TIME Opinion

This ‘My Little Pony’ Parody Explains Income Inequality

The real world's a little darker than Ponyland

In a typical episode of the 1980s cartoon My Little Pony, Flutter Ponies and Baby Sea Ponies work together to defeat the evil magicians and sinister woodland creatures that seek to disrupt their cheerful way of life. But unlike the goblins and trolls that plagued Ponyland, rising inequality in the U.S. is very real and, in the words of a new Funny or Die parody video, “the crucial political and economic challenge of our age.”

“The Unbelievably Sweet Alpacas” is the brainchild of director Adam McKay, co-founder of Funny or Die and co-writer of movies like Anchorman and Talladega Nights. McKay was enlisted by the We the Economy project, which seeks to “drive awareness and establish a better understanding of the U.S. economy” through a diverse collection of 20 short films.

In the six-minute animated video, three alpacas, voiced by Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Sarah Silverman, visit the lollipop factory to receive their job assignments after graduation. What they find at the factory stands in stark contrast to the theme song in the opening credits, which suggests that if you “just do your best and play by the rules, you’ll have social mobility, Porsches and jewels.” Instead, the alpacas find that nepotism, uneven access to quality education, market forces and government regulations have more to do with job prospects than good old work ethic.

The video’s use of a simple allows for a simple explanation of the problem, while its satirical bent injects it with an appropriately acerbic tone. “Hey, I just noticed something!” exclaims a lollipop voiced by Billy Eichner. “You three perfectly represent the economic trends of the last 40 years!”

This isn’t Funny or Die’s first use of parody to communicate a social message. Back in July, Kristen Bell starred in a spoof that had Mary Poppins quitting her nanny gig in protest of the too-low minimum wage. As for a solution, raising the minimum wage, both videos hint, would be a good place to start. But it’s going to take more than a few corporations ponying up to get to the heart of the issue.

TIME Education

How Sports Can Help Your Kids Outsmart Everyone Else

Houston Astros v New York Mets
Children yell to players after a game between the New York Mets and Houston Astros at Citi Field on September 28, 2014 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. Alex Goodlett—Getty Images

Jon Wertheim is the executive editor at Sports Illustrated. Tobias Moskowitz is Fama Family Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago.

The playing field provides the ideal context for learning fractions, probability, equations, risk assessment, principles of finance, behavioral economics and even multi-variable calculus

Correction appended October 16, 2014

In her excellent book, Building A Better Teacher, the journalist Elizabeth Green tells a story of a new hamburger that the A&W Restaurant chain introduced to the masses. Weighing 1/3 of a pound, it was meant to compete with McDonald’s quarter-pounder and was priced comparably. But the “Third Pounder” failed miserably. Consultants were mystified until they realized many A&W customers believed that they were paying the same for less meat than they got at McDonald’s. Why? Because four is bigger than three, so wouldn’t ¼ be more than 1/3?

Green uses this example as one more piece of evidence that Americans suffer from a collective case of innumeracy, the math equivalent of not being able to read. But the A&W anecdote could also be used to underscore another national crisis: financial illiteracy. Even after a catastrophic recession—prompted, in part, by millions of us not grasping the terms of adjustable mortgages or the perils of an economic bubble—the subject of finance might as well have an “R” rating affixed. Come and see what all the fuss is about once you turn 18. It is the rare high school—much less middle school—curriculum that offers economics, and the rare K-12 curriculum that imparts simple lessons, such as the promise of compound interest or the peril of spending more income than you earn.

Put a dozen educational consultants in a room, ask them how to teach financial literacy, and you’ll get at least a dozen responses. There was once consensus that relevance and context are key. Show a sixth grader a supply and demand curve, it’s unlikely to be effective; instead, ask that same 11-year-old, “If the ice cream store has a line around the block, what would happen if they raised their prices?” But even that is up for debate. “The work often overwhelms the interest of the context,” says Dan Meyer, a former math teacher now studying math education at Stanford. “Calculating—putting numbers into a formula and then working out the arithmetic—is boring. Important, but boring. The interesting work is coming up with the formula.”

However, we would contend that there’s one context, popular among kids (increasingly of both genders), that is tailor-made for introducing basic concepts of economics and math, and a lot less boring: sports.

Just as a game is packed with fractions, probability, equations and even multi-variable calculus if you’re so inclined, so too is it a laboratory for risk assessment, principles of finance and behavioral economics—an emerging field that looks at the effects of psychology and emotion on economic decision-making.

In the aisles of Walmart or the listings for real estate, round numbers are powerful motivators, either to hit or to avoid. We’ll buy a 99¢ Coke, but are less inclined when it’s $1. We take pains to list homes for $99,999, not $100,000, when the difference is laughably negligible. And we do the same in sports. We hand a fat contract to a .300 hitter, but are less likely to do so to a batter that hits .299, never mind that the difference could be as little as two hits (or official scorer decisions) over the course of a season.

