Ralph Nader coined the phrase ‘unsafe at any speed’ in his scathing indictment of the Corvair. If he had written a book about the General Motors business model of the time, he might have called it ‘Unsustainable at Any Speed’. The Ron Lowenstein’s book “While America Aged’, in my view, is one of those rare gems that not only explains a controversial subject in a terrific storytelling format, and in my opinion, it also happens to have the weight of being prescient and accurate.
I first read this book back in 2008, and it made an incredible impact on my thinking in how I viewed the trajectory of our nation at the time. In conjunction with other personal research, I made significant changes in my client’s portfolios, and my own personal financial life, that turned out to be extremely valuable.
Growing up in the birthplace of General Motors, and living nestled between the automotive enclaves of Flint and Detroit as I do now, the fate of the auto industry has always been a top-of- mind issue for me, as it impacts my life daily. In fact, 100 years of my family story has involved General Motors. Dating back to my Great-Grandfather John Pyne, who worked at the original Buick Motor Division and GM plant, under founder Billy Durant, and Buick leader ,Walter Chrysler, through my grandfathers, grandmothers, dad, and even my mom, who worked for a firm whose #1 client was GM.
Lowenstein’s book isn’t all, or even mostly about the auto industry. Rather, it is broken into three parts, exploring the impact of legacy costs on the public and
private sectors. It’s a chilling tale of greed, selfishness, and outright stupidity that has, and will likely continue to impact all Americans for generations to come. It’s a book that predicts, in 2007, events that were to happen all to soon in 2009, and prognosticating the realities of over-promising and under-delivering on pension and health care legacies. These are issues that are now becoming frequent headlines as it becomes clear that the foolish and short-sighted decisions of the past predicted to likely undermine the innocent recipients of that legacy in the future.
There really isn’t one villain in this story, and even fewer heroes. Rather, as Lee Iacocca said in a Chrysler boardroom during the 80’s Chrysler bailout, blame lays on “the three of us”, meaning corporations, unions, and government. In my opinion, the book very clearly explains this in an extraordinarily balanced and fair manner. It essentially confirms my own beliefs as to how we got into this mess, and it goes a long way to explaining what it will likely take to extract ourselves going forward.
Lowenstein reinforces the reality that when it comes to retirement in the 21st century, there is simply no substitute for self-sufficiency, holistic retirement income, and financial planning. Hoping for bailouts, government intervention, and paternalistic unions and corporations to come to the rescue just might be a bigger fantasy story than the latest Star Wars installment. One sure take-away from “While America Aged” is that taking control of your own financial future has never been smarter, more urgent, or more crucial in pursuit of a sustainable and prosperous retirement.
While America Aged Book Review
Written by Gary L. Fisher
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.