With the disaster of the current economic collapse still to reveal its full extent, there are millions of American workers who have had the value their 401K retirement funds seriously eroded. I am sure many of them are wondering, after a lifetime of earnest savings in preparation for their retirement years what God (or fate if you will) might have had in mind by cutting the ground from under their feet in this way.

I will attempt an explanation, with the hope that it might bring some deeper level of understanding.

Whenever I try to unravel the rationale behind any of our established customs and try to grasp the full import of its social significance, instead of working my way backwards through the history of it and get confused among the branches of past events that led to its establishment, I have found it handy to go back to the roots of the custom and then work my way upwards. My knowledge of African customs has been very helpful in this respect; if not in giving me a comprehensive answer, at least allowing me to end up with an improved understanding.

During the reigns of the Zulu kings - Shaka, Dingaan and Cetshwayo, puberty boys, after they and had experienced all the trials and ordeal of their initiation ceremonies, where then inducted into the military ranks, where they were expected serve in their respective regiments until their forty second year (when the first gray hairs appear in the beard). Upon induction, one cow from the king’s herds was given to them. Upon retirement from service some twenty five years later, all the generations of that cow’s progeny became his private property. This accumulated wealth allowed him to retire from the service, attend to his own estate, buy wives, put on the headring of an elder and take his place at tribal council.

It is probable that the more or less the same system worked in all Bronze Age cultures. In any event, induction into the communal work force has been moved up to around 21 years, and the retirement age to 63 or so. Somewhere during the Age of Industrial development, I think is were we might have gone wrong, by pressing our workers to labor for others beyond the age when they have the energy and will to attend to their own.

And so we have elderly workers caught flat-footed today by events larger than themselves. We also have millions of people who have put in a life-time of hard menial labor yet have no retirement benefits.

We now have a reasonable picture of the past which has shed more light on present conditions.

Does it shed any light on improving future direction?

I’m not sure if this is relevant, but I think there are two huge problems with the entire retirement debacle in modern America.

The first is lack of education. Most people don’t understand anything about investing, or the various vehicles for retirement. Of course, the wealthy don’t have to worry about this problem, because they can just pay somebody who does know about it to handle retirement for them. The middle class and poor, however, usually don’t have enough to pay for help, or have no desire to learn enough to invest themselves.

The second problem with 401k’s and other retirement vehicles are that the investments are subject to market fluctuation. Over the long term, this doesn’t really cause much of a problem, but if you’re one of the unlucky bastards who is retiring right when the market is taking a dump…well, that’s when you get screwed. And, if the recession lasts longer than normal, say 5-10 years…then you’re really in trouble.

retirement?!? you mean you don’t think the LIBERAL DEMOCRATS have been saving and managing your SOCIAL SECURITY TAXES for DECADES?!?

oh no!!! booooooooossssshhhhh did it!!!