Sports also provide a context for probability. Broadcasters may ask questions hypothetically, but real answers exist. Jones is only a 40% free-throw shooter but he makes both. What are the odds of that?

If only one day a response would come: Well, I’ll tell you, Bob. Forty percent is 4/10. Multiply that twice for the two shots. 4/10 x 4/10 = 16/100 or 16%. Not good odds, but not extraordinarily rare, either.

And there are other examples. What is cutting a player from a roster if not taking a short position? A balanced line-up is a classic diversification strategy. Drafting a player at the same position as your star can be seen as a hedge against asset depreciation. That the baseball season started in Australia is a vivid example of international expansion and an attempt to alter consumer habits. Basic probability will explain why no one came close to winning the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge that Warren Buffett sponsored during last March’s NCAA Tournament.

As Meyer notes, coming up with a formula might be more important than mere calculating. But, here again, sports can help. Sabermetrics in baseball and advanced stats in other sports are based on the premise of improving predictive models and deriving formulas. Half the fun of winning your fantasy league is the implication that you outsmarted (came up with a better formula than) everyone else.

If nothing else, any kid who’s been to both a hockey game and a basketball game knows the difference between thirds and quarters, and, in turn, would have picked the right burger.

Correction: The original version of this post misstated the title of Elizabeth Green’s book. It has been corrected.

Jon Wertheim is the executive editor at Sports Illustrated. Tobias Moskowitz is Fama Family Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago. Their 2011 book Scorecasting was a New York Times bestseller. Their new book, The Rookie Bookie, attempts to combine sports, statistics and financial literacy for kids.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Walmart

Why Walmart Workers Losing Healthcare Might Not Be Bad

Getty Images

Ironies abound

Talk about irony. In the same week that Walmart announced employees who work less than 30 hours will be losing their health care coverage, the company also announced that it’d be getting deeper into the business of selling insurance, making it easier for customers to price shop for insurance in stores. In some ways, this mirrors Walmart’s overall business model—keep prices down for consumers, but keep wages and benefits for employees low too.

Ironically, under the rules of Obamacare, it’s possible that those part time employees will get a better deal on health care exchanges, thanks to subsidies that help lower income workers buy insurance. It’s all part of the new landscape created by the Affordable Care Act. As Obamacare turns one year old, Joe Nocera and I discussed how it’s changed healthcare, business, and the economy, on WNYC’s Money Talking.

MONEY China

China Didn’t Really Pass the U.S. Economically

Chinese Yuan banknote plugged into a 1 Dollar banknote.
Ulrich Baumgarten—Getty Images

By at least one measure, China has a larger economy than the United States. But that matters less than you might think.

Update— October 9

The news is abuzz with what seems like earth shattering news: The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2014, China, not the United States, has the world’s largest economy. Sound the alarms, a new world order has arrived!

Well, not quite. Or at least not yet. As some pundits have pointed out, the IMF isn’t using the conventional measure of the value of goods and services the China produces, otherwise known as gross domestic product, or GDP. By that measure, the good ol’ U.S.A. still makes way more dollars worth of stuff than China does — though that lead is deteriorating.

Instead, the IMF is referring to GDP adjusted for something called purchasing power parity (PPP). This takes into account how much people in a given country can actually buy. And if you’ve ever visited a developing country, you know that one dollar can buy quite a lot more of certain goods and services, like bread and milk or a meal at a restaurant, than it could in the West. PPP is an attempt to take that difference into account.

As Marcos Troyjo, an adjunct professor at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, explains, purchasing power parity makes for a better measure than regular GDP of China’s rising standard of living. And life is getting better for many Chinese: What the IMF report found, in fact, is that Chinese people as a whole can now buy more goods and services in China than Americans as a group can buy in America.

For those who see global economics as a competitive endeavor, however, it’s worth noting that China is still splitting all those good and services between more four times as many people. Per capita GDP in the U.S. is still way ahead of per capita GDP in China, no matter how you calculate it.

And the U.S. still has more economic might on the global stage, at least for now, says Troyjo. The reason China ranks so high on the PPP scale is primarily because labor costs (i.e. wages) are low, which in turn keeps prices down — a phenomenon known as the Penn effect. The ability to buy anything sold on international markets, like iPads, military equipment, or other non-domestic products, is much better captured by regular GDP. By that measure, China is about eight years from matching the U.S. at current economic growth rates.

All this might sound like good news to anyone worried about China as a rival world power. But Troyjo points out that Beijing is not being restrained by a lack of funds. “China already has the resources to play the geopolitical role it would like to,” the professor told MONEY. The country maintains $3.7 trillion in foreign currency reserves alone, and invests almost 50% of its GDP back into the national economy. If China wanted to cause the U.S. trouble (or more trouble than it already does), money is no object.

