Inequality is Welcome in the FIRE Community

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Inequality isn’t all bad. I think we can agree Mrs. Accountant is smoking hot while yours truly is a bit drab. Then again, if you have a tax issue you probably want the drab guy.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. published Harrison Bergeron in 1961. His short story illustrated the ultimate end of inequality as only the humorist could. Today we think of inequality in term of race, gender or income. Vonnegut knew this was only background noise to the real issues of inequality.

In Harrison Bergeron the attempt to erase all inequality is taken to a whole new level. Beauty, strength and mental capacity were also dished out in unequal portions to the masses. To compensate, the beautiful wore grotesque masks; the strong wore heavy weights to hold them back; and intelligent people were hit with a mental pulse of sound every twenty seconds to dumb them down.

Inequality is all the rage today. We demand income inequality between genders and race. On the surface it all seems good and honorable. Beneath the hood something else might be at play.

In Vonnegut’s story Harrison has a keen mind and wants to use it. He breaks free from the shackles holding him to the lowest level of mediocrity. The government action is swift. Harrison is killed, along with his newly discovered girlfriend of tremendous beauty. The government snuffed out inequality before anyone could feel infringed by another’s superiority in anything.

The inequality debate isn’t completely about levels of pay or rights. In many cases it’s about more about “me”. Groups of people demand more because they think as a group they have a better chance for more as individuals.

As we saw in Harrison Bergeron, erasing inequality doesn’t always lead to desired results. Making everyone the same lowers the bar for all involved and it doesn’t have to be that way.




The Joy of Inequality

Inequality is in part a choice. A woman may choose a lower annual income to garner more free time with family or to have a child. Men are starting to join that movement, asking for more paid leave, even if it means a lower salary or fewer other benefits, to spend time with family. On the surface, again, it appears—if you only consider annual wages—that an inequality has arisen between employees with a family and those with a smaller family or fewer family issues.

The perceived inequality is actually an increase in quality of life. What one person desires is completely different from that of another. Offering family leave has less value to someone with a small or no family. Those with family, young parents for example, might find family leave the largest inducement an employer could offer.

Another benefit growing in popularity is student loan reduction. Some companies now offer young employees additional services to help them reduce their student loans. The benefit is worthless to those with no debt.

Inequality can be unfair. Some is a conscious choice. Working part-time or a side gig fits the temperament of some people better than a stress filled, high pressure environment. Some thrive on pressure. It isn’t unfair to pay people in the high pressure jobs more. Putting a mask on the beautiful, weighing down the strong and interrupting the intelligent doesn’t make things more equal!

True income and wealth equality comes at a heavy price. I discussed in the past the only ways income and wealth became more equal historically: war, famine/plague, revolution and societal collapse. Walter Scheidel does a better job of fleshing out the details in his book, The Great Leveler.




The FIRE Community and Inequality

A powerful movement in our society today is the FIRE community. Their dedication to financial independence (FI) and the ability to retire early RE), or at least at a reasonable age, is making headway into previously cherished traditions of lifelong labor in the organized workplace.

From the beginning the FIRE community understood wealth and retirement was not a product of equality for all. Most of the inequality was either by choice or slight in nature. Some members of the community powered their way through to FI as fast as possible to engage the life they wanted. Others took a slower route. The gap year or years became part of the lexicon. Net worth became an interesting discussion in closed quarters.

What surprises the most is the range the group holds as FI. Some say a couple hundred thousand should do it. Others still want to pack the crate with several million. One unique animal in the crowd bows out well before FI to take a slower pace the remainder of her life. Part-time work or side hustles fill the gaps.

A millionaire roundtable meeting at FinCon17. All were not equal while all were equally welcome.

As a community it is felt: to each their own.

The FIRE community is special! Judgment is withheld when matters of finance come to the fore. If somebody is happy never engaging in a full-time serious career, nobody thinks twice about it. A few eyebrows are raised when a member want to work like a dog until death do him part. But desire to continue working doesn’t revoke membership.

The original Star Trek series has a unique underlying philosophy connected to Mr. Spock and the Vulcans called IDIC. It stands for Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. The novels covered the topic more than the television series. What was meant by IDIC is that the more diversity, the more combinations of different people, makes us stronger.

A glaring example is shown us by the recently departed Stephen Hawking. Hawking was a genius on every level. Unfortunately, life didn’t give him an equal measure. His body suffered from a degenerative disease. His mind more than made up for it. Could you imagine Hawking in Vonnegut’s story? Society would be forced down to Hawking’s physical level while Stephen’s mind would be throttled to the lowest mental member of society.

