, it's impossible to tell where ERE is socially responsible or accomplishes something much like it's impossible to tell for the work-spend way of life. In the latter some will accomplish good things and some will accomplish bad things and some will accomplish nothing (how many of you are browsing these forums from work/when you could/should be working?).
It's the same with ERE except unlike the work-spend cycle, ERE is more of a work-invest followed by interest-spend cycle. Some will accomplish good things, some will accomplish bad things, and some will accomplish nothing.
It comes down to what individuals do with it.
I think it's already been demonstrated that everybody going ERE wouldn't cause a breakdown of society. Nor would it make it impossible to invest.


Mr. Overlord
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Post by Mr. Overlord »

@Pax
You're asking us to justify why we we're looking to get away from work, but when others here have turned it around and challenged you to justify your worldview that there's an obligation to work, the most you've mustered in defense is that living for yourself is "inherently wrong." If that's the best you can offer and all we're doing as you say is "agreeing to disagree" about which world view is better, why do you have such a problem with people choosing for themselves how to spend their time?


JohnnyH
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Post by JohnnyH »

I think I've got it: to fulfill social contract, you have to 'work' even if it's digging holes and filling them up again...
Oh, and you can't enjoy it too much because you have to do it for others, NOT yourself... Anyone who has ever done or created anything because they enjoyed it is a sinner. Especially if they were not paid (job) for it. Shame! Beethoven should have been working a ho and not screwing around on the piano.
I'm in... All aboard, next stop Utopia!


celliott
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Post by celliott »

I believe Mr. Overlord has hit the nail on the head. I'll admit to not necessarily being so "extreme" in the early retirement universe, but I appreciate the underlying principle: Freedom.
Freedom does not equate to unproductive or socially irresponsible, etc. Most "retired" people still contribute to society. The exception might be the retired "couch potato" who literally just eats, sleeps and watches t.v. 16 hours a day, every day.
If you're retired and manage an investment portfolio of equities as Jacob does, you still must "work". You must research, buy, sell, trade, pay taxes on those profits, etc. You own a small part of the companies you invest in. For that "work" you get paid a dividend, capital gains, interest, or a combination of all the above. Your invested capital keep the wheels of commerce lubricated and people employed, etc.
The Jews of antiquity were allotted land to their tribes and this land was subdivided among families and was never to be sold in perpetuity. The reason? They were given land that might have otherwise been wasted. Since you could never sell it in perpetuity, you were basically forced to make it productive. You terraced it, removed rocks, cultivated the soil and basically improved it with each generation. You worked your butt off, but you contributed to society by converting it to something beautiful and productive. This was a blessing to all. Likewise, if your ERE means you own land and cultivate your own food, etc, you are still contributing your small share to the whole of society. That is being productive.
I could go on with examples, but suffice to say that in both examples the ERE'rs are contributing to society. They have the freedom to choose how they will contribute. Who has the right to tell them where they must work and what work they must do? No one. If it were otherwise, wouldn't that be more of a socialist-communist society as opposed to a free society?
ERE simply means freedom to chose when, where and how you will contribute to society, but you will contribute in one way or another.


Chad
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Post by Chad »

Actually, I think the argument really boils down to people having a right to do what they want with their time. Pax is arguing that we don't have this right, as it would be immoral to not produce stuff. I'm arguing, and I think most others (maybe, maybe not) are as well, that we do have the right to do whatever we want with our time if we can support ourselves.
I would also argue that the idea that all choices are moral or immoral is incorrect. I would assume that the ERE'ers on this site would whole heartily agree that producing something in retirement is moral, just as well as playing hockey, chess, or relaxing on a hammock on a Wednesday is moral. But, being expected or forced to produce stuff is immoral.


JohnnyH
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Post by JohnnyH »

Excellent, everyone... So many posters have knocked this out of the park, I don't know why we're still talking about it! ;)
I guess because we're all passionate about personal liberty as several have pointed out.
Reading on here, seems a large percentage are pursuing ERE because they want to do much MORE not less. I think many on here would be capable of genius level work, something that wouldn't even fit into the framework of their employment.
Whether they are doing it for themselves or others seems unimportant. Who knows what percentage of the world's great discoveries and accomplishments were motivated by so called 'selfish' reasons. Does it really matter?