Luckily for geopolitical stability, Troyjo predicts China will be primarily focused on ensuring its own prosperity for at least the foreseeable future. “What China has been doing is consolidating an economic base that allows for prosperity over time,” says Troyjo. “It’s going to take a long time for China to be the geopolitical alternative many would like.”

Correction: A previous version of this article said Marcos Troyjo was an economics professor at Columbia University. He is actually an adjunct professor at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. His last name is also Troyjo, not Troyja.

TIME Economics

The High Cost of Heartbreak for Modern Singles

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Larry Washburn—Getty Images/fStop

Dr. Adshade has a Ph.D. from Queen’s University and currently teaches economics at the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia.

The turmoil of ending a relationship can have a professional price tag

Almost one half of all Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 have never been married, while the majority of those say that they hope to marry one day (61% with absolute certainty). This suggests that there are millions of men and women in this age group who are working towards the goal of finding that one true love.

The road to marriage, however, is littered with broken hearts, as they say. This heartbreak is particularly severe for those who have been living with their romantic partner (24% of those in this age group), since those are the relationships that promise the most hope for marriage.

Heartbreak among unmarried young adults is common, with 36.5% of one study‘s participants aged 18 to 35 having experienced it at least once in the previous 20 months.

Experiencing disappointment in the search for true love is nothing new, however those in previous generations would have experienced it at a stage of their lives when those around them (parents, teachers, etc.) were likely to be sympathetic and there were few external costs.

This is much less true for modern singles, who often find themselves searching for love at the same time that they are also working hard to establish themselves in their careers. Broken hearts can’t be left at home during the work day, and the evidence suggests that employers, managers and coworkers don’t particularly appreciate them being brought to work.

In fact, it would be completely reasonable for a young ambitious single to fear the impact that a series of broken hearts could have on his or her career prospects.

Which raises an interesting point. The number one reason young singles give for not being married is that they are “not prepared financially” (34%). That justification for delaying marriage is a little difficult to understand within the context of modern marriage. Long gone are the days in which marriage meant that children would immediately follow, everyone would live on a single income and a house with a yard was the only acceptable living arrangement.

The reality is that individuals who are married are likely to achieve financial security much more quickly that those who remain unmarried, so delaying marriage for reasons of financial security doesn’t seem logical.

What does make sense, however, is that singles are unwilling to allow the turmoil that romantic relationships often bring to interfere with their path to financial security; that they worry that the search for love will lead to a broken heart, or series of broken hearts, that comes with a professional price tag.

If we really care that so many young people aren’t marrying, an argument could be made for bereavement leave for the broken hearted. Of course, for that to actually work people would have to be willing to phone in rejected and, frankly, I don’t see that happening.

Marina Adshade uses research, human insight and economic analysis to unlock the mysteries behind our actions, thoughts and preferences regarding sexual relationships, gender, love and power. She shows that every option, every decision and every outcome in the realm of sex and love is better understood through economics. Dr. Adshade has a Ph.D. from Queen’s University and currently teaches economics at the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME India

Why the World’s Most Powerful Leaders Really Love India

Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping walk for a meeting in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Manish Swarup—AP

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India highlights the geopolitical contest reshaping Asia

Some of the world’s most important people are wooing India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi like teenage boys drooling over the homecoming queen. Less than a month ago, Modi was feted in Japan on his five-day official visit, during which he even received an unexpected hug from usually stiff Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This week, Modi is hosting China’s President Xi Jinping, who upon his arrival in the country on Wednesday, proclaimed that Beijing wishes “to forge a closer development partnership and jointly realize our great dreams of building strong and prosperous nations.”

Why has Modi become so popular? The reason can be found in how Asia is changing, politically and economically. Ever since China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping launched his country’s remarkable economic miracle in the early 1980s, the old Cold War divisions in the region melted away amid increasing economic integration. According to the Asian Development Bank, trade between Asian countries accounted for 50% of their total trade in 2013, up from 30% in 1985. But with China flexing the political and military muscles it has acquired from growing wealth, Asia is becoming split into two camps once again – one centered on China, the other on the U.S. and its allies, including Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. Each side is looking to bolster its support in the region in order to gain leverage on the other. Tokyo, embroiled in a tense stand-off with Beijing over disputed islands in the East China Sea, is looking to build a network of allies to “contain” a rising China. Meanwhile, Beijing is aiming to create a power bloc of its own in the region to counteract U.S. influence.

India has become a key wild card in this new geopolitical power game. As a rising power in its own right, and a huge potential source of new business in everything from espressos to expressways, whichever side manages to lure New Delhi into its orbit will tilt the scales in its favor.