Inequality can make us stronger. What we need to eliminate, or at least reduce, is discrimination. Race and gender is not a crime. Sexual orientation isn’t either. These are the hard problems to solve. Inequality, income for example, is not always bad.

Underpaying people is a form of discrimination. The FIRE community doesn’t discriminate. The FIRE community example is to accept all people from all walks of life. Workers should be paid a fair wage and provided a safe environment. That doesn’t preclude dangerous work. Risky jobs are secure when the company treats the team as family.

The FIRE community is the most diverse of any I know. It has the Vulcan IDIC philosophy. Color of skin doesn’t matter. Religious beliefs, or lack thereof, don’t affect membership. Both genders and in-between are welcome.

You will find people deep in debt taking their first steps toward financial freedom in the community and those with millions in investments. Side hustles abound. Travel is indicative while accepting those who prefer the closed quarters of home. The homebodies experience the world through the eyes of the world travelers. Once again IDIC turns weaknesses into strengths.

Vonnegut showed us the foolishness of demanding equality in all things. Too much inequality can damage the whole. But Inequality isn’t bad in and of itself. There is nothing wrong with accepting less, an unequal portion, for the same job. In my profession there is the free VITA tax service. There is also plenty of room for professionals to earn a living too. This is not damaging inequality.

As a society we need to embrace inequality. Differences force us to think in new ways. Those on the lower end may not enjoy the process. I get that. But it is rare to find a genius in the lap of luxury. Elon Musk is from South Africa; Steve Jobs had a difficult early life. Equal didn’t make them stronger. Inequality did.



Keith Taxguy

14 Comments

  1. JD@WealthNotRetirement on March 21, 2018 at 9:09 am

    I will continue saying this, until the day I die… wherever you are in life (financially and otherwise) is the sum total of all of your CHOICES. Period.

    Yes, of course 1% or so are born in very bad situations that are hard, maybe impossible, to recover from, but that’s not the majority of the people complaining about inequality. And if you’re born in the US alone, you’ve already won the birth lottery. And I agree with you about discrimination. That said, even being discriminated against in the US, you still have a 1000% better chance of success than you would be being born elsewhere. As we all know, there are tons of people risking death just to get to the US… just for the opportunities that are here as compared to elsewhere.

    Did you know even with minimum wage, if you were willing to make the CHOICE to work two minimum wage jobs (80 hours a week), live on half, save the other half, for just 10 years, you could save 250K-300K! And that’s if you never got a raise in 10 years! That would mean not starting a family, not having a lot of fun for 10 years, but just think where you would be financially after that. Do that from the age of 18-28. And if you did it for 20 years (you’d be 38), you could just about retire. CHOICES.

    Geez, I can get really worked up about people in the US complaining about inequality.

    • smj on March 21, 2018 at 3:49 pm

      JD,
      I understand where you are coming from, and I struggle with the thought that where people are in their lives is by choice. However, structurally, and this may be ignorance on my part, isn’t there a finite amount of wealth? If that is the case, wouldn’t the competition for said wealth dictate that it is distributed in the relative bell-curve like manner we see?
      People can save money and invest more. I do believe that is sorely lacking in American society. However, access to correct financial education, cultural differences, family history/messaging, community dynamics, what media one is exposed to, as well as physical, mental, and emotional health would all have to align enough to get people to the point doing what it takes to have a comfortable financial situation.
      I come from an immigrant family, however I was born and raised in the US. I’ve seen people land in this country, start with nothing, and make themselves financially secure. I’ve also seen people born and raised here with a secure family and financial setting and not know what to do in the real world with their lives or their money and go down the road of financial insecurity.
      I write all this to say that, we are all writing from a position of having been there and done that when it comes to starting the journey towards financial freedom. Maybe for those who aren’t on this path yet, it’s not as easy to get on it as we might think.

      • JD@WealthNotRetirement on March 22, 2018 at 7:54 am

        SMJ, I think I get most of what you’re saying. I guess technically wealth at some level is finite, but I would argue we’re not close to reaching limits. So, in that case, it’s virtually infinite. I see it kind of like folks who think they can’t look like a movie star, so they don’t try at all. How about you start eating right and drop 5 pounds, and THEN we can worry about the looking perfect part.

        And when you talk about large, billion dollar generational wealth, and competition, bell curves (even if you believed it was being controlled)… all I would say to that is you don’t need anything close to that to feel wealthy. Most people, at least in the US, with just 1M can live and feel quite wealthy. And competing billionaires could care less if you have 1M. And the difference between attaining 1M and 1B is quite staggering. Attaining 1M does NOT require luck. I would argue attaining 1B does require luck. ie. Mark Cuban would have always been a hard working multi-millionaire (that just takes hustle). It required luck to get an absurd offer from Yahoo for billions for Broadcast.Com.

