Ethics of ERE

Simple living, extreme early retirement, being wealthy, ...
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paxprobellum
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Post by paxprobellum » Tue May 24, 2011 8:30 pm

So I've been a blog reader/forum lurker for a week or so now. The question/debate I have been having for awhile is:
Is early retirement (extreme or not) socially responsible?
That is to say, if everyone only worked a few years of their life (10, e.g.), not much would get done. In addition, there wouldn't be much to invest in since everyone would be trying to retire!


George the original one
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Post by George the original one » Tue May 24, 2011 8:50 pm

> Is early retirement (extreme or not) socially responsible?
Yes, because you're consuming less and providing for yourself.
The next paragraph you wrote has nothing to do with ethics or social responsibility, so it really needs to be a separate discussion.


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mikeBOS
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Post by mikeBOS » Tue May 24, 2011 8:51 pm

Asking, "if everybody did this, would the result still be positive?" is not a reliable way to decide if something is ethical or not.
For a complex economy you need different people filling different roles. Some people need to provide capital, others need to provide labor, others need to provide management, others need to provide governance. If everyone decides they want to play the same role, it won't work. But the market demand enticing someone to play a role other than the one everyone wants to play, would sky-rocket and the dollars would tempt people away. There's a section in Jacob's book that addresses this as well if I remember correctly.
I think there are ethical questions though other than, "What if everybody did this?" Such as, what is my obligation to my neighbors having been born in such a fortunate position and with the talent and intelligence to allow me to be able to choose to just aimlessly follow my hobbies and spend lots of time climbing mountains or sitting on the beach?" Should I be assisting others in less fortunate positions? Should I be advancing technology? Should I be advocating for a cause? Should I be creating something lasting? If so, how much resources (time or money-wise) do I have to dedicate in order to be moral? Or is it OK to just observe, enjoy and sit on the sidelines?
Not to say ERE is one thing. Some people might want to ERE specifically SO that they can work on their cause full-time.
I think we've got one up, ethically, on most of the work-a-holic consumerists by default since our consumption is so much smaller and we make use of inefficiencies by fixing things most people just throw out, or by finding ways to maximize the usefulness of stuff. Our positive impact on air quality alone from not being daily vehicle commuters makes us more ethical.


celliott
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Post by celliott » Tue May 24, 2011 8:51 pm

I consider the question moot to a degree since the fictitious scenario you outline will never happen.
Having said that I think that the lesser demand on society and the services needed to keep it running would balance out. Also, since today's modern society is far more efficient than in past times (think water piped into the house, sewage piped out of it, telecommunications, automation, etc.) means we don't have to spend 8 of 12 hours just growing food, carrying water, riding your horse or walking several miles just to convey basic information to others and so on. That gives us more time to think, learn, invent and produce.
Work 10 hours a week, but use the other 30-60 pursuing your passions. Volunteer to help others, learn, create and add value to society. Who every said you have to punch a time clock to accomplish that?


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Post by jacob » Tue May 24, 2011 8:55 pm

Keep in mind that if everyone went ERE (a highly unlikely scenario) not much would need to get done, since ERE is a low-impact lifestyle that prioritize quality, not quantity.
Work to ERE is something that you do so that in the future you will need to work less. Conversely, in most of society, work seems to be something you do so that in the future you may be able to do even more work. The normal way of thinking about work is pretty insane if you ask me.
Modern consumerism wastes a tremendous amount of resources trying to get people to buy things they don't need only so they can throw them away in a landfill a year later and buy a more fashionable replacement. The list of environmental damage, wars, and social inequity that the current system is really really long and it's mostly due to people going to work every day all their life and then spending their money buying stuff. One can debate how socially responsible THAT is.
If you look at some of the largest industrial companies in the US, it would seem that a large group of them is in the business of selling food that's making people sick by clogging their arteries and the other half is in the business of making pills that delays the resulting heart attack. Lots of people work in those two industries. Is all that work socially responsible?
If more people went ERE, the economy would adjust dynamically. Real interest rates would go down as people saved more, salaries in wasteful sectors of the economy would decline, ... it would be a continuous transition. Demand would increase for things that could be maintained for decades. Many of the things I get are either from around year 1900 or built like they were back then because they last. They're beautiful; not the plastic junk that is sold today. As people became better informed, national advertising and putting resources into developing brand names just to compete with other brand names would fall away and stuff would be judged by its merits, not by "the associated lifestyle as seen on TV".
Actually, my main concern is ... how will the world and society look in 50 years if most people continue business as usual and don't go ERE.


