Is this beautiful rendering of a “Death of a Slave” an erotic meeting of impermanence and inevitability — or is it more a cold, moral homily, against the wages of living a sacred life?

As we work ourselves into graves and wander into the ethereal darkness surrounding us — is it really a mystery that many Americans are failing to save enough for their retirement and that many are breaking into their 401(k) plans to stave off mortgage foreclosure?

Even before the housing bubble, the country was facing a retirement crisis, with most Americans saving too little, if anything, for their post-working years. The housing bubble — and subsequent bust — have made that bad situation worse.

As house prices surged through the middle of this decade, the already low savings rate turned negative. Many Americans were living beyond their means, in part, because swelling home values created an illusion of wealth. Now, with house prices falling, nearly 10 million people have lost all of their home equity. Millions more have given up all of the gains of the boom years — a wipeout totaling $3.5 trillion, so far.

We surround ourselves with percolating totems of wealth and well-being while wholly diminishing the who and the what of where we are in the demonic exchange between glittering lives and glowering deaths.

There is a certain fatalism that has crept into the American Dream and it is rotting the White Picket Fence from within and maiming retirement community dreams of Del Boca Vista.

Some of that feinting away of The Golden Years has to do with the War in Iraq, the uncertainty of the next terroristic threat in Das Homeland and an uncertain and punishing economy that offers little hope and zero manageable savings plans.

People are more afraid today of not being able to make the rent or the bank note than of being able to live somewhere warm and soft as they age.

In fact, most people I know believe they will never be able to afford to retire now after eight years of financial misery, and they plan to work for as long as they are alive and risk death behind a desk instead of in a bed.

I can’t help wondering if working all day every day for the rest of your life is the new American Dream — or if it is an updated haunting of the reality that inspired “Death of a Slave.”


  1. As I argue in my article, Katha, I think people are worried about the now and don’t care much about the future because they realize they will not be able to ever retire no matter how much they try to save now.
    One friend of mine did an online calculation to see how much more money she and her husband would need to save in order to retire early at 62 instead of 65. They have been working for 20 years and hoped to work another 25 or so and be done.
    They currently save $20,000USD a year and it turned out they needed to save an additional $64,000USD a year to even retire at 65! They have no way of even coming close to that.
    They need to have over $3.75 million banked in savings if they hope to have the same lifestyle in the future that they have now… and they’re ordinary, lower-middle class, working people. She was, and still is, shattered by that news as she realizes they will never be able to fully retire as their parents and grandparents have.

  2. Katha —
    I can understand the selfishness argument in that retiring means you basically go on public welfare — that’s what Social Security and Medicare are — and you become a burden to society by “taking back” what you put in and then some because life expectancy is much longer now for Baby Boomers and the actuarial tables are all messed up now with the rise of modern medicine and saving lives at any and all costs.
    So these retirees are living off those who work, but they aren’t putting anything back in — they’re taking without repaying — and it isn’t fair and the system will break as the younger people are burdened with higher taxes in order to pay for the lavish life of the massive retiree base who will be politically active to get their way but they offer zero in return for their high life to the rest of us except to say, “I earned this.”
    It’s sort of disgusting when you think about it… and I predict we will have an “Ageism” war as the younger people rebel against having to pay for the lifestyle of the “retired rich” and the rich entitled who demand to be “taken care of for life” as FDR promised in the New Deal.

  3. What’s next – people stealing from the library?
    It seems too many people live above their means and not enough people live beneath their means, which seems to be the key to better living. Going out to eat less often, making meals at home, using fresh ingredients bought from a co-op and farmer’s markets – it has been working well for me thusfar thank G-d.

  4. Gordon —
    We certainly value the trinkets of wealth more than the filth of hard work of saving. We live in a credit card economy that runs on interest rates and not acquired wealth or even real money. Houses are not outright owned and now there’s a move afoot for “foreign investment firms” to move in and buy up all the American house foreclosures as “investment opportunities.”
    The United States economy is built on two things: Saving Accounts and Home Ownership — with massive tax benefits offered for personal investment in each — and if we mess with either one, the results will be far-reaching and haunting for generations to come.