        >>Maybe for those who aren’t on this path yet, it’s not as easy to get on it as we might think.

        Lastly, on your last sentence, my argument for that is “yes, but that’s not about inequality”. Inequality says because I’m X I can’t attain basic wealth. In the US at least, that is simply not true. Minimum wage over 20 years working 80 hours… you can still become wealthy (~1M). And we all know no one would have to stay at minimum wage for 20 years. My son late high school/early college working at a grocery store for a couple of years made it to 15-16 dollars in a produce department. I agree to some extent financial education is an issue, but the internet is loaded with info on that now. And I believe most people don’t really want to put work into saving and wealth. They’re lazy. I’m no one special, but I’ve done pretty well in life. My friends and family don’t really know how much money I have, but they know I’m doing “OK”. All of that to say, I’ve posted twice on my personal Facebook profile (about 250 friends and family — and they don’t know I have a blog either) that if anyone had questions about money, savings, 401k, I’d be happy to help them for free. I made it clear I wasn’t selling anything. You know how many reached out to me? ZERO. And trust me, 90% plus of people I know NEED to be doing better with money.

        • TJ on March 22, 2018 at 8:09 pm

          Where are people going to find 80 hours per week of minimum wage work?

          If you call up Walmart and McDonalds, do you think both are going to give you a job and coordinate schedules around each other?

          I just cannot believe this is your worldview.

          Every job I’ve ever had has required me to disclose any other employment in the employment contract. There’s a reason for that.

          • JD@WealthNotRetirement on March 23, 2018 at 9:28 am

            TJ, this is my worldview…

            a. because I’ve done it myself (for way more than minimum wage)
            b. because I know others that have done it

            If you have the desire, you will find a way. If you do not, you will find excuses.



          • TJ on March 23, 2018 at 11:56 am

            Yeah, no.

            “Way more than minimum wage” doesn’t count because your comment was specifically about people working for 80 hours per week at a minimum wage and saving half and they end up with $250k after a decade. If you have the skills to allow you to be paid significantly paid more than minimum wage than there is presumably a much smaller talent pool for the employer to pull from, and perhaps in that case they are welling to let quality candidates take on other work. Why are they going to hire a tired burger flipper or a tired forklift driver?

            How many people do you personally know that had two full time minimum wage jobs? What were their job tutkes? What companies did they work for? What were the set schedules?

            I don’t believe it is realistic that people can find 80 hours of work at your state’s minimum wage and it has nothing to do with anyone’s desire to do so because employment requires two parties to agree, it doesn’t happen just because one side would like it to happen.

            If you want to pay yourself on the back for overworking yourself with two separate full time W2 jobs, which is the only situation that is remotely comparable to what you are suggesting, have at it. But if you think that’s something that anyone can do just because they “want it badly enough”, that’s insane.



          • JD@WealthNotRetirement on March 27, 2018 at 6:02 pm

            TJ, see Blastmaster’s reply below.

            Again, if you have the desire, you will find a way. If you do not, you will find excuses.



  2. Social Capitalist on March 21, 2018 at 9:21 am

    The conflict of our times, but I find it a bit disingenuous to compare intelligence or beauty (traits, even if subjective) to money ( material, commodity).
    I get the point that FI doesn’t require the same measure for each individual. Nor should we expect everyone to be equal but where we are now is akin to two football teams- one has a helmet and pads, the other is playing Skins v. Shirts. Even if the Skins have a Tom Brady they’re going to get clobbered. The playing field has to be leveled so that the real cream can rise to the top.

    Jobs and Musk had the advantage of education, resources and luck to go with intelligence and daring. Many more do not (think of Africa, notice Musk had resources to leave). Others manipulate the system (Koch bros., corporate monopoly currently in the form of vertical integration ) using money to keep a continuous advantage. This isn’t dumbing down the intelligent or weighting the strong this is dumbing down AND weighting the poor and needy.

    And this is what has led to such strife in this country- social inequality driven by positions of power. Us white people cannot handle the fact that ultimately the rich are treating us like minorities and the rich openly manipulate the system so that we blame one another, while control ( capital) is concentrated.

    I have blathered too long. Vonnegut is one of my favorites. The story is great and does make valid points about differences and their need. I hope that we all embrace diversity and as long as it’s done justly, people who build their capital empires.

  3. Mimoza on March 21, 2018 at 9:35 am

    Social Capitalist sums up nicely especially in his 3rd paragraph.

