The Poor Man's Accountant

Death and Taxes

Last year while I was plugging away at your taxes, I couldn't get out of my mind that dark wave rolling over the neatly-trimmed Japanese countryside. It was so loaded with debris it was on fire, and it was drowning everything in its path. Off in the distance there were little cars scurrying around, unaware of what was headed their way. A perfect allegory for Death, creeping up on us all.

Over 19,000 dead, all before their time and not in a way I'd like to go. And if that can happen tomorrow, what is there to do about it today? Why slave away today for a tomorrow that may never come?

Last summer, the temperature here made it to 72°F, room temperature, twice. I have the deluxe greenhouse and I can only manage to grow cherry tomatoes. Anything bigger won't ripen before the mold sets in. Outside of the greenhouse I'm reduced to growing only potatoes and Swiss chard. I've learned that plants not only need light, water and fertilizer: they need heat to grow. We used to have hot summers, but now the Pacific Ocean has gone cold on us.

I did the math and if I sold the house I'd have $1,500 a month for 38 years. That will take me close to a 100 and well beyond my best-before date. From then on the old age pension should be sufficient to carry me the rest of the way. Admittedly, $1,500 is not a lot, but it's a middle-class income in Mexico or Thailand or India. And if all you're doing is walking around half-naked trying to feed yourself and get drunk, it's not like you need a lot. So for the plan to succeed, I'd have to bailout completely and move to some stinking-hot part of the planet and start all over again as a beach bum.

So, to work or not to work: that is the question! Whether 'tis nobler to slave away for money that the next-of-kin will spend, or to hell with the kids and do nothing all the rest of your days? To give up the pretense that you're going somewhere and dedicate what's left of your life to hedonism. To leave all the stress behind and have nothing to do but swim in the ocean or putter around in your tropical garden where the tomato plants grow like weeds.

Or as the Moody Blues put it:
    I worked like a slave for years,
    Sweat so hard just to end my fears.
    Not to end my life a poor man,
    But by now, I know I should have run.

And if not now, when? The big fear is that you'll be bored crazy, and that life will be meaningless without a schedule of reinforcement. Or that the culture shock of a foreign country and language would be too much. But in most places there's an expat community where you could set up shop and start trolling for rich widows. Maybe you're just too scared to jump out of the rut you're in. But you're going to have to retire sometime — how close to death do you have to get? And when you do die, what will flash before your eyes: the time you worked so hard and got a star beside your name, or the time you lay on the beach counting the stars?

And if it's true, as Star Trek's Mr Spock once said, that the death of one man is just as tragic as the death of thousands, then what can we learn from poor Steve Jobs dying last year at only 56? He was worth billions and he knew since 2003 that he had cancer. You would think he would retire right then. Or if not then, surely after his liver transplant in 2009. But no, right up to the end he's out there selling those iPads. With all his money you'd think he'd want to spend some of it before he had to leave it all behind. Instead he's happily working away making even more. It's as if it's the work that matters and not the money.

So for the winners in this world it's work-till-you-drop (Jack Layton is another example), but what about for the losers?

A hundred years from now, 2011 won't be remembered for the deaths so far mentioned. Nor for Bin Laden or Gaddafi or even Kim Jong Il. Instead, 2011 will forever be remembered for the death of a hurt and humiliated young Tunisian fruit-seller who'd had enough. He killed himself by setting himself on fire and that somehow struck a chord across the region and started the Arab Spring. He has since been followed by over 130 other Tunisians who likewise see self-immolation as the answer. Who are they trying to punish? Surely there must be pleasanter ways to die.

So in the 21st Century we have a world where the rich and famous ignore the money, and the poor set themselves on fire. No wonder I want to leave this rat race behind.

Unfortunately there's one flaw in my plan. I need to move to someplace cheap and everyplace cheap is suffering a "youth bulge." The Arab Spring caught on with the Egyptians because their population has gone from 30 million in 1966 to now just under 80 million. And this means that half the population is under 24 years old (in Canada the median age is 40.7 years old). And right now 40% of Egypt's population is living on $2 a day. The educated urban youth cannot find jobs and only socialism or all-out war with the Hebrews will rectify that.

The world population worked its way to over 7 billion last year and it's the Third World that's doing all the heavy lifting. It's estimated that in the Middle East and North Africa 65% of the population is under 30 — and if they all have kids? Things can only get worse.

The median age for the World is 28.4 years, so no matter where I go it will mean bars on the windows and a weapon in the house. Everyone will be looking at me like I'm a walking dollar bill, and they'll all want to get paid. In South America kidnapping has become a sport and it seems like we lose a Canadian tourist a week in Mexico.

To my knowledge there are only two ways to speed up trickle-down-economics. The first method is what happened to Gaddafi. And the second way is, as you all know, income tax. Unfortunately those in charge of poor countries are unlikely to figure that out in time. And they won't be alone in that error. Back in the civilized world the Occupy Wall Street mob gets it, with their little signs: "Tax the Rich and the Corporations!" And they have Warren Buffet and Obama singing the same tune. But they can never win if 96% of elected Republicans have pledged to never-ever increase tax revenue. Even in the US you need bars on the windows and a weapon in the house.

So in the end we have Martha and the Vandellas:
    Nowhere to run, baby
    Nowhere to hide

Stuck in a frozen wasteland. Nothing else to do but keep on working. At least the cats will be happy — they'd melt in the tropics and there'd be too many stray dogs running around. They can sleep contented knowing I'm searching the seed catalogs for new varieties of arctic tomatoes. Maybe in my lifetime Global Warming will finally show up and give us a summer with some heat. Until then, I'll put on some old rock 'n' roll and banish from my mind all dark waves of Death.

Just like Ella Fitzgerald:     I'll chase the blues away

That is until the 5 million tons of Japanese debris starts washing up on our beaches, to remind us all again.


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