Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Deeper thoughts about FIRE


I just wrote a basic article on FIRE on the Dr Wealth website. You can read it here.

This article allows me to share miscellaneous thoughts on the topic that might not be appropriate for a primer on the movement.

a) Why did FIRE splinter into so many variants?

I had the same questions when I first read about Barista and Coast FIRE - both movements do not eschew the working world altogether, so they are short-cuts at best and half-baked ideas at worst. But I'm convinced that very few folks will complete the journey over time. FIRE influencers are overwhelmingly Tech or Finance professionals, and the MBTI personality type that dominates the movement is a rare INTJ type that is less than 5% of the human population.

So, some kind of moderation to create a form of FIRE for ordinary humans is inevitable. Even my challenge to ask my students to set aside $24,000 to generate an average of $100 a month in dividend income is quite challenging to some. 

b) Does FIRE threaten the financial industry?

If FIRE does not threaten the livelihoods of commissioned FAs, we are not doing FIRE correctly because we can save 2-3% in fees when we invest directly using a low-cost broker. I think the financial industry understands this point, and I'm detecting many "dog whistles" to that effect. 

An increasingly common strategy is to ask whether people make personal sacrifices regarding FIRE. Talking about some folks' relationships or appearance is also a low blow. Another approach is to "forgive" and "give permission" to others to start saving later in life. More complicated strategies will pick on a person's inheritance. 

It's all an attempt to convince folks not to start, but it ignores how much freedom a person can achieve with even $100 in passive income a month. 

c) Does FIRE threaten policymakers?

If done correctly, policymakers should actually promote FIRE. A severe practitioner will have to work really hard and maybe hold multiple jobs to get a credible portfolio running before they reach the age of retrenchment. 

There are certainly worse movements that are gaining more traction, such as the idea of lying flat.

d) What can policymakers do to make FIRE less attractive? 

Actually, policymakers threatened by this movement can take welcome steps to make FIRE less attractive in Singapore society. 

I can imagine myself continuing working on a statutory board today if some really toxic managers did not exist because I liked IT work, and I have no issues going to work even with a passive income of $20k+ a month. I'd like to hang out with friends in the office, too. 

If you want to blunt the impact of FIRE, we need to take further steps to make Barista FIRE a reality. More work from home, flexible work arrangements and a four-day workweek are a good start. I don't think you can remove the assholes from the government offices or any corporate HQ overnight, but creating a means to minimise contact with these people and creating outcome-based work objectives will help immensely. For me, the potential for AI is to require less middle managers so assholes will be stuck in individual contributor roles. 

Suppose a double-first from Cambridge prefers a life as debating coach rather than a path to say, the Admin Service, I'm not really interested in his choice of FIRE - I want to know specifically what kind of Ministry culture will drive him to freelance instead of becoming an Elite.  

e) Are there viable alternatives to FIRE?

Every successive generation of folks will reach adulthood and get their shit together at a much older age. They will also become more individualistic. This is a common trend from Boomers all the way to Gen Alpha. 

I'm seeing younger Millenials and Gen Z taking up a gap year after years of work to travel or do whatever they want. This is a viable alternative as they effectively separate their retirements into multiple parts and enjoy small bits of it when they are young. 

My generation will not do this because it can taint our resumes. 

But HR will be unable to do anything if every young Singaporean aspires to this lifestyle. Just like the CCP will note able to do much if every young person in China starts to lie flat. 

I actually love what young people are doing here when it comes to lifestyle design, I welcome credible alternatives to FIRE and love hearing about them. If done collective as a population, the working world can become a much better place even for older folks like me. 

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