    The bottom line is the world and people are ruled by money, day or night. You can try to negate any way you want it you won’t refute this simple fact. And yes, luck has plays a role in our lives as well.

  4. druggedzebra on March 25, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    I love this post…There is a huge difference between (in)equality and discrimination. Life isn’t fair, it never has been fair and it isn’t going to become fair. We have all heard it a million times. We can try to level the playing field and give everyone a fair opportunity to succeed, and I would argue that we do a pretty good job at that. It is when we try to make the results fair where we get in to trouble. This is where your high performers can lose their motivation to perform (they aren’t getting rewarded) and your low performers are going to lose any motivation that they may have had (rely on those above them to carry them). Obviously, if no one has an incentive to perform this isn’t good for your organization/society.

    • Social Capitalist on March 25, 2018 at 3:44 pm

      Not sure I can agree with the assessment that there ya a difference between discrimination and in equality. Discrimination is one form of inequality. “Separate but equal” is discrimination with the root word in it.

      Most posts here are correct; we, probably white middle class, can afford FI, and the inequalities that lead to diversity can be celebrated. But it’s a shame to unwittingly discriminate against the poor, who often do not receive the same opportunities.

      I am where I am today through both my effort and the charity of others. So many do not receive that charity, nor does it seem that we want them too. But we are quick to point out a lack of effort.

      We should celebrate risk takers( Vonnegut is a literary example), but in a country where skin color and gender bend the rules so far in my favor I cannot see how we can celebrate risk takers without giving as many as possible the chance to take risks.

      • Blastmaster on March 27, 2018 at 5:46 pm

        @Social Capitalist, I am a white male from a lower middle class background. I witnessed lots of family drama, boozing and abuse as a kid. We moved about 15 times my first 18 years because Dad thought the grass might be “greener” elsewhere. (it wasn’t) I also have/had a debilitating stutter that was much worse in my youth. I never went to college and have worked 50-70 hours a week at a variety of blue collar jobs for the past 30 years. I have been a garbage man, landscaped, molded rubber, finished metal, performed warehouse work, delivered pizzas at night and delivered packages. My wife and I chose for her to stay home to raise our children for the last 22 years, where she remains to this day. Times have been extremely tight in the past. Like $3 cash to last the rest of the week. We have exercised extreme fiscal responsibility for 2 decades. Home haircuts, used cars only, bagged lunches, thrift store shopping, reusing ziplock bags etc. We currently have zero debt, a paid for house in a nice neighborhood and a net worth of $500K+. Currently investing well over 60% of income and working a side hustle to accelerate things. I call BS on your white guilt point of view. ANYONE who is willing to work hard, sacrifice and keep their nose to the grindstone can work their way up in this country and reach a good place financially. Progressives like you continue to blame the underperformance of certain groups on people like me and make excuses. I have worked side by side with many “Diverse” people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Some get it and continue plugging away. Many others though show a careless attitude about work, have bad attitudes, are not punctual or regular in attendance and don’t stick with it or are fired. I know a guy who is “Diverse”. He is very funny and the nicest guy in the world. I don’t discriminate against him or harbor ill will. He however is content to sit in his duplex, smoke weed and watch ESPN while I work day in and day out. His girlfriend works and he is content to just coast. When I hear about “income or wealth inequality between Whites and (insert ethnic group here except for Jews and Asians who exceed Whites)” it is hard for me not to picture this guy. He is unconcerned with it and just wants his weed and Sportscenter. It is leftists like you who see unequal outcomes and assume equal effort. and think discrimination MUST be the reason. Again ANYONE who is willing to make the sacrifices necessary can succeed here

        • JD@WealthNotRetirement on March 27, 2018 at 6:04 pm

          Hear, Hear, Blastmaster! I *love* your story or hard work, effort, and savings. Well done!

          If you have the desire, you will find a way. If you do not, you will find excuses.

  5. Blastmaster on March 27, 2018 at 6:44 pm

    And I liked yours because it resonated with me. Been there done that, right? Funny how posts like this one bring out the naysayers. Much of what they preach is taught to them by cultural and economic Marxists professors who have only studied “theory” and who seek to change the world to more closely resemble that of Harrison Bergeron. These are the same people who populate the Mainstream Media and a major political party preaching the mantra of the “rich” vs the “little guy” “discrimination” and the constant victimization stories. Yes, life is tough. It is a lot tougher if you are lazy, have kids that you can’t support, abuse alcohol, do drugs and spend what income you have on stuff that goes down in value. We all have limited time on this earth. Make the most of it with what you have

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