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Retirement requires optimism

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Posted: 10 am ET

I'm an admirer of 80-year-old billionaire Warren Buffett. Every year he writes a letter to the stockholders of his company, Berkshire Hathaway. In that letter, he sums up his view of the company's business and the nation's economy in terms simple enough that even those of us who aren't investment geniuses can understand perfectly.

In his most recent letter to stockholders, Buffett talked about the negativity -- even fear -- that has permeated any discussion of the national economy since the Great Meltdown in 2008. He pooh-poohed the notion that this country's best days are past. I am going to share a passage with you because it feels reassuring to me, indicating that despite some temporary setbacks, people, including those on the brink of retirement, will find a way.

Buffett wrote: "Money will always flow toward opportunity, and there is an abundance of that in America. Commentators today often talk of 'great uncertainty.' But think back, for example, to Dec. 6, 1941, Oct. 18, 1987, and Sept. 10, 2001. No matter how serene today may be, tomorrow is always uncertain.

"Don't let that reality spook you. Throughout my lifetime, politicians and pundits have constantly moaned about terrifying problems facing America. Yet our citizens now live an astonishing six times better than when I was born. The prophets of doom have overlooked the all-important factor that is certain: Human potential is far from exhausted, and the American system for unleashing that potential -- a system that has worked wonders for over two centuries despite frequent interruptions for recessions and even a Civil War -- remains alive and effective.

"We are not natively smarter than we were when our country was founded nor do we work harder. But look around you and see a world beyond the dreams of any colonial citizen. Now, as in 1776, 1861, 1932 and 1941, America's best days lie ahead."

A critic of a recent post here about the Society of Actuary's retirement planning suggestions called them "fear mongering." I thought the actuaries offered some useful advice, but this commenter makes a good point: Worrying over unrealized risk doesn't do anybody any good. So, I took comfort in Buffett's pronouncement, and I hope you do, too, because confidence and optimism are just as important to a secure old age as savvy retirement planning is.

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