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Post by George the original one » Tue May 24, 2011 8:59 pm

Let's turn the question around... how much work is actually worthwhile to society?


paxprobellum
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Post by paxprobellum » Tue May 24, 2011 9:35 pm

> Work to ERE is something that you do so that in the future you

> will need to work less. Conversely, in most of society, work

> seems to be something you do so that in the future you may

> be able to do even more work.
ERE is only possible because wages are based on the wastefulness of our economy/culture. If we got paid based on everyone else ERE'ing, it wouldn't be very much. So you'd be back to square one - working throughout life.
I guess what I'm saying is that it seems that ERE only works on the microscale. That is, ERE lifestyle shrinks the economy - less demand necessarily equals less supply. As profits dwindle, so do wages. Right?
So the ethical question is this: For ERE, you are withholding your economic contribution of working for most of your life. Instead, you are "using" the work of others to finance your life.


sshawnn
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Post by sshawnn » Tue May 24, 2011 9:43 pm

The following is a thumbnail sketch of my feelings on such a subject.
I dont recall anyone admitting to doing actual patient care in a medical environment that posts on this forum. I have had thoughts of,"How would we ever have the medical technology today if medical professionals did not contribute their 10000 hours?"
George TOO, you may think that I am getting ready to state how valuable medical professionals like myself are and how important to society I am. No. Even medicine is bastardized by consumerism. MOST medical problems are a result of personal choice. Some procedures are not necessary. Most medical care today in this country is governed by profit, regardless of patient outcome.
That being said, people like me with their greater than 10000 hours of experience and their time spent on the artificial heart transplant team may be well received by any one in dire need of extreme health care in a unfortunate, unplanned situation. This person may have exercised the reasonable care and just be genetically unlucky.
The difference in my position with regard to my worth to "society" is that I have made my contribution. When I was making my contribution it was not entirely for the money. I was extremely passionate about the cutting edge technology and research I was a part of. With that passion gone and my interests closer to home, my "contribution" is coming to an end.


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JohnnyH
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Post by JohnnyH » Tue May 24, 2011 9:52 pm

I would argue that with more effective use of resources the entire population could work part time... This is easily, and clearly, the case in America.
The problem is wanton and foolish consumption (and taxation), certainly not a lack of labor.
Also, I don't think there is such a thing as an 'economic contribution.' There is life and death. If you can supply and protect your own life, then you exist... If you can't you're in trouble unless you parasite or conquer.
Not to mention traditional cultures all over the world had average work weeks of 10 hours... Yet the society existed and clearly this was not immoral.


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Post by JasonR » Tue May 24, 2011 9:57 pm

Since we're now at the point where we're asking you questions and have clearly ended all possible trepidation and mental hand-wringing on your side, here's my question:
Did you think asking a bunch of pro ERE people--who hold tightly to their ERE ideology--if what they're doing is socially responsible would spark an honest and forthcoming debate? Was this a troll attempt?
I bet you get an overwhelming consensus that not only is ERE socially AWESOME!!! it's also way more socially AWESOME!!! than any other option. I bet one box of moderately delicious donuts.
Welcome!


