Investing Your Retirement Savings in Your Community

One of the factors that influenced my decision to return to the US from Canada was the damage it was clear that covid-19 was going to inflict on small businesses and local economies. That’s always been my business niche, and it was wrenching to hear stories of how my friends and past clients were suffering.

Then the police murder, on my new doorstep, of George Floyd sparked a global uprising for human rights and against the deep-rooted, systemic anti-Black racism of the United States. I began thinking deeper about how to use the financial privilege that I have—not just earning my living helping local and POC-directed enterprises survive and thrive, and not just donating, or directing my consumer dollars thoughtfully, but making sure that I know who is benefitting from my retirement savings.

Enter The Next Egg, a community that supports each other in the technicalities of moving our nest eggs out of Wall Street’s pockets and onto Main Street. Within this calendar year, I will be rolling over my retirement savings from a traditional IRA to a solo 401(k), from which I will get to choose how to invest my funds. There is a lot to learn, and even though using my retirement funds for good is a long-standing dream of mine, I don’t believe I would have taken the plunge without The Next Egg‘s support.

I’ll post more here as I go through the process, and I encourage anyone who is interested in doing the same to join The Next Egg (a subscription is $9.99/month) for their “In an Eggshell” webinars on the basics of solo 401(k)s, self-directed IRAs, rollovers, borrowing from your funds, and more. You also get access to videos of all previous webinars, to community discussions, and to a steeply discounted set-up fee for a solo 401(k) (they usually run about $1,000, and you can get yours for $300 through The Next Egg).

See you at Tuesday’s webinar (June 23, 5-6 PM EDT) on COVID, Rebellion, & Retirement!

A screen shot of the The Next Egg's upcoming seminars in self-directed retirement investment in your community. Text in caption.
The Next Egg’s upcoming (June 23 – Oct 16) webinars. Tuesday, June 23, 5-6PM EDT: COVID, Rebellion, & Retirement: A discussion about the role of our nest eggs in this emerging political moment. Friday, July 17, 12-12:30 PM EDT: How to Borrow from Your Existing 401(k) or 403(b). Friday, August 14, 12-12:30 PM EDT: Solo 401(k) Basics. Friday, September 18, 12-12:30 PM EDT: Rolling Over Your Retirement Savings. Friday, October 16, 12-12:30 PM EDT: Self-Directed IRAs.


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The Utopia of Rules

Last week, I wrote about David Graeber’s The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy in the context of Fortnite Battle Royale.

There, Graeber’s most salient observations had to do with the similarities between fantasy role-playing games and accounting, the role of comics in socializing future leaders, and the tension between the fun of rules-based games and that of anarchic play.

That’s certainly an idiosyncratic list of topics to find in a book that is ostensibly about bureaucracy, and still it doesn’t begin to show the extent of the ground that Graeber covers.

It’s a testament to the fact that bureaucracy—the use of impersonal rules and procedures to regulate public life—is so deeply embedded in our lives that I have a hard time thinking of a society that gives a sharp enough counterexample the make it concisely clear what Graeber means by “total bureaucratization.” Continue reading “The Utopia of Rules”

The World’s First Telecoms Scam

Watch Tom Scott explain the world’s first telecoms scam, which worked by introducing errors into the partially encoded state messages sent by Napoleonic semaphore towers. Oh, and bribery.

If you find that interesting, you might also like Dr. David Brailsford’s discussion of entropy in compression.

Replica of a Claude Chappe semaphore tower in Nalbach, Germany

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Mid-Century Financial Artifacts

I was out of the blogging routine for a couple of weeks because of my grandfather’s final illness, death, memorial, burial, and estate. While helping clean up his house, my sister and I spent a lot of time with the little treasure boxes he kept in his closet, and that we loved exploring as kids. I brought home a few goodies that are firmly in my lane.

Front and back of a Montgomery Ward National Charg-all Card that expired March 1969, back when my mother worked there (more on early credit cards here):

Front and back of a Soviet coin from 1933:

Front and back of a Canadian one-dollar note from 1954 (the more familiar loonie coin has been in use since 1987):

An envelope covered in running financial calculations, a method that I still use despite all my technological knowhow (and yes, I remember that El Camino):

In other news, it is worth noting that New York’s Fearless Girl statue will be moving to a new location in front of the New York Stock Exchange–the very spot that the Charging Bull’s sculptor hoped that his art would occupy when he introduced it in 1989. More on the histories and fates of the two statues here.


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Iron-On Credit Data

Until the 1950s, having credit with a bank or merchant where no one knew you personally was a rare thing, and nothing like the credit card we know today existed.

In 1950, the Diner’s Club issued the first fully general-purpose charge card, and in 1958, the Bank of America issued the first general-purpose credit card (whose balance, unlike that of a charge card, did not have to be paid in full at each statement).

But technologically, these cards still functioned in the same way as the various merchant-specific charge coins, tokens, tags, and cards that had proliferated from the late 19th century through the 1940s–the embossed account number on the card, pressed through carbon transfer paper, facilitated the copying of data, but that data was still transmitted and verified manually.

Enter IBM, the CIA, and a woman named Dorothea Tillia Parry. In 1960, Parry’s husband Forrest was working on an IBM project to attach magnetic data strips to the back of plastic ID cards for CIA officials, and he couldn’t find an adhesive that didn’t warp the magstripe and ruin its data.a broken magnetic strip of the kind used on credit cardsDorothea listened to his problem over their laundry, and she suggested that he use her iron to melt the strip into the plastic. It worked.

The magnetic strip on the back of a new debit card.
The magstripe (and the electronic transmission of transaction data) became the US standard for credit cards in 1969, and the international standard two years later, though carbon impressions at the point of sale persisted for a while longer still. Now embedded microchips are taking over the magstripe’s role, but thanks to Dorothea Parry, it’s hard to imagine returning to a world of analog credit transactions.

Continue reading “Iron-On Credit Data”

Last Day for the Fearless Girl?

Women’s Day 2018 may be the last day that Kristen Visbal’s Fearless Girl faces down Arturo Di Modica’s Charging Bull in New York’s Financial District.

The four-foot-tall bronze of a defiant girl with her hands on her hips appeared across from the bull a year ago, commissioned by State Street Global Advisors to highlight the paucity of female representation on the boards of the high-market capitalization companies that compose the Russell 3000 Index.

Fearless Girl’s original permit lasted for a few weeks, but public response was so positive that the city extended that through today.

Though the statue’s origins with an asset management company whose record on pay equity is tarnished by a suit by female and Black employees who allege underpayment is problematic, the public quickly embraced Fearless Girl as a resonant symbol of women’s empowerment. A few months after the statue’s installation, State Street paid a $5 million settlement in the suit, though the company denies any wrongdoing.

Her Charging Bull counterpart has a similarly checkered history. Arturo Di Modica intended his sculpture, which he installed without a permit under a Christmas tree in front of the New York Stock Exchange in December 1989, as a morale-boosting gift to traders. They were nonplussed and removed the bull within a day. The statue found a new home two blocks south, where it became an icon of American might and capitalism–problematic themes in their own right.

Fearless Girl’s sculptor Visbal admires Charging Bull as “beautiful” and “a stunning piece of art.” For his part, Di Modica opposes the positioning of Fearless Girl, arguing that she is “and advertising trick” that raises “issues of copyright and trademark” and frames his valedictory gift as a villain.

But New York Mayor Bill DiBlasio put a bow on the complexities of the standoff with an April 2017 Tweet reading “Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl.”

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