Both camps are making their best pitch. Japan’s Abe took the unusual step of traveling from Tokyo to the historic city of Kyoto to personally welcome Modi to the country. Xi ventured all the way to Modi’s home state of Gujarat on this visit, even donning an Indian-style vest. Abe sent off Modi with a promise of $33 billion of new investment. Xi is reportedly planning to top that during his India visit, dangling an even bigger package of $100 billion.

On purely economic grounds, you’d think Xi has an advantage in his quest for Modi’s favor. Trade between the two has exploded, to nearly $66 billion in 2013 from a mere $1.2 billion in 1996. Their economic links will likely continue to strengthen as Chinese companies become more and more important global investors and Chinese consumers more and more important customers. The world’s two most-populous nations would appear to have many economic interests in common as well. Their companies, accustomed to operating in an emerging economy and selling to emerging consumers, are attracted to the potential of each other’s markets. China’s Xiaomi, for instance, has successfully lured Indian customers to its cut-rate smartphones as it has in China. Wouldn’t Modi be wise to hitch his country to the world’s rising power, rather than Japan, a declining one? That would bring to life the economic power of what’s been termed “Chindia.”

But China-India relations are more complicated than that. After India’s independence in 1947, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru thought his new nation would find a friend in newly communist China. The spirit of the times was captured in the phrase Hindi Chini bhai-bhai, or “Indians and Chinese are brothers.” That hope was dashed, however. India has incensed China by allowing Tibet’s Dalai Lama, who Beijing considers a dangerous separatist, to reside in exile in India. Modi, in fact, invited Tibet’s prime minister-in-exile to his inauguration in May. Relations are also continually roiled by border disputes. In 1962, the two fought a nasty border war, and the causes of that conflict linger to this day. The two countries contest land along their border in India’s far north in Ladakh, while China claims India’s eastern province of Arunachal Pradesh. China perennially irritates India over these unresolved issues. Just last week, only days before Xi’s much-heralded visit, India charged that Chinese troops are building a road in the contested territory in Ladakh. In talks with Xi on Thursday, Modi urged the Chinese President to finally resolve their border disagreements.

Such tensions are clearly weighing on Modi’s mind. He has apparently embarked on a mission to upgrade India’s military capabilities and relationships. Abe and Modi during their recent summit agreed to strengthen military ties, and in August, New Delhi and Washington pledged to do the same during U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s visit to India. One of the first economic reforms Modi announced after becoming Prime Minister was easing restrictions on foreign investment into India’s defense sector, a move aimed at bolstering its technology and production capacities. It is an open secret who is the target of all these military moves. While in Japan, Modi took a swipe at an assertive China when he told business leaders in Tokyo that “everywhere around us, we see an 18th century expansionist mind-set: encroaching on another country, intruding in others’ waters, invading other countries and capturing territory.”

Modi, then, is attempting to have his halwa and eat it, too — playing off both sides to win as many goodies as he can. In his quest to restart India’s economic miracle by building much-needed infrastructure and boosting manufacturing, Modi will need all the money he can get — from China, the U.S., Japan and anyone else who is offering. India has always been wary of trying itself too tightly into any one political camp — during the Cold War Nehru was the leading figure behind what was known as the “nonaligned movement.” The question is how long Modi can play one side off the other. We may find out soon enough. Later this month, Modi will travel to Washington to meet with President Barack Obama. Let’s see what goodies he picks up there.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 15

1. Relief organizations today are dangerously politicized and risk irrelevancy. To survive, they must evolve into decentralized networks for sharing knowledge, aid, and true humanity.

By Paul Currion in Aeon

2. There is more to measuring economic strength than jobs. For manufacturing, America is one of the most cost-competitive countries in the industrial world.

By Harold L. Sirkin, Michael Zinser, and Justin Rose in BCG Perspectives

3. Could a secret online marketplace for illegal drugs provide a safer alternative to our modern drug war?

By Colin Moore in Substance

4. Marketing to so-called “influencers” is a waste of advertising dollars.

By Greg Satell in Harvard Business Review

5. Technology vs. Tradition: Menstrupedia tackles taboos in India to improve women’s health and lives.

By Priti Salian in TakePart

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME

Planning for Unretirement and Why It Pays Dividends to Work Longer

It pays to invest in your human capital, maintaining your skills and adding to your education

Several years ago I picked up a book published in 1920 by Simon Wilson Straus, president of the American Society for Thrift. His description of the popular image of thrift in History of the Thrift Movement in America still rings true nearly a century later. “Penny-counting, cheese-paring, money-hoarding practices were looked upon by the public as the ideals sought by those who tried to encourage thrift,” wrote Straus. “The man who practiced this virtue, it was felt, was he who hoarded his earnings to such an extent that he thrust aside every other consideration in order to keep from spending his pennies, his dimes, and his dollars.” Who wants to live a “cheese-paring” life? Sounds bad, doesn’t it?

