Monday, February 4, 2013

In the year 2038

So today I sat in an empty room with white walls across the desk from a man in a grey suit. The only things between those four walls were a desk, a laptop computer with a small flashing light on the side of it, a miniature printer and two men sitting on plastic office chairs, one of which was me.

The man was visiting from one of Denmark's largest banks and he was trying to get me to increase the amount of money I put into the private pension fund I am compelled to have by law. Lying between us on the desk was a piece of paper with my details on. At the top, just under my name, it said Retirement due date: October 2038.

The man began to warm up his sales pitch, saying that these were 'uncertain times' and that I needed to 'secure my future'. There were insurance products he could offer me, as well as golden nest eggs and money trees that needed planting right away. I held up one hand for him to stop.

"Wait a minite," I said, "before you go any further you should know that I'm leaving your country in less than a month and never coming back."

He looked at me, one eyebrow slightly arched. Leaving the country? Why would anyone want to do that?

"So you have a new job then - a new career?"

"Kind of," I said. "It's a bit complicated. I doubt you'd understand."

"Try me," he said.

I told him about the forest. About coppicing and making things, and about growing a forest garden and practicing permaculture and making charcoal. I said my wife would be restoring furniture, upholstering things, sewing clothes and looking after needy old people.

"I'll also be a doing a bit of writing," I added, superfluously.

My words hung in the air like a stale smell at a vicar's tea party. It didn't sound like much of a business plan in that white office with only a desk in it.

But he had heard of charcoal. "So you will be doing a lot of barbequing?"

"Maybe," I said. "Mostly squirrels and fish, I imagine." It was supposed to be a joke, but it died the moment it left my lips. The man in the suit didn't know it was supposed to be a joke.

It wasn't really a joke.

There was quite a pause. "But you will still need to contribute to your pension for when you retire."

"I'm retiring now," I said. "This is my retirement."

Did that sound pompous? Maybe a bit arrogant? If so, I didn't mean it to.

"What, did you win the lottery or something?" he asked. His expression looked somewhat eager, like he was onto something.

"Nope." I said

I tried to explain further but he had a wait till I tell this to the other guys smirk on his face so I didn't press on. He asked how I would pay the bills, the mortgage, put the kids through university, pay off the car and all the other things that are deemed necessary for a modern fulfilling life.

I told him I wanted to reduce my expenditures first and that the kids would be okay and he shouldn't worry about them not going to university. "They'll survive," I said.

Not convinced, he went on to explain that his company's pension plan was expected to grow at a rate of around 4.7% per year into perpetuity - or at least until 2050, which was where his graph went up to.

I had expected this. "I don't think it is going to do as well as you say it will," I ventured, a little weakly for my liking. I had a whole load of words in my arsenal if need be; words like catastrophic deleveraging, financial supply chain contagion, ponzi scheme and equity meltdown - but I was only going to get them out if I was backed into a corner.

"It's guaranteed to grow," he said. "Here, read this," he said, pushing forward a suave brochure with a picture of two young-looking old people walking barefoot along a beach and wearing white clothes and smiling. 

 "But what would I do if I waited until 2038 to retire?" I asked. "I might die in the meantime. I'm not really into gambling."

"What would you do?" he asked in mock astonishment. "You could do whatever you wanted. Play golf. Go on a cruise. Spend time with your grand kids. Your call."

"But I'm retiring next month," I said. "And I don't like golf. Or cruises."

He cracked his knuckles, sighed and then leaned a bit closer. "What you're saying you want to do isn't retiring," he said, "it's a recipe for having to work hard until you drop dead."

"I know," I said. 

"Perhaps," he added "you should consider continuing your pension plan for a few more years until you can be sure that your, er, business plan is working out." 

"I don't think so," I said.

He frowned at me. His frown said I am a realist and you are not a realist. I looked at him. I guessed he was about five or six years younger than me, although he was going a bit bald around the edges whereas all I have is a grey streak.

"I know," I said. "But at least I'll be doing something I like."

He leaned back in his chair, sighed and looked at the ceiling.

"Is it possible to just get the cash payout now?" I asked.

He thrummed his fingers. "If you want," he said, resigned to the fact that I was a no-hoper. "It's your right to do so - but you know you have to pay a 60% punishment tax."

