How do Ethics and FIRE mingle? This appears to be a topic that a lot of people struggle with, at least that is the feedback that we received after the last Meetup in Eindhoven. For the next meet up we will likely add a discussion on this topic. This development also caused us to rethink various question(s). What do we think and why? How does it affect our investment decisions? This poat could easily turninto an PhD thesis, so I’m going to try to keep it limited 🙂 Or better, a two post series! Today we start with part 1, will do part 2 later this week.
Ethics and FIRE
For sake of clarity I’m going to split the Ethics and FIRE discussion into two main components:
- Ethics of FIRE itself (i.e. “living off the system”, while paying relatively little taxes and social security premiums); and,
- Investment ethics (e.g. investment in oil, weapons, energy, real estate, cigarettes, etc.).
Today we look at Part 1: Ethics and FIRE.
The Ethics of FIRE
I have mentioned once to a colleague that I was planning to become Financially Independent and Retire Early (FIRE). Her first response was that it was unethical because I would not longer pay any taxes (funny note, most people first ask “how” to become FIRE).
Now, for the Netherlands this is far from true, as we are taxed on an assumed ROI of our wealth (the latter is defined as “assets minus liabilities” in tax Box 3). It is however true that we will be paying a lot less taxes and no more social security premiums when we stop working when we are FI. Obviously, we will continue paying taxes on our properties and fees for local water management and for garbage removal.
However, we recon that our overall tax burden (including social premiums) would drop by about a factor 7-8 once we are FIRE-d. But we will still be using public roads, the medical system, police and fire services, and perhaps even qualify for certain benefits and/or subsidies (albeit very few).
This begs the question is this ethical? Paying less into the system, but still using it (both directly and indirectly). From a pure social perspective, it is not. However, we would have a lot of time to volunteer (and will likely do so). Albeit this does not directly mean anything in financial terms for the government. It does have a positive social and perhaps even economic impact. Would it offset the loss in taxes, I’m not sure, but it does make me feel better.
Does it feel selfish to FIRE? To a degree is does. Is it going to stop us, eh, nope. By the time we reach FIRE we would have worked about 40-50% of our “normal” working life. Due to our above average education and associated income, we pay well above average amounts of taxes. Does this make it right, probably not, but it does make it feel more acceptable.
Plus, we will continue to pay taxes, as mentioned earlier, on our investments. This amount will likely be more than some people pay with little to no income (ignoring people on benefits here too). There is the caveat that we are not contributing to the social system (we would not pay social premiums when FIRE), but are not allowed to use the system either (due to our wealth), with the exception of old age security (AOW) and the medical system.
Ethics will mean a different thing to everyone, which makes for interesting discussions and decisions. Same as “personal” finance, ethics is very much personal too. Ultimately you have to do what feels right to you. That being said, it might not be such a bad thing to also look at how your decisions impact others, directly and indirectly.
Is striving and becoming FIRE ethical? Depending on your opinions, country where you live, the local tax system and what you are going to be doing once you are FI, the answer may be different. There certainly is a selfish component to becoming FI and RE, but to say it is unethical is a bit much for my taste. As long as you stick to the rules of the system, “legally” there is nothing “wrong” with becoming FIRE.
What’s your strategy to combine ethics and FIRE?