But an emphasis on thrift doesn’t mean living cheaply– far from it. Thrift or frugality is really shorthand for an approach grounded in matching our money with our values. Straus defines thrift this way: “It is the thrift that recognizes that the finer things of life must be encouraged,” he writes. “The skilled workman, the artist, the musician, the landscape gardener, the designer of beautiful furniture, the members of the professions — all those, in fact, who, through the devotion of their abilities, contribute to the real betterment of mankind, must be given support through our judicious expenditures.”

Here’s how David Starr Jordan, founding president of Stanford University, defined thrift at the 1915 International Congress for Thrift in San Francisco. He told the assembled audience that thrift “does not involve stinginess, which is an abuse of thrift, nor does it require that each item of savings should be financial investments; the money that is spent on the education of one’s self or of one’s family, in travel, in music, in art, or in helpfulness to others, if it brings real returns in personal development or in a better understanding of the world we live in, is in accordance with the spirit of thrift.”

Who didn’t have a moment during the Great Recession of looking around their home or apartment, opening closets and drawers, gazing into garages and storage bins, and wondered, “Why did I buy that? Is this how I want to live? I’m paying off credit card debt for that?” The modern Mad Men have done a bang-up job equating the good life with owning lots of stuff paid for on an installment plan. Didn’t we always know this wasn’t quite right? By thinking through “What really matters to me?” the unretired movement will come up with far more sensible answers to the question “How much is enough?” than the financial services industry. Harry West, the former CEO of Continuum and current senior partner at Prophet, hit on the thrift mindset. In our conversation he remarked on the flexibility that comes with minimal expenses and debts. “When you talk to boomers, what you find is that freedom is really, really important. And you think about that because they grew up in the ’60s or were born in the ’60s, which was a time of freedom,” says West. “Freedom is a low overhead.” That expression should be a mantra for young and old workers alike.

The frugal mindset is spreading, thanks to growing awareness of sustainability. The term sustainability has many shades of meaning, but several themes have emerged in recent years. An awareness of global warming. The desire to cut down on waste. Concerns over the health of the environment. Worries about the vibrancy of local communities. My favorite definition of sustainability comes from the late actor and non-profit entrepreneur Paul Newman: “We are such spendthrifts with our lives,” said Newman. “The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster. I’m not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out.” Sustainability has gone mainstream and, for growing numbers of people, being frugal is green and being green is frugal.

There is nothing cheap or penny pinching behind the pursuit of judicious expenditures, thrift and sustainability. Instead, thrift is a mindset for trying to match your spending with your values. “In some ways, that what’s financial independence is. You don’t have to answer to anyone because you have enough,” says certified financial planner Ross Levin. “When I am working with clients as they get older or near the end of life, they talk about the things they wish they had done. They talk about their regrets, and the regrets always focus on experiences. It’s always something like, ‘I wish I had done more with the kids when they were younger.’ It’s never ‘I wish I had bought a Mercedes.'”

The urban scholar Richard Florida, in his book The Great Reset, looked at potential economic changes in the U.S. following the Great Recession. His bottom line forecast could have been addressed to aging workers. “The promise of the current Reset is the opportunity for a life made better not by ownership of real estate, appliances, cars, and all manner of material goods, but by greater flexibility and lower levels of debt, more time with family and friends, greater promise of personal development, and access to more and better experiences.”

Unretirement will change not only how an aging population thinks about old age but also how it plans the elder years. Over the past three decades the baby boom generation has been taught to equate planning for retirement with savvy investing. In essence, the retirement planning mantra has been stocks for the long haul, asset allocation and picking mutual funds. But for the typical Main Street boomer the equation has always been wrong and, deep down, we’ve always known we couldn’t rely on Wall Street’s lush return promises. The core of unretirement planning is jobs, and the new unretirement planning mantra is encore careers, networking, and delay filing for Social Security. “You should be looking for the kind of jobs you could do that are challenging and interesting and offer an acceptable income,” says Arthur Koff, the septuarian founder of Retired Brains. “The time to do it is while you’re working.”

Next Chapter in Kansas City, Kansas is housed in a small brick building reminiscent of a bank in a section of town that houses the courts. Karen Hostetler is director of Next Chapter. She turned 65 in 2013. Next Chapter is a small grassroots organization with a mission of helping older workers in transition toward unretirement. I met with Next Chapter activists Pat Brune, Cris Siebenlist and Hostetler in a conference room in the fall of 2013. It was a lively conversation and at one point planning for unretirement came up.

Siebenlist: “Frankly, not everyone will figure it out. They’ll do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Other people will float around for awhile and say, Is this all there is?”