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Post by jacob » Tue May 24, 2011 9:57 pm

I'm currently supplying a large amount of capital investments. In effect I'm creating employment, that is, a certain number of jobs for the current economy as it is.
The way the market is set up, there are three factors who get paid: labor, capital, and land. I was labor for about half a decade. Now I'm capital and land.
The equivalent ethical question is: For middle class consumers, you are withholding your earnings from investing because you're effectively spending everything on stuff. You are relying on others to provide work for you... how is this ever going to work [if everybody did it]?
Answer: It works because not everybody is a middle class consumer.
As already discussed, the economy is a complex and adjustable system and at no time will everybody concentrate in just one function---it's hard to answer a question for a scenario that will never happen much less make an moral judgment based on it. Even for ERE, there will be some people working at all times. The amount of total work will just be far less.
For instance, another way to ERE (though technically not in the definition of the word 'retirement') would be to part-time work for 3-5 hours a week for all one's life. Reduce your consumption and only take on the most profitable work you can do. Don't work dozens of extra hours every week just to earn 30% more.
To keep with the economic analysis: Revenue will surely go down, but profit margins should go way up. If you look at the productivity of a 40 hour work week, then in many cases, most of the money is likely made in just a handful of those 40 hours. Why spend the other 30 hours on the job just to squeeze a little extra blood out of the stone/turnip.


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Post by jacob » Tue May 24, 2011 10:02 pm

I feel the same way about physics (my career) as sshawnn does about medicine. I've done my contribution, I've served my time. This is kinda why I consider myself retired, at least from physics (and also from working for a living which happened to be coincidental thanks to ERE).
If I had continued working, I'd likely just be spending the next forty years publishing papers repeating small variations of the ideas I had early on in my career as so many other academic scientists. Yes, this would have been work. Yes, it would have paid me a handsome sum. Would it have made a material difference for society? Not really.


paxprobellum
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Post by paxprobellum » Tue May 24, 2011 10:14 pm

>> Since we're now at the point where we're asking you questions ...
The responses in this thread have largely been confusing the idea of social responsibility with environmental responsibility, so I haven't been responding.
>> Was this a troll attempt?
No. I am planning to work the rest of my life in a 'normal' job. I don't consume very much now (~10k/year) and I don't intend to consume very much in the future. However, early retirement seems ... wrong.
If I were trolling, I would have said that early retirement is a nice pseudonym for lazy. :P


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JohnnyH
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Post by JohnnyH » Tue May 24, 2011 10:19 pm

Working smarter and not being wasteful is wrong?... Pursuing knowledge, passions and hobbies is wrong?
... But I can spend my whole life pushing made to break cell phone covers in a mall and be right?
LOL, I am reminded of a forest fire on Mt. Hood I was on in October... Snowing, huge storm coming in. Some people, like me were joking around and literally near refusing to work. Some others were working their puritan hearts out, tearing the earth asunder with vigor... I guess in case the axis of the earth shifted in the next few hours.
That is a incredibly futile, expensive and even destructive example of "work." I was literally ashamed to be involved... Yet many were happy to be "doing their job" and were very judgmental to anyone who questioned the utility of it.
We left the next day, the fire went out on its own and any work done by those go-getters caused much more harm than good.
Are social and environmental responsibility really that different? Now more then ever they seem to be the same problem.


JasonR
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Post by JasonR » Tue May 24, 2011 10:26 pm

Cool. Are you FloridaMike?
Well I guess we could figure out a measuring stick or definition for social responsibility first. But then the deontologists will never agree with the consequentialists.
My take is that almost everything I do on a daily basis isn't so great for the social contract. Valid and convincing arguments can be made for and against ERE. But I pick and choose when to be a consequentialist and when to be a deontologist so I'm in no position to wax philosophic. Especially online. Debate doesn't get much work done, and doing it online makes fools of us all.
I throw my hands up and get on with life. This book isn't going to read itself.


paxprobellum
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Post by paxprobellum » Tue May 24, 2011 10:44 pm

>> But I can spend my whole life pushing made to

>> break cell phone covers in a mall and be right?
I wouldn't exactly call this a worthwhile pursuit. However, what about working X years as a <worthwhile pursuit here> and then investing in Verizon to fund your early retirement? Which is worse?
>> Cool. Are you FloridaMike?
No. I'm assuming you're on the "this guy is a troll" bandwagon. To be honest, I was hoping to find a community ready to engage in an honest discussion about their pf credo. Guess not. =/
>> Well I guess we could figure out a measuring stick

>> or definition for social responsibility first. But

>> then the deontologists will never agree with the

>> consequentialists.
I'll be honest -- I had to look up your big words :P But the point of this thread wasn't to condemn (or condone) early retirement. I just wanted to know if anyone had done any actual thinking about their "social contract" in relationship to removing themselves from the workforce early.
I suppose you could make the argument that you could use your FI to pursue worthwhile endeavors that don't pay very well. But I get the impression that ERE requires that you spend a lot of time/effort surviving (in the most positive sense of the word). So it seems more efficient to both work at something you deem worthwhile AND spend your wages on some thing/cause that you deem worthwhile.