DVDend
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Post by DVDend »

I struggle with the following: I have received generous goverment support for my education (state supported university, goverment grants and scholarships, public school before college). Goverment has made an enormous investment in my education in a hope that I pay it back in taxes. Sure, there is no contract that I must work. But I feel that there is a social contract that if one uses tax payers money to get higher education, one should give back to society by working, paying taxes, and indirectly employing others who may not have been fortunate enough to get higher education.


pka222
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Post by pka222 »

I’d like to thank Pax for providing such a clear foil for conversation.
I currently live in a society (small Pacific Island) where personal choice (for the locals) is virtually non-existent. The big man in each family makes the decisions, gets the money/food produced by others labor and redistributes as he sees fit. I note that it is a very effective way to survive and a very poor way to motivate, encourage critical thinking (this is squashed at every opportunity) or innovation.
Due to my close proximity to this very different culture I find my attraction to personal independence, my right to decide what to do with my time, life and money, and my ability to ignore those who would impose their world view on me, growing stronger all the time.

It’s unnecessary to foist my world view on anyone, as developed nations and democracies have been trending toward more personal freedoms- not less- for the last few 1000 years.
An example would be the US in 1770s – Only landed white men have full rights to decide what to do with their time- everyone one else is unable to make independent choices thus some are forced to work- and never get to retire (slaves) and anyone of color, women, poor white men are disenfranchised. By the 1860s all men are “free”- thus can make some choices on their own, are allowed not to work if they can manage it, 1920s – women can now make some choices on their own and by the 1970s women, and people of color can not only vote, but buy property, open bank accounts and save for retirement – and do what they please with their time. This trend toward personal freedom is generally hailed as a good thing…
I think part of Pax’s issue is that he views retirement as not doing anything.

I think on this forum the number of people who dream of “Being a stay-at-home don't-have-a-job” is very small approaching 0.
Pax readily admits that stay at home parents are contributing even thought they don’t have paid “jobs”. He may even support the concept that Athletes, who don’t make anything, are constructively using their time.

I would wager that the majority of people interested in ERE are very active, in sport, interpersonal relationships, caring for their families, growing food and all the other non paid work that people do because it enriches their lives.
I equate someone wants to tell others that saving pennies so one can stay home with the kids and take care of the garden is morally wrong to those who tell others that praying to the wrong god will get one a ticket to hell. It's unsolicited advice from an uninformed, unqualified source (who knows your life better than you?).


George the original one
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Post by George the original one »

It's worth noting that Pax has gone from the economic contribution to the "worthwhile" contribution, thus switching his argument.
"So the ethical question is this: For ERE, you are withholding your economic contribution of working for most of your life."
We shot down the economic contribution early on and now have shot down the "worthwhile" contribution. It will be interesting to see what successive silliness comes next.


jacob
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Post by jacob »

Pax's argument is essentially the moral or fundamental underpinning of communism. "From each according to their ability ..." at least that's what it seems like to me; it is not some form of Calvinist argument that "work is righteous"; it does not look like a "let's work to create a civilization that looks like Startrek" either.
It is actually interesting that

(see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialism)
"The ultimate goal for Marxist socialists is the emancipation of labour from alienating work. Marxists argue that freeing the individual from the necessity of performing alienating work in order to receive goods would allow people to pursue their own interests and develop their own talents without being coerced into performing labour for others. For Marxists, the stage of economic development in which this is possible is contingent upon advances in the productive capabilities of society."
Sounds familiar, eh? I guess ERE has the same goal but leaves it up to individuals to reach it. This does ignore "the social responsibility".
However, having talked to many people about ERE and various means of working, I note the following
1) Not everybody wants to accept the personal responsibility and having to create their own work and from that make their own living---many people prefer to be employed and have others provide work for them. Some people even think that it's their right that others provide jobs for them.
2) Most people want far more goods than they need and in fact it would seem that most people would gladly accept several hours of supposedly alienating work per day in exchange for having ever more stuff.
3) Some people loooooove their job with a passion (or maybe that's just bloggers, career advisers, and people under thirty).
In short: Some people like to work, others don't. Some people like to be employed, others don't. Some people don't mind exchanging more alienating work for more stuff and others reach their limit sooner.
The question is whether you can arrange a social contract where everybody agrees on the ratio between stuff and work. Clearly capitalism manages to achieve this (by setting the interest rate which is essentially the exchange rate between present work, past work, and future work). A social contract that says "everybody should work as much as they can" clearly does not.


