November 12, 2008



The short-term one, through my employer, is plummeting like a peregrine falcon. Every time I get a paycheck, a small portion of my salary is automatically deposited into this account, and my employer partially matches this deposit. Then the stock market immediately swallows up this amount and has a second helping from the remainder.
You might think of it this way: Since the summer of 2007, my employer and I have put 10 apples into my retirement refrigerator. A ravenous man named Wallace Street has eaten those 10 apples and five more I had in reserve. I have to admit that it was my decision to ask Wallace to look after my apples; if only I had known his character better.
Be that as it may, even I realize that at this rate I will never retire, and you can, in fact, expect to see articles from me through 2049, when I will be turning 90. After all, I have to sell something to keep oatmeal on the table.
2008 1531 page29Fortunately, my other retirement account—the long-term one—is doing just fine. Rather than being saddled by bad mortgage debt and credit default swaps, this account resides in a fully capitalized institution. It has livestock—“the cattle on a thousand hills,” according to one of its bucolic brochures—and many other assets, fully diversified, not to mention a financial genius at the helm who makes Alan Greenspan look elementary.
Fortunately, the Manager of this account is not dependent on John McCain’s Homeowner Resurgence Plan or Barack Obama’s Green Energy Plan to save His economy. He doesn’t need advice from Warren Buffett, Jimmy Buffett, or even T. Boone Pickens (He already knows a lot about wind power).
Some have argued that this Manager’s risk tolerance is too high. After all, He risked His most valuable asset a while back and, in the metaphor of the market, got crucified. But over time that seems to have been a prescient investment and returns continue to grow.
In fact, His full investment strategy has been detailed in a rather lengthy prospectus, which sits around gathering dust in the homes of many potential investors. “Too hard to read,” they say. “Only for economists,” “needs major updating,” or “I’m definitely going to read it as soon as I finish my never-ending list of other projects.”
Of course, I’m hoping that my short-term account turns around and starts earning interest, or at least gets back to if-I-had-put-it-under-a-mattress levels. But I’m not counting on it. Thank goodness for that second account, where thieves do not break in and steal, and the streets are paved with a valuable commodity.
Scott Moncrieff is a professor of English at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.