George the original one
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Post by George the original one » Tue May 24, 2011 11:04 pm

@paxprobellum -

If I were to provide places for people to live when they can't afford to purchase a house, you'd have no problem calling me a productive landlord.
But if I call myself ERE while doing the same thing (e.g. I'm not really working, I'm just managing my investments), then suddenly I'm not a productive landlord just because I'm ERE?


JasonR
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Post by JasonR » Tue May 24, 2011 11:06 pm

If you say you aren't, you aren't. I trust you.
Floridamike asked some very hard questions of this board that made everyone's tail-feathers ruffle a few months ago...then disappeared into that good night. Just curious.
Well I refer to my earlier statement...I don't think people here are likely to say anything other than "ERE is dope!!!". Just a product of the source. There is a bit of a cult of personality here plus the fact that these people are "EXTREME" by definition. They may hate hyperbole, but just look at that URL.
I made the choice to keep working because I like my work, but due to "everything transpiring as I have foreseen it" I will retire in about 10 years. I will focus on my family and my interests, giving nothing back to society at large other than some comics I'll draw, some prints I'll etch, and perhaps some misguided musings I'll post. And some terrible actionscript snippets. But I've already decided to be evil. I want to be. I like it. What other nerd makes dark side quotes to justify his plans? Kant? Hume? If only.


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Post by jacob » Tue May 24, 2011 11:08 pm

In that sense ERE is fully compatible with the social contract of capitalism, namely that individuals are free and they get to spend/use their personal production as they wish, in this case by investing it.
ERE is definitely not compatible with communism where the social contract is to each according to their need and from each according to their ability.
I figure these two contracts represent the two extremes of most modern social contracts (the ones pertaining to an industrial society, not the ones featuring earls, knights, and peasants).
ERE is possible in what we generally call "the free world", where by "free" I really mean the world controlled by money instead of political connections, which is why ERE rests on accumulating a significant sum of money.
Would capitalism break down if more people went ERE? No, 75% of modern production is essentially waste. If you cut that out, you can cut a 40 year working career to a quarter. That's about 10 years.
So there's the solution. It works. It's moral. It's socially responsible [under capitalism].
[ERE does not require spending any significantly larger amount of time/effort, "surviving". In practically all cases, I can fix up a solution that is faster and requires less effort than driving out to buy something and working to pay for it + the car. It's really the difference between, say, spending 20 minutes to cook dinner yourself vs spending an hour driving back and forth from some restaurant, waiting to be seated and for your food to be made for you, and paying 4 times more for your meal. Essentially, the time and effort is reduced by being significantly more skilled and versatile than the average Joe. It takes a couple of years to reach a level of skill where 75% of all things can be more easily obtained by doing them yourself. Don't forget that you don't have to go back more than a hundred years to reach a point where it was normal for most people to make things for themselves(*) instead of buying them.]
(*) If you read http://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Suburban ... 470918195/ (great book btw), at the end he gives a tool list which was taken from some 19th century "standard manual" of tools every farm/household should have. The author then says something to the effect that he doesn't know what half of them do or are (rabbet plane, tenon saw, auger bits, mortising gauge, ...). I found that funny because I know what they are and I bet many here know too.


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Post by celliott » Tue May 24, 2011 11:09 pm

I'm FI and still provide a service. My company cleans the toilets, sinks and counters, empties the trash and generally keeps society from getting sick. What I started will carry on long after I leave the company. I'll basically retire and still have provided a service to society that carries on whether I'm around or not. With my free time I will continue to volunteer my time to help others as I've been doing the past 26 years.
I guess I don't see a problem.


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