ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. – Check out Lee Eisenberg's new book, "The Number," America's newest retirement-planning bible by the country's latest guru of pop personal finance. You'll open it with great anticipation, hoping, almost screaming out loud: "Yes, yes, finally I'll find out MY number, how much I need to retire happy and financially free!"
Then, when reading it, a deep, booming voice will echo in your brain: "Sorry, but you are 'Numberless.' You don't have enough! And you will never, never have enough!"
Seriously folks, did you really expect something magic from "The Number?" I did, since the subtitle raised high expectations: "A Completely Different Way to Think About the Rest of Your Life." Unfortunately, it isn't. Eisenberg even admits there are no new solutions.
Don't get me wrong, Eisenberg's book is an extremely entertaining read. I loved it. Anyone who writes beautifully about my heroes (guys like psychologist Carl Jung, the philosopher Jacob Needleman, author of "Money and the Meaning of Life," and Buddhist teacher George Kinder, author of "The Seven Stages of Money Maturity" and inventor of the new "Life Planning" for professional financial advisers) deserves to be read.
But in the end, the book is merely an engrossing, personal memoir, like "Angela's Ashes," written by another disenchanted boomer searching for the meaning of life in a world controlled by an elite conspiracy that's trapped him and you and me in an illusion, a myth, a fantasy. That myth says somewhere out there is "The Number," a magical mix of stocks and bonds and annuities and insurance and cash and gold and real estate and pensions that will make you feel safer, sleep sounder, feel more secure about your future.
Who implanted this absurd illusion in your brain?
Good question, now we're getting at the real truth here. That illusion was imbedded in your mind by a secret conspiracy, a loose but very real behind-the-scenes network that links Wall Street, Corporate America and Washington insiders with special interest lobbyists. Remember:
Wall Street's insiders split $21.5 billion in bonuses last year, while the stock market lost an average of almost 3% of your money annually the past five years. The compensation of Corporate America's top executives continues to soar, while worker pensions and health-care insurance are cut and inflation eats away incomes. And in Washington, your elected representative and civil servants enjoy guaranteed pensions and health insurance and cater to shifty lobbyists like Jack Abramoff.
Yes, they all got "The Number," their number! Wake up folks, you're living in an "I got mine, forget you, world." And with the help of the media, what this "conspiracy" has implanted in your brain is a classic double-bind, a conflict putting you in perpetual anxiety, forced to live with a near-pathological pursuit of two irrational and inconsistent goals.
They want you to believe the myth that you are rational, capable of balancing long-term needs with short-term wants; balancing, for example, buying a new plasma TV or investing that money in an IRA.
But here's the truth: In spite of all the hype about helping you achieve "The Number" (enough to retire on comfortably, says Eisenberg), they not only know that most Americans will never achieve this goal, they don't want you to save for retirement!
Ironic, but true. They need you to keep spending, not saving! Consumers are the engine driving the American economy, even though our out-of-control spending has turned our savings rate negative and our foreign trade deficits will soon implode your retirement as well as the world economy.
'The Numberless' made America strong
My advice: Forget "The Number." You are "Numberless." And you always will be. That's America's treasured history, in our genes, our spirit, our strength. America became a great nation because our ancestors were numberless! Driven. Hungry for more.
Please accept this reality: You will never have enough, never achieve "The Number." It's a myth. Only recently in our nation's history have we developed this insane, paranoid, narcissistic obsession with securing a risk-free retirement. Yet, historically, America became great on a spirit of adventure, challenges and, yes, insecurity.
Remember, America has 295 million people, but only 8 million are millionaires, less than 4%, just one in 25 Americans. Yet Wall Street's mythmakers insist a million is the magical "Number" you need to retire (and nice guys like Eisenberg play the game!).
For most Americans, "The Number" is irrelevant. While less than 10% of Americans control over 90% of our nation's net worth, the average American has less than $50,000 in net worth, exclusive of their home, and retires on less than $30,000 a year ... and yet a large majority say they're happy.
Stop expecting answers from folks like Eisenberg, Schwab, Icahn, Trump, Buffett, the CEOs of Citigroup and IBM, Wal-Mart's heirs, Bush and Congress. They're all anxious and insecure too and don't have enough. Billions aren't "enough!" They want more. They are numberless too.
Bottom line: You are "Numberless." You do live in a Twilight Zone world with No Exit. Accept it. Stop struggling. You will never have "enough." The Number is a figment of your imagination implanted there by Wall Street's clever brainwashing machine.
Yes, next time you're in Barnes & Noble, read "The Number" over a latte and muffin. But when you're through, pull back the curtain and listen to the immortal apology of the loveable Wizard of Oz when Dorothy says, "You're a very bad man." And he softly replies with an impish smile: "No, I'm not a bad man, I'm just a bad Wizard!"
Wake up: You are The Wizard! Read books about retirement for entertainment. But remember, the answer isn't "out there." If there is a secret "Number," it's locked in your brain, an illusion until you take action! Until then, you are just another loveable, impishly bad wizard ... you will always want more ... never have enough ... you don't really have a clue what "The Number" is ... and (admit it!) you really don't care!
Copyright (c) 2006 MarketWatch, Inc.
Copyright (c) 2006 MarketWatch, Inc.