Hostetler: “You need to plan. It takes commitment to figure it out.”

Brune: “If I could change my transition to what I did, it would have been to be more intentional. I said yes to what came along.”

Hostetler: “Don’t jump into the first thing that comes along.”

Bruning: “I only see my intentions looking back. It’s only later that I see how the dots are connected.”

The work longer message means it pays to invest in your human capital, maintaining your skills and adding to your education. Maybe you’d like to stay at your current company, but put in fewer hours or shift over to a different division. If you want to move on, know your employer is likely to hand you a pink slip soon, or want to start your own business invest in researching your options, from hiring a career coach to investigating temp agencies to picking up a book like Marci Alboher’s The Encore Career Handbook: How To Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life.

Most importantly, invest in your networks of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Scholars have documented that about half or more of all jobs come through informal channels–connections to friends, families and colleagues. You may also want to create new connections to ease the transition into the next stage of life.

Take this example from Ralph Warner, the founder of Nolo.com, the self-help legal guide business, and author of Get a Life: You Don’t Need A Million to Retire Well. Let’s say it’s a dream of yours to work on environmental causes in retirement, says Warner. The pressures of daily life stop you from getting engaged, however. You’ll get to it, tomorrow. Now you’re 65 or 70 years old. You head toward an environmental organization you admire and say, “Here I am. How can I help you? The answer is going to be probably not much,” says Warner. Maybe help out with the phones or mailings. “Now, take that same person who in their 40s or 50s gets involved with several local environmental groups and at age 70 is a respected senior person. They’re valued and they’re needed. They earned it.”

They’ve just won the aging boomer trifecta: an income, a community and a mission.

Don’t get me wrong: Saving is important. Max out your 401(k) and IRA. Create a well-diversified, low-fee retirement savings portfolio. Savings is your margin of safety because life has a way of upending well-thought-out plans. An unexpectedly ill parent. A divorced child moving back home with the kids. For Robert Lawrence, it was a detached retina.

Lawrence was a teacher at Jefferson Community and Technical College (now Kentucky Community and Technical College) in Louisville. He taught there for about 20 years, commuting up to 10 weeks every year to visit his partner in New York City. Lawrence planned on retiring at age 66. Just after his 64th birthday, he stopped by a colleague’s office for a brief “hello” and ended up listening to a long, detailed explanation why his colleague planned working until age 70. The conversation convinced Lawrence to hold off retirement for another six years.

That is, until two months later. His retina detached and several surgical repairs didn’t hold. He retired at age 65 in 2005, sold his home, downsized and moved into his partner’s condo in Jackson Heights, Queens. His partner, age 75, is a consulting engineer, often putting in 40 hour workweeks. “If it had not been for health reasons I certainly would have been working,” says Lawrence.

A surgeon in New York fixed his retina. Lawrence now volunteers at a hospice in Manhattan, visits with grieving caregivers after the death of a loved one, and helps out at his local church. With a comfortable pension and some savings he chose flexibility over pay. The reason: Lawrence and his partner are railroad “rare mileage” collectors. “We’re railroad fanatics,” he says. They ride the rails throughout the U.S., often seeking out obscure lines to collect their miles. “The only reason I did not seek out teaching in New York is my partner didn’t want me to because of these trips,” adds Lawrence. “He’s in command of his own time as a consultant. If you’re teaching, you’re not.”

When it comes to retirement planning, the goal should be to put your savings on auto-pilot as much as possible. Instead, spend your time creating opportunities for an income and meaning later in life. The return on the unretirement investment will dwarf anything you’ll get from picking a good mutual fund.

Chris Farrell is a contributing economics editor for Bloomberg Businessweek and senior economics contributor for public radio’s Marketplace Money, Marketplace, and Marketplace Morning Report. Excerpted from Unretirement, copyright 2014 by Chris Farrell. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury.

TIME

The $15 Minimum Wage Is a Bellwether of the New Living Wage

Fast-Food Strikes in 50 U.S. Cities Seeking $15 Per Hour
Robert Wideman, a maintenance mechanic at McDonalds Corp., shines the shoes of a Ronald McDonald statue outside of a restaurant while protesting with fast-food workers and supporters organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

When $13 an hour isn't enough

A little less than two years ago, a group of courageous New York fast food workers went on strike, outlandishly insisting on a $15-an-hour wage and launching an unlikely David-versus-Goliath battle to raise pay for tens of millions of Americans in dead-end jobs.

Goliath is falling.

On Tuesday, word leaked that the mayor of Los Angeles will soon propose raising the city’s minimum wage to more than $13 in the next three years – an increase that would lift pay for hundreds of thousands of struggling Angelenos.

