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Luck helped me retire early. Is that unfair?

I earned the right to retire early. I worked hard at my job, took risks to increase my earnings, lived within my means, avoided debt, saved some money, and tried to make good investment choices. Okay, I have to admit that the make good investment choices part wasn't particularly smooth sailing!

That's not to say the journey was absent of good fortune. My parents taught me to live within my means. My first boss sent me to college one day a week to do my accounting exams. Boss number three gave me the opportunity to work overseas and earn a higher salary. And later, when I changed jobs and relocated to Dubai, I was plain lucky to arrive just before boom-time. Would I have reached financial independence without these pieces of good fortune? Maybe not.

Then there's an alternative theory, which is that the real reason I could retire early was because I was born at the right time and in the right place. These two things gave me an innate advantage. As J recently commented on my the grey haired bus - why you should retire as soon as you can post:

We have a widening gap based on where and when people were born as well as the wealth and privilege they were born into. Increasingly this feels like something that needs to be discussed, addressed, and ultimately resolved if we’re to continue to live in a harmonious society. I suspect that the solutions lie in tough political choices, but perhaps better that than a more dramatic alternative. I’m fortunate to have been born when I was - a decade or more later and things might not look so good for me.

Those are some powerful words and strong sentiments, and I suspect they may draw an equally strong response. For example, my reply could be that I worked hard to secure my financial independence, I didn't have wealthy parents who gave me money, it was my own actions that got me to a position where I could retire early, and the proof is that the majority of my peers, born at the same time, in the same country and with the same kind of upbringing are still having to work. To the younger generations, perhaps I'd say that my youth was spent playing with bats and balls, not expensive iPhones and gaming consoles. If I truly believe all of this, I can ignore J's comment.

There's some truth and logic to this response, but it's also somewhat blinkered. It is generally accepted that life is more expensive for Millennials and Gen Z's than it was for Baby Boomers and Gen X's like me. House prices are an easy example I can relate to - when I bought my first house, average house prices were 4-5 times average salaries, now the multiple is closer to 8 times.

So, it seems J's comment is worth some thought, although I'm neither sufficiently knowledgeable nor clever enough to know what should be done to close the inequality gap. Perhaps wealth taxes, increased inheritance taxes and universal basic income schemes are tools that could be used to narrow the distance between the haves and the have nots. But, at the same time, any change needs to ensure that innovation, entrepreneurship, and risk taking still flourish. It won't be easy to find the right path, but it ought not to be impossible either, although we will need to lose some of our "it's mine, and I'm not going to share it" mentality. This leads on to the other big problem, which is whether there is a political will to face these issues - I very much think not.

Do I believe it's unfair that luck helped me retire early? I think the answer is, at least to an extent, yes. Does that mean that I shouldn't have retired early - not necessarily. Are these statements contradictory - maybe. Even though my answer isn't to return to work, is there something that I could do? Recognising the issue and talking about it is a first step. Beyond that, I could share some of my financial good fortune, and use my vote for a political party with genuine policies to make things more equal (if such a party exists). Even if I did all these things, doing so individually, in isolation, likely wouldn't make much difference. It seems a more collective solution, probably at a national or supranational level, is what's needed.

I remember once sitting at a dinner next to a professor of climate change and him telling me that many of the impacts of climate change would be felt in terms of a breakdown in civil society as people fight to survive in a hostile environment. I wonder if, perhaps sooner rather than later, the impacts of wealth inequality could similarly jeopardise the relatively harmonious society within which most of us live.

Unfortunately, J's concluding comment probably sums it up:

Urgent action seems to be needed but populations and politicians seems to be unwilling and wilfully ignoring the growing inter generation crisis as well as the climate crisis.
Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying our best, though!

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Johnston Orr
Johnston Orr
Sep 26, 2023

Interesting post and perspectives, David. Thank you for your thoughtful exploration of this topic. Always good to see constructive challenge and different viewpoints.

Replying to

Absolutely, there are always different points of view. It's interesting to discuss them and good that we can do so in a respectful manner.


Sep 22, 2023

Johnston is so wrong on so many levels. His flawed thinking is the samethat leads men to socialism. The accurate history books are piled with the ashes of those failed outcomes. In short, "income inequality" provide the incentive for those who create less to shift over to creating more value for all of society (without those price differences, resources get misallocated). If we all choose (or remove incentive) to stopping "shifting over" to more value, then all of society will have a lot less and we will all be poorer for it (yes food and everything else). It's a simple as that. If you were educated to believe otherwise, you got ripped off in the form of a poor education.

Replying to

Maybe I should add, I don't think we're talking about revolution here. My assumption is that the capitalist system with an associated welfare support system that we already have is intended to ensure that parts of society don't get left behind. What I'm wondering is whether this system is not now sufficiently achieving it's objectives, and that some adjustments are required to get it back on track.

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