The Roundup for December 2-8, 2017 Edition

It feels like everyone I know has led a more stressful life this year. Beyond the chaos wrought on the global psyche by the American president, there have also been more deaths, serious illnesses, job losses, and emotional meltdowns than normal. In my own case, the death of two parents and ongoing revelations of sexual assaults and abuses near to my life have been incredibly challenging issues to deal with.

So it was with great interest that I read a piece by Ankita Rao on how she has turned dealing with her personal stress into a kind of science experiment. The tests and activities she points to reveal the number of factors in our lives that amplify underlying stress levels as well as the means we can use to reduce stress in our personal lives. I’ve made a commitment since mid-2017 to actively, and assertively, maintain a particular work-life balance. That involves taking on consulting clients only when the monetary outcome is necessary to address particular fiscal stresses (see: student loans) and ensuring that I actually spend time working out, taking photowalks, and letting myself engage in non-productive play.

I haven’t always been successful. But on the whole I’m exercising a lot more, have taken photos I’m incredibly happy with, and am overcoming a longstanding guilt that playing games is somehow undermining my productivity. I have a long ways to go to ensure the balance I’m trying to achieve is a permanent feature of my life but I feel like habits are starting to settle in, and my overall stress levels declining as a result.


Just prior to Netflix’s release of The Punisher some critics argued that the show had an opportunity to — and failed to — respond to the tragedy of gun violence in the United States. I haven’t quite finished the series but I tend to agree that the show is definitely not directly addressing that issue.

But the show isn’t about gun violence. It’s about what losing family means and drives a someone (read: white males) to do. It’s about the problems linked to how soldiers of all stripes are asked to endure physical and mental hardships and then return home without society acknowledging their sacrifices or providing support for their wounds. Or about how even when support is provided that there is no guarantee that those broken humans will ever be whole again. The show is about how fraught relationships become when we are separated from those we relate to, either by distance, by death, or by betrayal. Throughout the episodes I’ve watched a repeated motif, which does pertain to gun violence, is how firearms can prompt the aforementioned hardships, either by killing in the name of one’s country or in the name of one’s personal ideology or simply by accident when weapons are nearby.


I entered the workforce ‘late’ in terms of my ability to save for retirement. Since I went to school until my early 30s, and lived paycheque to paycheque to try and stay afloat, and have loan obligations, it’s not going to be until my late 30s or early 40s when I can ‘really’ save for my retirement. And that assumes that I save for retirement instead of for a home or condo that I own.1

So it was with interest, and trepidation, that I listened to a podcast put out by TVO entitled “Creating Retirement Security.” The conversation they had about people in their 30s was strange to my ears, with guests relying on different baseline facts for their assessments and recommendations. And significantly, not one of the guests recognized that loan payments for student debt are higher than with past generations, nor that repayment periods are longer now than in the past. Several of the guests held an assumption that persons would be saving in their early 20s. While this practice might be true for Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) contributions it’s presumably less the case for Register Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) that can grow significantly over the course of 40 years.

Each guest called frequently for ‘financial literacy’. While educational approaches matter and have merit, at the same time such calls assume that retirement decisions should be individualized. Does it fall to specific individuals to ensure that they are earning enough, saving enough, and investing wisely enough to be secure in their retirement? Or is retirement and aging a collective action problem that is best solved as a society as a whole?2

As with many areas of expert knowledge only the barest of basics of financial literacy are likely going to catch on with the general public. Were we, as a society, to take some of the lessons from behaviour economics we’d realize that experts are needed to develop appropriate ‘nudges’ to compel savings,3 while also updating savings models to recognize the precariousness of the labour market for those under 35. That constant threat of un(der)employment, need to service student debt, and potentially provide assistance to parents who have insufficiently saved for their retirement are all pressures on the largest generation now moving through the Canadian workforce. And that’s to say nothing of the need for people to decide if they want to save for their retirement or save for a home that they own. Until all those variables and conditions are appreciated any advice from experts seems to just fall flat.


Great Photography Shots

Flickr released the best 25 shots of 2017 and they’re pretty amazing. The ‘best’ in this case is derived from social and engagement metrics, combined with curation by Flickr’s own staff.

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“Say Goodby…” by Iwona Podlasinka, at https://flic.kr/p/ZYM6Hd
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“Mi Fuego” by Albert Dros at https://flic.kr/p/Tbcpio

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Products

  1. I actually do save every month to the tune of about 10-15% of my paycheque, part for retirement and part for an emergency fund.
  2. Guests did spend some time talking about whether retirement savings should should be an individualized/collective problem. But the constant refrain that individuals need to be smarter means that individuals, first and foremost, are seen as the parties that have to assume responsibility for their futures and any collective action work is an idealized maybe-solution to aging in Canada.
  3. To be fair, nudges were discussed, but the hard lessons came down on individuals having to gain literacy to make their own decisions.