The plan neither meets the now iconic $15 demand of low-wage workers everywhere (though with cost-of-living adjustments built in, it would get there by 2023), nor guarantees the right of workers to freely form a union – a critical step in solidifying wage increases and improving other working conditions.

But pointing out these shortcomings only highlights just how far the nation has come. For who, on that cold November day two years ago, could have envisioned that a proposal to raise the minimum wage in America’s second largest city to more than $13, a nearly 50% increase over three years, would not only be taken seriously but would strike some as being too modest?

Who could have envisioned that under pressure from their left, moderate New York governor Andrew Cuomo would endorse a minimum wage of more than $13 for the nation’s largest city (New York), and Chicago’s dyed-in-the-wool pragmatist mayor Rahm Emanuel would throw his weight behind a $13 wage floor in the nation’s third largest city?

Who could have imagined that in 2014, business leaders in Seattle would actively support and help enact an unprecedented $15 minimum wage law, only to be one-upped by the San Francisco business community, which has agreed to let one of the country’s most liberal electorates vote on an even faster increase to $15 this November?

Who could have foreseen techs and janitors at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins and teachers’ aides and cafeteria workers at schools in Los Angeles successfully bargaining contracts guaranteeing $15 an hour, or businesses like Michigan’s Moo Cluck Moo deciding to raise employees’ pay to $15 just on principle?

By themselves, any of these victories – along with the passage of more modest but still significant wage increases in cities like San Diego, Berkeley, Santa Fe and Washington and in states including Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Hawaii, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts – could be dismissed as an aberration. Together, they represent the start of an inexorable march toward a new social compact, one in which America’s workers are no longer cast aside as dispensable factors of production whose output is to be maximized at the lowest possible cost.

Looking ahead, we can ask: Which state will be the first to set a $15 minimum wage? Which big fast-food company will be the first to guarantee a minimum hourly wage that is double the industry standard? When can we expect to see a living wage become a core labor standard guaranteed to all workers across the country?

For four decades, wages have flat-lined, even as worker productivity has continued to grow. Low-wage jobs now form the core of America’s economy, comprising seven of the ten occupations with the largest projected growth over the next decade. Now middle and working class people in this country are rightfully insisting on a larger share of the nation’s prosperity.

In years past, right-wing politicians and their corporate backers may have been able to subdue this agitation with references to “job creators” and patronizing warnings against “hurting those you want to help.” But Americans – low-wage workers, middle class families and even many business owners – have had enough.

A powerful movement is afoot to create a decent life and a truly sustainable economy for us all. Giants beware.

Arun Ivatury is a campaign strategist with the National Employment Law Project.

TIME Economics

What Everyone Gets Wrong About Argentina

Argentina Seeks to Skirt U.S. Ruling by Paying Bonds Locally
Axel Kicillof, economy minister for Argentina, speaks during a news conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Grossly oversimplified versions of history are regularly used as econ class morality tales

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I woke up a couple of weeks ago to an Argentina that had, against its will, defaulted on its sovereign debt. For those unversed in international finance terminology, that basically means a country is failing to make payments due to bondholders. These situations are often accompanied by economic chaos, but, fortunately, the day was anti-climactically lacking in catastrophe. The New York Times wondered if we were in denial.

Not a chance. National headlines proclaimed imminent disaster, while the minister of economy’s announcement of failed negotiations received reality-TV-worthy audiences. Every conversation since has hinged on the “default,” and whose fault it is. Government officials have taken flak for parsing definitions of default, but they have a point: more than broke, Argentina is caught in a judicial Catch-22. This isn’t denial, but it is uncharted territory. In Buenos Aires, where I have lived most of my life, some people have taken to calling the unique situation a “Griefault,” in honor of the New York judge, Thomas Griesa, who got us into this mess.

To make a long story short, after Argentina’s history-making default in 2002, the country successfully renegotiated terms with 93 percent of its bondholders, and has been meeting those obligations. But “hold-out” hedge funds in possession of some of the bonds demand full payment and convinced Judge Griesa to force Argentina to pay them in full if anyone was going to be paid at all. That is an untenable solution for Argentina’s government, which points out that the vast majority of bondholders agreed to renegotiate terms on condition that no one else get a better deal – which is what the New York court asked Argentina to provide the hedge fund plaintiffs. In the end, a deal that maximized the interest of almost all parties is how being held hostage by a small number of bondholders. (More detailed explanations of the convoluted story can be found here and here.)

Maybe when you’ve already lived through every sort of default, devaluation, inflation, hyperinflation scenario imaginable (all that and I am still only 31!), you start developing a thicker skin. You follow and opine on arcane financial developments with passion generally only reserved for our national soccer team during World Cup season. Competing inflation indices and their differing methodologies are legitimate dinner conversation fodder here. I can hardly understand my credit card statement, but I have spent the past month in heated debate with friends about obscure debt-restructuring contract clauses governed by New York law.

