But in the end, it is each citizen who is responsible for protecting the liberties set forth in the Constitution and Bill of Rights” — Ronald Reagan
Yes, we’re talking about the Bill of Rights.
Now, when was the last time you thought about those rights — seriously?
Well, if you’re like most Americans, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the Bill of Rights, the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. Yet, you certainly know about Ben Franklin, the Pennsylvania scientist and diplomat who was signatory to both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
But, did you know Mr. Franklin, besides his acumen in science, had expertise in financial management and retirement planning, knowledge that enabled him to spend half his life in unofficial retirement? Yes, the man spent 42 years as a “retiree,” enjoying life and pursuing all kinds of personal goals.
So, do you think today’s retirees can enjoy life as Mr. Franklin did, riding the coattails of our own individual, “American experience” buttressed by a solid and fair Bill of Rights and steeped in the core belief that every American citizen can pursue happiness (and life & liberty) in active employment and retirement alike?
Ours is a History Replete with Symbolisms
As Americans, we believe in the pursuit of happiness, fairness, equality under the law and the “avoidance of cruel and unusual punishment,” as the Eighth Amendment clearly states. When an initiative or policy seems to encroach on those values, it typically attracts heavy regulatory scrutiny over its potential to limit personal freedom or suppress innovation. Those values make us the nation we have become — and will hopefully remain for more centuries to come.
However, one question remains: Does our country apply the same sort of ethos to retirees, the tens of millions of individuals who played by the rules and lived looking to do everything right, and are only now asking for a fair share of the American Dream in their later years? The answer clearly seems to be “no,” if we believe an exposé by U.S. News & World Report, which indicates grimmer life conditions for retirees at the same time that our age 65-and-older population soars.
The Bill of Rights, at a Glance
The Bill of Rights was, and still is, here to protect the rights of all Americans — including retirees. Scholars cite two preeminent concepts when discussing a document that has affected the lives of Americans for the last 229 years. First, all citizens have inalienable rights to own property and to speak and think freely. Secondly, it acknowledges there will always be “bad guys”, and those ill-intentioned souls who do harm must receive a fair trial and punishment befitting the crime.
We can say the same thing about your life savings — cash you have put aside to live a comfortable life in old age, but that seems to dwindle nowadays as fast as stock indexes melt-down on a bad trading day. Saving for one’s retirement is akin to upholding your responsibility as a citizen and exercising your right to own property.
The question then becomes: Is Uncle Sam helping Americans to preserve our retirement savings, and is government doing everything in its power to help keep our individual resources safe? The answer, unfortunately, is not as clear as the Founding Fathers, including Ben Franklin, would have wanted it to be.
Are We All Equal under the Constitution?
The government seems to ascribe policymaking preeminence to certain groups. Take last decade’s bank bailout for example. ProPublica did the most comprehensive study so far about the bailout, expounding on the institutions that benefited from the trillions in government largesse, and pondering whether such a move was, after all, a responsible and appropriate use of taxpayer money.
Many experts believe government has done a terrible job regulating the banks and Wall Street. There seems to be some kind of new financial scandal every few days; in addition, the regulatory oversight of Social Security and Medicare has been especially bad, perhaps even treasonous. However, for some reason, officials seem to be suggesting banks deserve special status, so they never have to lose.
It goes like this — take some big risks and make some big bucks, you win, and you keep the profits. Take those same big risks but this time the trade goes bad and blows up in your face, and government comes to the rescue and bails you out.
Meaning, what’s good for the banks is bad for Americans. Do you still think we’re all equals?
Regardless of the topic discussed — your home and possessions, your speech, your thoughts, your own body — your right to ownership comes down to you being responsible enough to hold on to what belongs to you.
The same goes for your retirement savings. Wall Street and the banks are back to their old tricks, once again exhibiting the same bad judgment and taking the same risks that nearly destroyed the economy ten years ago.
Meanwhile, the government has had every opportunity to get things right — but even with record tax receipts and trillions of dollars in new borrowing, Washington still can’t seem to straighten everything out. It’s a familiar story, while individual Americans seek excellence, D.C. embraces mediocrity.
Today’s Retirees Can Learn Lessons from Yesterday’s American Wisdom
Many historians credit Franklin with delivering one of the most colorful, powerful, and articulate addresses made in support of the Bill of the Rights. Two quotes by this polymath gained popularity over the centuries: “Any society that will give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both,” and, the somewhat topical, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
So, how can you, as a retiree, apply the wisdom of the founders to your life, your financial planning, and your retirement objectives? Are you currently doing everything you can to keep your savings safe? Have you considered the possibility of a repeat of 2008? Have you reviewed your options or taken the time to formulate a back-up plan in case something like that, or worse, were to strike again?
As a retiree, you should take great pride in upholding the freedoms endowed upon you in the Bill of Rights. To do so, you must plan and commit to growing and preserving your savings in a rational, logical manner. When done right, you can look forward to enjoying your retirement for many years, if not decades, as Ben Franklin did.
The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 occurred in strict secrecy. Consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall to learn the results of the hours long exchanges. Mrs. Powel, a concerned resident of Philadelphia, asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Without hesitation Franklin famously responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
It might be wise for everyone to begin thinking about retirement from the same point of view.