George the other one
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Post by George the other one »

The following is my logical (mathematics-style) proof as to why ERE is moral.
-----------------------------------
Let us start with the assumption that we have a moral responsibility to work full-time.
Then, since "full-time" by definition means "at least 40 hours a week," we can say that we have a moral responsibility to work for at least 40 hours a week.
Also, "working" means "contributing to society." Thus we have a moral responsibility to contribute to society for at least 40 hours per week.
Additionally, by definition we can say that "contributing to society" means "producing goods and services to society." Thus we have a moral responsibility to produce goods or services to society for at least 40 hours per week.
Next, because jobs such as barber, doctor, and dentist both "produce a service to society" and provide a service to one person at a time we can conclude (by induction) that "producing goods and services to society" is equivalent to "producing goods and services to at least one individual at a time". Thus we have a moral responsibility to produce goods or services to at least one individual at a time for at least 40 hours per week.
Also, since stock brokers, beauticians, psychologists, and priests all provide a service to an individual we can conclude (again by induction) that services are acts which (among other things) improve an individuals economic, physical, mental, or spiritual well begin. Thus we have a moral responsibility to produce goods for an individual or to improve an individuals economic, physical, mental, or spiritual well begin at least one individual at a time for at least 40 hours per week.
Next, because the relationship between society and individuals is circular we can state that we have a moral responsibility to produce goods for an ourselves or to improve our own economic, physical, mental, or spiritual well begin at least one individual at a time for at least 40 hours per week.
And since having a moral responsibility to improve our own economic, physical, mental, and spiritual well begin is a subset of the previous definition we can reach the following conclusion. "A moral responsibility to work full-time" is logically equivalent to "A moral responsibility to improve our own economic, physical, mental, or spiritual well begin."
Finally, this implies that if an ERE-ist is improving their own economic, physical, mental, or spiritual well begin then the ERE-ist is moral.


DividendGuy
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Post by DividendGuy »

I may not be alone here, but my question is why sign up for a forum board on a website that obviously promotes the direct opposite of what you think is "inherently moral", and then ask questions to which there are no measurable answers just to try and apparently provoke people?
That seems like an "inherently immoral" waste of time, when that time could obviously be spent working! Since this man obviously believes retiring at 65 is due to a misguided government, he's got some catching up to do after wasting time on this forum.
There are seeds to be sown and houses to be built!


jacob
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Post by jacob »

@George - At some point you go from at least 1 (>=1) to yourself (=1) and this proof breaks down.
I think the original claim of social responsibility is that if you can take care of one person (yourself) in five years of work, then you're socially obligated to take care of 10 others in your remaining 50 years of life, say.
@DividendGuy - I don't see anything inherently bad/provocative about that question. In fact, "don't you have a responsibility to work" is probably in the top five questions along with "how does ERE work with children", "what do you do for health care", "wouldn't society/the economy break down if everybody did it", and "why don't you just find a job you're passionate about".
I also think Pax has been very civilized about it even while being accused of trolling, etc.


tjt
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Post by tjt »

@jacob
yes. that is the crux of the question. what is the level of social/moral responsibility? if ERE is socially/morally irresponsible, then why is 40 hours per week times 40 years "responsible?" Why not 80 hours x 50 years? (the path I was on for awhile) Who decides?
It's all very grey. I like grey, it gives me options.


George the other one
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Post by George the other one »