Our history also leaves us with a healthy fear of economic instability, because it eventually affects every aspect of our life and everybody around us, even if the immediate effects of “default” haven’t yet had an effect on people’s day-to-day lives. Though the jury is still out on exactly how it will affect individuals, the decline in international credibility caused by a default would reduce access to foreign credit for provincial and private enterprise, as well as lessen foreign investment in the country. These could cause a downturn in the general economy. Argentina has mostly been locked out of international capital markets for more than a decade, so what’s really a shame is that all the painstaking economic reconstruction over that period in this country of 40 million people is now in jeopardy.

Beyond its financial travails, Argentina remains stuck in the tiresome role of case study and cautionary tale to the rest of the world. Argentina is the smart teen who went off the track, the high school pothead parents warn you about.

Grossly oversimplified versions of Argentina’s history are regularly used as econ class morality tales: one of the early 20th century’s wealthiest countries that failed to develop, the International Monetary Fund poster child that blew up, the country that in 2002 committed the most spectacular sovereign-debt default in history and, now, the country that somehow was forced into another default by a judicial order.

But these vignettes are more interested in making the point that Argentina detonated its unbelievably bright future through some intrinsic character flaw than including all the relevant details about Argentina’s history. A Roger Cohen op-ed in the New York Times last February is fairly illustrative of the genre: they always start with a lamentation of what we could have been. The author compares our wealth 100 years ago to Sweden, France, and Italy. Then, tragedy strikes. He argues it came in the form of Juan Perón, who shaped “an ethos of singular delusional power.” That’s pretty dismissive of a thrice-elected president whose party continues to win democratic elections and define national politics to this day. Imagine talking about FDR that way.

The clichés about Argentina – surely you’ve seen the musical – make for a good finger-wagging, “Don’t-be-like-Argentina” admonition that might keep impressionable countries in line, even if they say very little about Argentina’s reality. The caricature is predicated on flashes of fact: export riches, a wealthy elite, and massive immigration. Left out are the thornier questions of political culture, adverse international trading patterns, Cold War realpolitik and the like. Researching why Argentina couldn’t be more like Canada is like trying to figure out why a tadpole failed to develop into fish.

Yet, the misguided and dismissive commentary from abroad is mirrored by Argentina’s own domestic obsession with identifying the “wrong turn” in our history – a more nuanced sport than the one played at our expense by outsiders, but equally corrosive.

The never-ending quest for the source of our decline is nothing but a red herring. There’s no moment when our golden future came tumbling down, because the whole story is a fairytale. Alejandro Grimson, an Argentine anthropologist who explores this misguided belief, places the roots of Argentina’s delusion of grandeur and European-ness in the beliefs of Argentina’s 19th century elites who were, indeed, fantastically wealthy, although nobody else was. “As time passed, this idea took root, that Argentines had a magnificent destiny that we had not been able to reach, for some mysterious reason or through the fault of one group or another. Each decade we were further from that illusion,” he writes in his book on Argentine myths. A sense that we were powerless to stop this loss took hold even though Argentinians helped contribute to the decline by supporting a weak democracy, a trigger-happy military, and a polarized, highly politicized society.

And this is our own form of exceptionalism. American exceptionalism is predicated on the idea that Americans are number one; Argentine exceptionalism is predicated on the idea that we should have been number one, but were robbed (or blew it, depending on how you want to play the game).

Buenos Aires boasts impressive French-style façades and a tremendous cosmopolitan culture, making it easy for outsiders to continue being fooled, assuming we’re a nation comparable to Sweden. Argentina’s history and trajectory start to seem less exceptional and aberrational when you compare it to its neighbors: Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, though of course each country’s history has its own unique circumstances.

But no one, certainly not a people known for its quirky attachment to hyperbole, wants to be just another “normal” country. As Grimson argues, if we can’t be the best country in the world, we’re determined to make the case that we’re somehow the worst. And, of course, we’re quick to be offended when outsiders start making the same case and playing our “how-could-this-all-have-gone-so-wrong” game.

I myself refuse to keep playing. No matter what some New York judge says, and no matter what we could have, should have, might have been in the imagination of certain pundits, the Argentina I know is making its own future, with all the contradictions and difficulties endemic to democracy and our history. We’re not the French or the Swedes by a long shot – but that’s a good thing. I think we’re way better.

Jordana Timerman, a Buenos Aires native, is a member of La Fábrica Porteña, a Buenos Aires policy platform. Her work has also appeared in The Atlantic’s City Lab, Foreign Policy, and The Nation. Ms. Timerman’s father, Héctor Timerman, is the foreign minister of Argentina.The views expressed in this piece are purely her own. This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.

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