"I know," I said. "I looked into it when I was first made to take the policy out."

The printer took at least five minutes to chug out all the forms I had to sign. We both pretended to look at different spots on the white wall as we waited for it.

"What about a mortgage?" he said. "You can't buy a house without a steady income."

"I know," I said. "In the long term I'm planning to build a house in my forest."

"A house in a forest." he repeated distractedly.

"Yes. More of a hobbit hole actually, like in Lord of the Rings. I've already designed it on paper, I reckon it will take less than a year to build."

The financial adviser looked at me soberly. He didn't seem to have heard what I'd said. Perhaps he chose not to hear it. Perhaps he thought I had gone too far. I signed the papers and pushed them across the desk.

"Thank you Mr Heppenstall."

We both stood up and shook hands.

"Good luck," he said, handing me a business card. "Email me if you change your mind and I can get it all reinstated. Talk it over with your wife."

"Thanks," I replied.

Outside the office the next employee was waiting in line to be processed. I went for a walk in the park and looked at the icicles hanging from the trees.


  1. Hi Jason. Don't know how much you've looked into this and I'm a bit out of touch but heres a bit of extra info. The punishment tax rate in the UK is 55% so not much better than Denmark. If you were prepared to wait till 55 you could move the pension to the UK get a 25% tax free lump sum and then draw down income from it thereafter taxable at your marginal rate. Or you could take the whole lot at aged 55 and pay an effective rate of 41.25%. Alternatively its just as tenable to get all the cash now and spend it before the pound goes down the plughole, which I guess is the way you are thinking. All the best whatever you do.

    1. Phil - thanks for the advice! As a matter of fact the amount I have is risible - only a year's contributions. I don't really think any of these pension companies will ever pay out, so for me I'm investing what money I have in 'hard goods' that will be useful in the future.

      I'll sign up for the UK state pension, but I assume that even that will be more of a pittance. They might even be paying it out in soup and crusts of bread if things get much worse.

    2. Sounds like you'll be following the advice of Dmitry Orlov, which I did too to some extent, though as you can see I'm still interested in tax matters. I suspect you are right about many pension schemes not paying out, or certainly not paying anything like what the pensioners have been led to expect. Looking out for yourself and those in your community while they look out for you too is likely to be the answer.

    3. It's not just Dmitry Orlov, just about everyone else whose opinion I respect is saying the same thing. As for state pensions, I'm willing to gamble that in about 30 years time, when I am eligible, I'll get something, but not much.

      Funny thing was, when I got to work this morning two of my colleagues (who had the same conversation with the adviser yesterday) were saying that they are going to be 'rich' when they retire, and were talking about what luxury cars they were going to be driving.

  2. Slightly off-topic, but -

    Reminds me of a conversation/consult I had with an M.D. recently after a blood panel showed an uptick in my PSA reading - not unexpected (in my case) since I'm 76 and the prostate fattens up in us old guys and gets sensitive.

    He wanted me to submit to a whole sh-tload of tests including yet another biopsy, (I've had five over the years - showing nothing), bone-scan (had one of those too - it was negative), and various other scans & etc., etc. - the good ol' medical conveyor-belt. Told him I wasn't interested.

    He said something to the effect that I could die. I replied that I was absolutely going to die.

    He said that I might have another 15 years, with 'treatment'. I said it's unlikely, and in any case who wants to live to be 91, broke, and with a very diminished quality of life inside a culture as nutso as this one is?.

    F'n money-grabbers come in all shapes and sizes.

    Did I mention I'm on Medicare?

    1. "He said something to the effect that I could die. I replied that I was absolutely going to die."

      LOL - so becoming a doctor clearly taught him something then!

  3. "a 60% punishment tax."

    Punishment? Is that really what it's called? Are they going to whoop your bottom too? LOL

    Good riddance. Jeez. It's hard to imagine even, anyone thinking anything but a coppice stand would grow at a 4.7% rate to 2050. But then he probably thinks coppicing is a window treatment, or external housing trim. He'll remember you some day though, I bet, when his retirement accounts are empty. While you are hobbit holed up reading, before a warm fire, with a cup of raspberry tea.