@Jacob

You're right. I think I tried to be too broad in some spots. Here is a rewrite.
--------------------------------------------
Rewrite of my logical (mathematics-style) proof which disproves the following statement: "You must be immoral if you do not work full-time."
-----------------------------------
Let us start with the assumption that we have a moral responsibility to work full-time.
Then, since "full-time" by definition means "at least 40 hours a week," we can say that we have a moral responsibility to work for at least 40 hours a week.
Also, "working" means "contributing to society." Thus we have a moral responsibility to contribute to society for at least 40 hours per week.
Additionally, by definition we can say that "contributing to society" means "producing goods or providing services to society." Thus we have a moral responsibility to produce goods or provide services for society for at least 40 hours per week.
Next, because jobs such as barber, doctor, and dentist both "provide a service to an individual" and are considered to provide services to society we can say that "producing goods for society or providing services for society" is equivalent to "producing goods for society or providing a service for an individual". Thus, we have a moral responsibility to (produce goods for society or to provide a service for an individual) for at least 40 hours per week.
So, to prove that the hypothesis is true we only need to prove one side of the conditional OR. Thus, lets focus on the following statement. We have a moral responsibility to provide a service for an individual for at least 40 hours per week.
Then, since stock brokers, beauticians, psychologists, and priests are considered to provide economic, physical, mental, and emotional services (respectively) to an individual we can make the following statement. We have a moral responsibility (to improve an individuals economic, physical, mental, or spiritual well begin) or (to provide a service for an individual which isn't improving an individuals economic, physical, mental, or spiritual well begin) for at least 40 hours per week.
Again, solving the conditional OR means that we need to prove one subset of the conditional or's. Thus, lets focus on the following statement. We have a moral responsibility to improve an individuals economic, physical, mental, spiritual well begin for at least 40 hours per week.
Next, because the relationship between society and individuals is circular we can state that we have a moral responsibility to improve our own economic, physical, mental, or spiritual well begin for at least 40 hours per week.
Also, due to subjectivity you can "improve our own economic, physical, mental, or spiritual well begin" by any activity or non-activity you can think of (ie. beauty is in the eye of the beholder). Thus there is a moral responsibility to act or not to act for at least 40 hours per week.
However, since "acting" and "not acting" are your only two options during a 168 hour week you will always "act" or "not act" for 40 hours per week. Thus we can conclude that "A moral responsibility to work full-time" is logically equivalent to "(A moral responsibility to act or not to act) or (A moral responsibility to provide a service for an individual which isn't (improving an individuals economic, physical, mental, or spiritual well begin) for at least 40 hours per week) or (A moral responsibility to produce a good for society for at least 40 hours per week)"
Thus, due to the conditional OR you do not breach moral code with regards to working full-time as long as you make sure to act or not to act.
However, it is impossible for you not to fulfill the conditional OR (to act or not to act) which means that choosing "not to work full-time" would be a moral action.
Thus we have a contradiction and so the original hypothesis stating "You must be immoral if you do not work full-time" is false.


Surio
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Post by Surio »

@Pax,

I am very very late to this party, and most of my thoughts have been spelled and stated already. But still,....
One of the first thoughts that jumped at me when I read your OP was "Wait a Sec this was the thread of thought that one Karl Marx once advocated". Seems like Jacob also had a similar wavelength. This type of thinking and rationalisation is equally dangerous and we know that pretty much all of Karl's ideas were unmitigated disasters in implementation and practice. History has shown it to be. Neither was unbridled capitalism anything nice to say, but it just proves that extremes don't work.
Second, there's something called Myers-Briggs Type Indicator that you should spend some time upon. Not all personality types gravitate towards a "collectivist" lifestyle. So, find out what your personality type is. Most of the members here would answer to the roll-call of (add: rugged, highly, etc.. ;-)) "individualists". And this is another reason why ERE is bound not to become a "universal practice".
Then, there is also the issue of semantics. Most of us within the forum also have run-ins and disagreements with each other on "certain terms of definition". That said, one of the big issues with people new to ER(E) is the word "retirement". In its broad sense, it has come to mean "put out to pasture". And people who have this notion of retirement (pretty much everyone, really) will certainly frown on why someone in 20s-30s-40s would want to do that. The big difference in the context here though, Retirement doesn't mean "Finis"; rather it means, "new beginnings, new possibilities". Read Dominguez's Your Money or your life for further clarity. As a Calvin and Hobbes reference (which I am personally fond of making), think of the last strip Bill wrote when he "retired" Calvin/Hobbes - was it meant to be "goodbye world", or was it "Hello New World"?. It is the same kind of thinking that goes in this forum. We don't cease to become productive, but choose to do so in other ways than what is "expected" of us.
While we are on definitions, Piper said something in this thread that made me take notice. Most us us carry two contravening notions and definitions of "work", and "being productive" within us all the time. The first is an innate spiritual definition that our souls (atheists, please forgive) innately sing along with (the so called "renaissance ideal" as Jacob says). The other notion is as it exists in our collective conscious crystallised with the Pax Industrialis era. In taking one, you must necessarily drop the other. Such is the nature of the definitions. This forum has taken to the Renaissance thinking.
Pax Industrialis: now there's an all encompassing word for you. It is a word that one must respect and fear. Our lifestyles and memes of today are a very far cry from those medieaveal times, when Dunbar number limited settlements sizes to 150 and kept everyone "meaningfully" living out their lives within the framework of the settlement.

