The Motley Fool Discussion Boards

Previous Page

Retirement Discussions / Retire Early CampFIRE


Subject:  Unwritten Rules of Wage Slavery Date:  1/31/2000  10:23 AM
Author:  hocus Number:  2745 of 841391

The purpose of the Retire Early approach to personal finance is not to stop working. After all, even golf requires exertion from time to time, so it meets one test of what constitutes "work." Moreover, some people golf for money, so it surely is considered work in some circumstances. And without mentioning any specific job descriptions, it seems clear to me that golf is more "productive" a use of time than many modern-day "jobs."

Doing charity work, writing the great American novel, spending time playing with your kids—all of these activities are at times performed for pay (when done by individuals who don't want to be doing them?) and thus can fairly be called "work" (when done by those of us who choose doing them for free over doing other things for pay).

So the purpose is not to avoid work. The purpose instead is to stop the need for paid employment. Why is paid employment such a bad thing? Well, in many cases it's not. A great many people consider their jobs to be the best thing going in their lives. The problem that the Retire Early philosophy aims to solve is that there is a risk in depending on paid employment for the money you need to live. Until you reach the day when you are independent of the need to work for pay, someone owns you.

This hard truth is taboo and so we have constructed customs and fables to hide knowledge of it. The principal fable is the idea that we engage in work as the result of a bargain reached with our employers—we offer our time and they offer pay in return. In reality, the bargain is rarely on equal terms. You wouldn't know that by listening to the official sources and their talk of how employees are "part of the family" and how talented employees "can write their own ticket" in today's market. It's only the Unwritten Rules that reveal how lop-sided the bargain usually is.

Rule One: You Have To Say "Pretty Please" To Take Vacation Time. Vacation time is just another form of pay, at least in theory. So why are so many of us unable to take the time we have earned? Because employers don't think of us as free agents who have struck a deal with them. They think of us as fortunate souls they have taken pity on. Or at least that's how they want to think of us.

Making us play the game of asking for time off, and of giving up some of that earned time as a sacrifice to the employment gods in thanks for their ongoing benevolence, is a way of letting us know where we stand. In short, we are the one who do the asking and they are the ones who do the giving, even when dealing with an item of compensation that both parties acknowledge has been earned.

Rule Two: Work Is The Norm, Personal Life Is The Exception. Since my first job, I have made it a practice to take one week of annual leave in the Spring to get back into my running routine and to catch up on reading projects. I've found that many employers (and even some fellow employees) look askance at the idea of an employee taking time off that is not directed to a "real vacation" (apparently, one involving travel and added expense).

I've come to believe that expensive vacations constitute no threat to the work routine—the employee is letting off some stress, but it is clear that he would not be able to continue to live at the spending level required during vacations, and thus it is clear he will be coming back. It's like a strange marriage where the husband is allowed to cheat so long as he does not form any meaningful relationships with other women. But I very much have—and always mean to have—a meaningful relationship with many non-work activities. That's sometimes cause for suspicion in a system which smiles on those "married" to their jobs.

Rule Three: