Saturday, September 30, 2017

Should We Reward Failure?

If people make bad decisions in life, should they have to live with them, or should we bail them out?  How does this work to encourage people to make better decisions?

One problem with the press, particularly on the Left (Washington Post, New York Times) is that they love to publish "oh woe is me" stories about how people are victims of circumstance, when if you scratch the surface, they are really more victims of their own malfeasance.  The Washington Post published such an article recently, that profiled some older people who are "work camping" at RV resorts to make ends meet.

These are folks who have little or nothing saved for retirement.  They sold their homes, bought RVs, and stay for free at RV resorts, making $10 an hour mowing lawns, cleaning toilets, and working at the front desk.   We meet these folks all the time in our travels.  Not all are impoverished, though.  A friend of mine and his wife do this, even though both have very generous government pensions.  He just likes to work and be useful (she, less so, but goes along with it to please him).   Some folks like to stay busy.

But others have no choice, as they failed to save or plan for retirement, instead choosing to live for today and "just not think about" tomorrow - a plan many people are still using even now, with disastrous results.  The problem, of course, is that as you get older, it is harder and harder to work, and eventually you will not be able to scrub toilets or stand behind a desk all day or even ride a lawn mower.   What happens then?  It gets messy, to say the least.

And it is interesting, for us, as we are living in an RV (much smaller than the ones shown in the article!) for three to four months a year, by choice.   We can afford to retire early and travel a lot by being careful with our money and thinking long and hard about purchasing decisions.   We also made sacrifices early in life to put money aside and are now reaping the rewards of those good life choices.

The folks in the article, less so.  One couple claimed that they thought Hillary would not help them much, so the husband voted Libertarian and the wife left her ballot blank.   Another couple voted for Trump as they felt he would help "the forgotten man" - and that isn't exactly working out for them.   Neither Trump or Hillary is about to dump $500,000 in their 401(k) plan, but they would be more likely to see expanded health coverage, better social security benefits, and other improved aspects of the "safety net" under Hillary than Trump.

But then again, these are not very smart people.  Decent people, to be sure, just not very clever.  And so they are stuck in the position they are now in, largely because during their working life they chose cable TV and new cars over saving a few dollars a week into an IRA.   And maybe there is no way around this - maybe there will always be people who make poor life choices (in every sense of the word) which is why we have a safety net in the form of Social Security. 

And it is why people who need that safety net the most end up voting for the party that keeps saying the safety net should be abolished.  They are not very bright.  They vote for people who want to abolish what little safety net they have, but promise to prevent their granddaughter from getting an abortion or their grandson from marrying his boyfriend.

But it raises the question - in any society, shouldn't people reap what they sow to some extent?  This may sound "harsh" but if we reward idiotic behavior or poor decision-making - at the expense of people who make better choices, such as those who scrimp and save, are we not punishing those who make the better life choices?

I say this only because I have friends who are "oh woe is me" and tell me how "lucky" I am, while riding in their leased brand-new monster trucks.  One friend confides to me that he will have to work "until I am 75" and says this from the cab of his new 4-door Toyota Tundra with all the options and accessories.   People assume that having a new car and cable TV is just baseline existence, and that if they can't afford these things, somehow they have been tricked and cheated.

I am not providing the answer here, just asking the question.  In my mind we should provide a "safety net" for those who make bad choices and we should educate those who are less intelligent to make better choices.   But I am not sure we should be throwing money at the guy who says, "fuck health insurance or a 401(k),  I'm buying a new Harley!" at age 25, and ends up paying for that poor life choice later on in life.  He is not so much a victim of circumstance as he is a victim of his own bad decisions.

And if you are asking me to take money from my meager savings to pay him, well, then it gets really personal.   If people want government money (taxpayer money) then we should have a say in how they spend it.   But of course, that opens up a whole 'nuther can of worms.