    1. William - well, it's not really called that. I'm sure it has some technical nomenclature, but that's what it amounts to.

      Another thing is that I take issue with the fact that you are forced to have a private pension and your money is then used to fund destructive money-earning projects in places like Brazil, China and Russia i.e. the only places where 'growth' is happening.

  4. You are a smart man, I believe. His retirement dreams are not going to happen. Yours already are. He will watch his 'investments' shrink. You will watch yours grow outside your window. His kids will have degrees and no job to use them at. Your kids will have skills and be 'retired' right from the start. Yes, you are a smart man. Enjoy! He will remember your comments eventually ... and wish he had listened closer.

    1. Unfortunately many more will all be in the same situation.

      His kids having degrees and no jobs might be the least of their worries. Whether the forced conscription of debt slaves for cannon fodder purposes in the future resource wars actually happens or not is something we will need to be on the lookout for.

  5. I like to think that 60% punishment is for that trick you pulled on your visit to Greece post. Yes, I know, I am being petulant.

  6. I had a similar incident today in my computer science class. We had to write a paragraph on what Web 3.0 is. This was my paragraph:

    "Web 3.0 is at best an abstraction from Web 2.0. There are a lot of ideas floating around in the blogosphere about what Web 3.0 is. The only identifiable commonality between those ideas is that it's going to be some type of improvement having to do with Semantics by way of the "Semantic Web", a metaverse, and augmented reality in 3D. This marvel of technotriumphalism is supposed to grace us with it's reality sometime around 2020. It seems to me that Web 3.0 is the cornucopian techno geek utopia where we'll all be able to plug into the Matrix and pretend that real reality is no longer relevant. The type of people whom would use something such as this are the same type of people whom have their heads buried in iphones and gaming systems now. In short, for now at least, the nature of Web 3.0 is anybodies guess."

    Not sure how that's going to go down since the instructor has a masters in computer shit.

    At any rate, a class discussion came up about it and how it was going to be so great to plug in to Web 3.0 and I piped up and said it was never going to happen because we'd run out of liquid energy before then. That started an immediate knee jerk reaction with everybody coming up with their particular energy savior. Lots of geeks so lots of theoretical "this has already been done," and zero point energy, and Tesla and his amazing brain came up and on and on. I just shut up and sat there regretting ever opening my big mouth. What did I think would happen.

    Funny thing is, immediately after that conversation 9/11 came up. Virtually nobody in the class believed the official government story and pretty much everybody had no problem with the conspiracy theories. The Illuminati even came up and was discussed. So American college students have no problem believing the truth about 9/11 but if you pull the energy rug out from under them they won't have it. Are incapable of even entertaining the information.

  7. In a technocracy, intrigue and conspiracy theories flourish. In a sense, belief in complex cover ups and fantasy future energy sources amount to the same thing: they both flatter the ego and make you believe you have an important insight into the great tangled mass of unknowableness that is the modern world.

    Both allow people to smugly claim that you have 'read between the lines', and allow them to believe that they can continue to operate in their unchallenged mindset, which is one of linear progression.

    Promoters of 'zero point energy' and all that nonsense are clever in that they wrap the whole thing up to make it look like a government conspiracy, thus making its efficacy even more credible.

    I have an (ex) friend who believes that benign rays of energy carrying many gigawatts of power can be produced by simply constructed objects. Anyone who attempts to argue with his is automatically branded 'one of them'. Apparently I am also one of them.

    1. BTW I should probably add that it does seem exceedingly likely that 911 was either orchestrated or allowed to happen. There are just too many unexplained questions surrounding it all.

      But that's about as far as i go with conspiracy theories - especially ones regarding mind control and the availability of free energy.

  8. My goodness, I wish I could have been there to see his reactions. I envy your candor and bravery to be so upfront about all this. I fear the verbal backlash when topics about energy and finance come up among friends and family. Part of the problem is that this all makes so much sense in my head, but when in the heat of debate, I can't put two coherent thoughts together. It makes my position appear weaker than it really is, and all I can do is blush, shrug and mutter something about agreeing to disagree.

    The part about the Hobbit hole was especially epic. Well done!