  5. Ok David, now I got it.
    I didn’t quite understand the argument and the reaction before – it makes sense.

  6. It is a strange thing, Katha, and many people are upset that ‘regular people” who could work, but choose not to, are abusing the Social Security system to fund their retirement fun.
    Social Security was invented to provide only for the unfortunate few that were poor or unable to save enough to survive in old age.
    Now it’s become an entitlement program for every single American — a de facto national savings plan, really — and people are getting crazy mad about how it works on both sides of the coin.

  7. I hope to create my own social security program through good saving and investment 🙂

  8. Aiiii! Now you sound like Bush, Gordon! He wants to kill Social Security and create private, mandatory, federal, savings programs. It’s a crock! Don’t fall for it!

  9. Shouldn’t Social Security only be a safety net for people who need it? I’d rather leave it to them if I can – does Warren Buffet collect a Social Security check every month? I hope not! I don’t want Social Security gone by any means, of course.

  10. Gordon —
    Yes, Social Security is there for people who are unable to pay for their critical care and the basics of everyday living. Unfortunately, it has somehow become the national retirement system with zero screening for need — if you’re old enough, you collect — and there’s no way we can pay for the retirees that will be hitting that system hard over the next two decades.
    Do we let Social Security break as it is or do we fix it now? It will never be fixed. It will be hacked and tried to be kept alive just because breaking it means you’ll be voted out of a political job.
    Most young people I know today loathe Social Security as the burden it is on their robust futures and they see it as an unfair tax from which they will never recover or see the benefits from… they fully expect it to be bankrupt by the time it’s their turn to raid the cookie jar.
    You can always opt out of getting your checks — I wonder what percentage of people actually turn down their monthly retirement checks?

  11. David,
    Wars always have a way of turning things around and making things worse for everybody.
    Interestingly, India is going through a phase right now where the housing market is booming.

  12. Hi Dananjay!
    Great point! When you purchase a house in India — are you also purchasing the land beneath it?

  13. Yes, David, the land deed is always a part of it. In fact, more often than not nowadays, the houses are demolished and the new owners build new houses on the land.

  14. Thanks for that insight, Dananjay. In the USA home ownership is all about “the land” beneath the house as you describe, but I know there are places in the world like the UK, I believe, where you cannot own the land because it is already deeded to another family. So you basically just own the house but nothing else.

  15. Isn’t that a little odd, David. So you own the house but not the land it’s built on?

  16. Dananjay —
    Yes, you own the house but not the ground. In Europe, most of the land has been owned for centuries by the state in the form of a ruling family and those rights of sovereignty are still intact today. The royal family owns a lot of land in the UK and that’s where their big money comes from: They own the land that buildings sit on and get paid for the right to build.
    Since land was so limited and ownership was out of the question — people came to America in order to own their own land. It was that grab for free land that started the Westward movement and the founding of a nation.
    Great Britain enticed their military leaders to go fight the rebels in America with the promise of owning land after the war — something they could not have at home, but was possible as a reward in the conquering of the revolutionary uprising.
    Now, people like Trump, sell “air rights” to build on top of existing structures. It’s a direct harkening back to the European landed royalty rights from hundreds of years ago.

  17. David!
    Isn’t that also how the churches and monasteries operated during the middle ages? it’s strange how nothing has changed there in all this time. i remember watching “far and away” a long time back.
    this scene is towards the end of that movie –

    I’m also thinking what Bolt would’ve made of this!

  18. Yes, that’s how it happened, Dananjay. The ownership stays in the family or the church or the other properly landed entity for thousands of years.
    That’s also, as I understand it, a large reason why the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t want their priests to marry. If there’s a divorce, the woman would have the right to the church its land and the other assets of the entire establishment.
    Love that You Tube! Great movie!

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