I was going to discuss with you nice people the astonishing absurdity of the Obama gun control proposals. Mr. Obama and his pals in the gun-control world have a set of proposals out there to limit the capacity of semi-automatic rifle magazines, to require background checks on persons who buy weapons at gun shows, and to add to the staffing of the agencies that follow up on those background checks.
These are not bad proposals. As a gun owner, I could live with them. But the oddity is that they have nothing to do with the horrific tragedies that happened recently with guns in Aurora and Newtown. In neither case did the shooter get his guns from an unlicensed gun-show dealer or use a prohibited magazine. So, as my son used to say to me, what’s the point? Just to spit on the law-abiding gun owner, I would say. Just to push around the kind of people who do not care for Mr. Obama.
But I am not going to talk about that. There are plenty of other people out there to talk about that. I am going to jump over to another topic altogether because it’s eating at me.
I recently had dinner with a lovely, intelligent woman of 39. She does not work. She is divorced but gets no alimony or child support from her ex-husband. She has been living for the past several years from the generosity of a well-heeled boyfriend.
Alas for her, that man is now chronically ill and unable to earn anything like what he once did. Hence, his checks to her will inevitably get smaller. She knows it. She is in a state of total panic. She is a capable, charming creature, but she has grown unaccustomed to work and discipline and blanches at the thought of serious labor.
She has negligible savings, and she says that when she thinks seriously about her financial situation, she throws up. As she told me this, I thought, "What’s in your head? What do you think will save you?"
Also recently, I spoke on the phone to one of the very smartest men I have ever known. This man was an honors graduate of a top-notch law school and was briefly a successful lawyer, until personality problems and drugs led him to be unable to work as a lawyer. Now he’s 67, virtually broke, and in extremely dicey condition.
His latest plan is to sell home improvements such as aluminum siding and patios and new windows by talking to people checking out of big-box hardware stores. It is all commission, and if he cannot sell a certain quantum, he will essentially be penniless.
He never saved even close enough to live on in his latter years.
I could tell you stories about people like this all day and all night. You probably already know many people similarly situated. It is a sad fact that roughly half of all Americans live from paycheck to paycheck — and that does not count the ones who don’t work at all. Roughly 4 out of 10 in the latter phases of their work life have negligible retirement savings.
According to the CEO of a very large insurer to whom I recently spoke, fewer than 10 percent of Americans in the labor force will be able to live at even close to the standard they did when they were middle-aged workers.
This is a crisis. This is the fear that stalks most of the nation. The terror that most of us live with is having to live out our lives in cruel penury because we did not make adequate provision when we were younger. (I cannot bear to think of what my 39-year-old friend’s life will be like when she is 69.)
Look, dear friends, arithmetic is a harsh mistress. Bad things can happen to you. You cannot wish away the gravity of reality. You may not be your brother’s keeper, but you are your own keeper. You have to start right now — today — making a plan for the middle-aged you to take care of the old you. Unless you are one of a very small few, you are the only one who can do it for yourself. Find a financial planner you trust, and start right now. This is serious.
Ben Stein is a writer, actor, and lawyer, who served as a speechwriter in the Nixon administration as the Watergate scandal unfolded. He began his unlikely road to stardom when director John Hughes cast him as the numbingly dull economics teacher in the urban comedy, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." Read more reports from Ben Stein — Click Here Now.
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