    1. Bravery? Nah, I don't think so. These people are trained in the art of manipulating fear, which in Denmark is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. But they will only do so if there is a financial reward for them. By clearly stating to him that I was intending to be voluntarily poor I disarmed him right at the start.

      I had known that I was going to have this compulsory 'session' for a week, so there was plenty of time to plan my mental self-defense tactics. By telling him my life plans at the start of the meeting I left him only one option, namely to assume that I was an irrational foreigner suffering from some form of incurable insanity.

      In any case, it's a good idea to talk about permaculture, peak oil etc with as many people as you can - but do so in a 'I don't really care what you think of it' manner and deliver it in a matter of fact way. You'll never win any arguments with people who don't want to hear about it, but at least you've informed them of the possibility of another concept they may not have heard of.

      Who knows, in 20 years time that financial adviser might be living in his own hobbit hole, roasting a squirrel over a fire and telling his kids about the epiphany he had after meeting an 'insane' client once ...

  9. Jason, if you haven't, find the time to read "Crossing the Rubicon" by Michael Ruppert. You will never look back. He proves that 9/11 was orchestrated by Dick Cheney using evidence admissible in court. No funny stuff.

    1. Thanks for the tip. I just got hold of a PDF version and read it.

      Not pleasant but it confirms what many already thought/think. From a government's POV, if most people think you are operating a conspiracy, you have nothing to lose by actually enacting one.

      I wonder when, if ever, the big smoking gun will be revealed about 9/11 ...

    2. you read the entire book already?!!! You must of not slept for a while. That's a long book!

    3. Well, I've read a lot of stuff Ruppert has written before, so I just skipped to the bits that were new to me! Thing is, I trust hi to tell the truth, so I could skim-read some of the sections where he was proving his point to the nth degree.

      Thanks for the recommendation.

  10. OK, is the post title a veiled reference to the Zager and Evans one hit wonder song "In the Yeat 2525"? A classic, as it is still relevant 45 years later. If not, find that song aand give it a listen.

    1. Sure was! For the benefit of those that don't know the song, here are the lyrics:

      In the year 2525, if man is still alive
      If woman can survive, they may find
      In the year 3535

      Ain't gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lie
      Everything you think, do and say
      Is in the pill you took today

      In the year 4545
      You ain't gonna need your teeth, won't need your eyes
      You won't find a thing to chew
      Nobody's gonna look at you

      In the year 5555
      Your arms hangin' limp at your sides
      Your legs got nothin' to do
      Some machine's doin' that for you

      In the year 6565
      You won't need no husband, won't need no wife
      You'll pick your son, pick your daughter too
      From the bottom of a long glass tube

      In the year 7510
      If God's a-coming, He oughta make it by then
      Maybe He'll look around Himself and say
      "Guess it's time for the Judgement Day"

      In the year 8510
      God is gonna shake His mighty head
      He'll either say, "I'm pleased where man has been"
      Or tear it down, and start again

      In the year 9595
      I'm kinda wonderin' if man is gonna be alive
      He's taken everything this old earth can give
      And he ain't put back nothing

      Now it's been ten thousand years, man has cried a billion tears
      For what, he never knew, now man's reign is through
      But through eternal night, the twinkling of starlight
      So very far away, maybe it's only yesterday

  11. When my husband and I started pulling our investments out of 401(k)s that are the closest US counterparts to the private pension fund you mentioned, we had to pay a 10% penalty to retrieve the money because we were both under age 59 1/2. The penalty was over and above the regular income tax that we also had to pay since income tax is deferred on investments in those funds. I didn't tell our investment adviser what we were doing and why in person because I didn't have to; we could contact each investment directly and cash out, which we did over a period of 5 years to reduce our total income and thus the income tax hit (the 10% penalty remained the same). Instead, I wrote her a letter and told her what we were doing and why. I'm sure she didn't understand it, and it represented lost income to her; at any rate she never responded to the letter. Over the years we have told a few people what we did and the response has usually been incomprehension; it seems to have a lot to do with paying extra taxes, something most people are so conditioned not to do that they cannot understand the concept of taking a short-term tax loss to obtain a longer-term personal gain. Because we do understand the concept, I have been able to stay gainfully unemployed since 1992 doing unpaid volunteer work and subsistence gardening, and my husband was able to retire 13 years ago when he was 47. Now that is long-term gain! Of course our income is very low, but then so are our expenses, and we continue to put some of the savings into physical assets to help us with the transition to a lower-energy and poorer life. I'm really glad you are pursuing a similar approach and expect that you will be successful with it. Life needs to be lived now.

