In the old days, people focused on a retirement in heaven. The investment strategy was to read your Bible, pray, and go to church. Over the years, your holy savings increased. Then when retirement day (your death) came you had sufficient capital (grace) to enter through the pearly gates.
But in the 19th century, a new type of thinking – positivistic science – came to the fore. “Unless something can be measured, it does not exist!” said the positivists. “Heaven? The soul? Can these be measured? No! Thus scientifically and ipso facto they do not exist.”
In the 20th century, a new version of heaven began to be preached: a comfortable retirement. “Hallelujah! I have the pension, the wise estate planning, and the grace of Social Security! I am saved!”
To hedge their bets, some people added an “insurance policy”: they went to church each Sunday.
So the retirement heaven is achieved and the people enter “eternal” bliss.
But in the retirement heaven, sometimes there are vague discomforts. As Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote, “Even in heaven they don’t sing all the time.” Sometimes the “saved” retirees have uncertain misgivings. When this happens, they can confess to “Father Burns.”
Scott Burns (image top) has or had a syndicated column distributed by Universal Press Syndicate. At least in the local paper his financial column still appears, so I assume “Father Burns” is still active. His columns often deal with retirement planning and after-retirement situations. Sometimes people write letters to Burns which he prints and answers. These are the people who experience slight discomfort in retirement heaven and confess their “sins” to Father Burns.
So for example, a typical letter might read:
Dear Father Burns,
I have my pension of $80,000 per year and my Social Security of $2,000 per month. So you can see I am among the saved. I am in retirement heaven and as you can see by my numbers above, it is like I have a reserved pew at the front of the church.
But Father Burns, this is my mild heartburn case: Where shall I park my wise equity? A friend says invest in emerging markets, but I fear the risk. On the other hand, if I put my money into bank certificates of deposit, I will get next to nothing yield on the investment.
Not that I am complaining, Father Burns. You have guided me over the years to my retirement heaven. Only the drat of it is some nagging fear I still have, which I displace onto investment punctilios. So this my sin I confess to thee, Father Burns!
And a typical absolution from Father Burns might read:
Dear Reserved Pew,
Congratulations on your wise equity and your reserved pew at the front of the church.
Alas, the gnawing termites of time will continue threatening to eat away at your wise equity. This is part and parcel of things even in retirement heaven. So despite your “eternal” bliss, you must still stand constant guard over your wise equity. That’s just the way it goes, my friend. Even in heaven they don’t sing all the time. I recommend, as your penance, that you purchase and read my latest book, Gnawing Termites of Time. Te Absolvo, and go in peace (or a facsimile thereof).
So that is the new version of heaven we now have, constantly preached to us. Retirement can be your heaven, but only if you religiously follow the guidelines of the new church, constantly updated via newspaper articles and columns by such as Scott Burns. And if your “heaven” when you reach it contains some hazy unease, then confess your sins (or read the drib-drab of other such confessions) to Father Burns.
But “what then?” asked Irish poet W.B. Yeats:
All his happier dreams came true –
A small old house, wife, daughter, son,
Grounds where plum and cabbage grew,
Poets and Wits about him drew;
“What then?” sang Plato’s ghost. “What then?”