Today we have built a highly complex (and complicated) society on the backbone of cheap and abundant energy. This has come to mean that each of us has the equivalent of "100 slaves" working for us (fossil fuels) to keep us fed, clothed and engaging in trivia pursuit. Can this last?

Paradoxically, the has also rended society terribly inefficient. If a lot of dedicated office goers actually stopped going to work, I don't expect to see things coming to standstill - someone else will take up the slack. And that's the point. There's a lot of slack built into the "Corporate Pyramid" (Also, ever wondered how many go on benefits and still the machinery ends up carrying them, anyway?).

The World moves on fine without most of us pulling it, Thank you very much. So, we must built a sense of self-worth that doesn't tie into our "usefulness" to society.

My moot point is, most prevailing notions of "usefulness", "contributing to society" etc., will unravel as this complex machinery dismantles itself due to coming energy shortages. It will mean that vast hordes will have to "re-educate" themselves about those definitions within a newer context. Here in this forum, most members being forewarned, are busy trying to become independent from the grind to become forearmed about the new phase of society. Oh, I am sure it will happen in our lifetimes. So, that is something else you must understand about why the forum exists.
The other critical point I am trying to make in all this is that ERE is not just a "strategy" (buy stocks, buy houses...) or "lifestyle design" ("modern minimalism"). It is a body of philosophy that one internalises to become part of one's core personality. This is a *BIG* point that most commentators (even the recent Forbes blog) deliberately omit or miss . All the forum members here would like to "live our dreams" just like everyone else. *However*, and it is a big one, is it such a big crime that the dreams doesn't revolve around Plasma TVs, stuff, 3 cars, two McMansions, holiday homes, mindless entertainment and consumption, etc.... It is definitely not just about taking cold showers, living in a camper van, giving up TV either!
\\ It might be a long read. So, thank you for reading. \\
And, also, as Jacob pointed out, You've been nice about it all in the face of the opposing views that you've fielded so far. So thanks for that and Welcome to the forums.
Best,

Surio.


Maus
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Post by Maus »

I agree with Surio and Jacob that pax has asked a reasonable question in an inoffensive manner. I hope that he or she will be encouraged to engage after Surio's excellent encapsulation of the "way" of ERE. One of the great strengths of these forums is the sense of solidarity one finds in cyberspace that may be lacking in one's immediate circle of friends, family and co-workers. But we mustn't let our sense of solidarity shut down enquiry and debate.


hickchick
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Post by hickchick »

I would argue that it's unethical to spend 45+ years boggarting a job that could be taken by someone trying to establish himself.
Then you also have the whole different problem of the devaluation of manual labor.


paxprobellum
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Post by paxprobellum »

Lots of interesting discussion in this thread. As JasonR correctly predicted, there is a lot of "ERE is the best!" sentiment due to the forum I posted on. (You should see my post over at forum.retirementisforninnies.com!) I would like to respond to everyone, but to be honest, the replies in here got mighty long and I just don't care to devote anymore LE to this. Sorry if you thought you drove me off :P
@pka222

>> I think part of Pax’s issue is that he

>> views retirement as not doing anything.

>> I think on this forum the number of people

>> who dream of “Being a stay-at-home don't-

>> have-a-job” is very small approaching 0.
I can't help but comment on this. I partially agree with your opinion of my opinion (still with me?) of retirement. That being said, if you envision early retirement as anything other than 'rest and relaxation', I would entreat that you are at least in danger of agreeing with me. That is, if retirement is still work, then you haven't really retired -- you just changed jobs.


Chad
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Post by Chad »

If you weren't going to continue the conversation, why start it?


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