    1. "I have been able to stay gainfully unemployed since 1992 doing unpaid volunteer work and subsistence gardening, and my husband was able to retire 13 years ago when he was 47. Now that is long-term gain!"

      That's a great thing you've done. By unhitching yourselves, as much as possible, from The Matrix (or whatever you want to call it) you've acheived a life that most people dimly dream about being able to afford at some unspecified point in the far future.

      I might occasionally knock Danes, but thos that have broken out of the 'mind prison' tend to be extremely intelligent. One such person is Jacob Lund Fisker who wrote the book 'Early Retirement Extreme' (and blog of the same name).

      BTW I think we should dump the word 'retire', which conjures up images of repose and inactivity. We need to use better words, such as 'Mike is Activating himself' or 'Sarah only has two more years until she becomes Re-engaged'.

  12. I have a sister that cashed out her 402k and retirement plan last year, paid the tax and penalty, and bought a small farm. She is also taking nursing classes to become a register nurse in a few years, figuring she will have a trade-able skill set. Her husband is a carpenter/contractor with his own skill sets. Their kids are home schooled and college is not a part of their future, farming is. Both are in their early 50s. The only smart members of my family.

  13. The picture that went with this post is priceless.

    1. That picture is a real one from a financial services company website ...

  14. Icarus62 - Hampshire, UKFebruary 11, 2013 at 1:52 PM

    Real wealth is productive land, a habitable climate, good community, basic tools, manual skills, practical knowledge... things like that, not numbers in a bank's computer.

    If you have land then you can grow food and medicines, grow raw materials for weaving and cordage and construction, grow wood for heating and cooking and so on - most of the basic needs of human life.

    The big problem is 7 billion people on a planet with (I would guess) only enough space for 1 billion or less, living that kind of low-tech zero-fossil-fuel lifestyle. Despite all the projections of peak oil etc., no-one really knows if it's all downhill from here, or whether human ingenuity will keep technological civilisation going for decades to come, but either way the low tech lifestyle is not a bad way to live, and I'm sure you won't regret your decision whether TS really HTF in our lifetime or not.

  15. Heck, bravery is getting up at 5am every morning to commute 2 hours to a mind-numbing job every day, knowing that you will spend another precious day of your life, that you will never see again, doing something you hate, for the promise of a better future somewhere down the road, possibly.
    Then, selflessly, having to do it all again the next day, just to help keep the machine working for everyone else that little bit longer, so that they can continue on too.

    That's bravery!

  16. Thanks for this post - I laughed so much! Wish I had been a fly on the wall.

    It is much easier to have these conversations with some stranger you are never going to meet again. It is far harder to discuss with friends and casual aquaintances, unless you want to end up a hermit in a hobbit hole!

    Good for you getting out before its too late. Is it even possible to cash in a pension early in the UK? I have been wanting to cash in my hubby's pension for a while and have been told by numerous sources that it is impossible until he is 50.

    What I don't get is why you are leaving/have left Denmark? (I have probably missed this in a previous post, as I'm new to this blog?)Denmark has a population of about 5 million on an area of 16,000 square miles, compared to England with 53 million in an area of 50,000 square miles. Plus they have sensible energy policies, their GDP isn't mainly derived from the financial sector, and they are far better at equality (so less prone to riots,stikes and looting). The politics may be bland, but I imagine that they get lots of sensible, long-term, sustainable policies passed. Surely Denmark can offer a rosier looking future than England?

    I love the idea of a hobbit-hole in Cornwall and sincerely hope this works out well for you and your family. There is one thing that stops more people from living this resilient liffestyle, and that is planning permission.

    I am looking forward to following how you get on.


    1. Hi Judy, thanks :)

      Sorry, there's no time for a long reply right now but you can see my reasoning here:



I'll try to reply to comments as time permits.