By selecting the criteria, Investopedia influences retirees to conclude that the south and the suburbs are best.

A great example of fixing the game before the game starts can be seen in “5 Things to Consider When Choosing Where to Retire,” which Investopedia distributed to Yahoo! Finance and other portals aggregating articles on personal finance over the past week.

In the article, writer Stephanie Christensen, gives us the five following factors that we should consider when considering where to live in retirement:

  • Taxes
  • Climate
  • Work opportunities and recreation
  • Cost of living
  • Housing market

Note that Ms. Christensen never mentions the following factors to consider when planning a retirement location:

  • Cultural activities
  • Mass transit
  • Access to tertiary medical facilities (regional hospitals)
  • Services for seniors

Christensen has consciously decided to list the criteria for which the south and suburban areas have advantages, while ignoring those criteria for which cities, and in particular older northern cities like Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, are noted.  The most obvious example is to mention recreation like “national parks, historical sites, military parks, campgrounds, and state parks,” while completely ignoring cultural activities like symphonies, concerts, theatre, museums, major universities, historic buildings and libraries.

More subtle, though, is the mention of taxes as a consideration:  It is true that taxes can potentially be devastating for senior citizens since they are typically on fixed incomes, but only potentially so.  Keep in mind that only seniors who are wealthy will end up paying significant taxes and that many municipalities and states protect retirees from increases in property taxes.

The writer never poses the question, what do you get for your taxes.  For example, the residents of New York City and Boston get far more for their taxes in the way of mass transit, senior programs and public spaces than do people in virtually any city in the south and all suburban sprawl-opolises.

The selection of criteria is completely ideological, whether on a conscious or an unconscious level.  Warm weather leads you south; recreation leads you either south or to smaller, exurban areas. Taxes lead you away from the blue-state north and west coast to the red-state south.  Cost-of-living as an absolute (without considering services) leads you south and away from cities. 

Thus, without saying that life is better in the automobile-dependent suburbs (and south) of shopping malls, chain restaurants and sparse public space and services, Christensen drives us to considering these places first when thinking about retirement.

A writer sincerely interested in giving useful advice to those considering a change of address in retirement would have listed all the criteria and then discussed how some of the criteria can act against others—better mass transit may mean more taxes, but it may be worth it to many seniors.  To others, golfing and hiking may be of less interest than checking out the exhibit of Yuan dynasty masterpieces at the Met or attending that cheap Thursday rehearsal of the Pittsburgh Symphony. 

Christensen could have closed such an article by saying that the first thing to do is to decide which criteria are most important.  That would have helped people organize their minds to consider where they really want to spend their golden years.   Instead, she prefers to force-feed us a car-dependent lifestyle in which the options are driving to a nearby national park for a hike or shopping for more stuff at the mall.

My final point is that when reading any how-to or advice column in the mass media—newspapers, magazines, websites—the first thing you have to ask yourself is, what is the writer selling?

2 comments on “By selecting the criteria, Investopedia influences retirees to conclude that the south and the suburbs are best.
  1. Marshall says:

    I appreciate your love of cities and what they offer, and I share that appreciation. Your blog is much less about North v. South than about cities v. non-cities, not just suburbs, by the way. It’s a reasonable point of view. But that point of view vastly undervalues the quietude that has been much prized in the literature of western civilization for centuries; the beauty of a babbling brook or a verdant field, the ecstasy that comes from the rigor of mountain hiking, the awe of the sight of an ocean viewed from a desolate beachfront, and more than that; it undervalues the observation of the multitude of fauna in their natural habitat, the joy of recognizing the variety of bird species that can be identified on a quiet walk in the woods. The “art” that the point of view you articulate so admires in museums is nothing more than the human impulse to mimic the act of Creation in nature, yet it discounts the original “art” that gives rise to the human impulse.
    I think that your original point, which was to critique the writer of the Investopedia article for its veiling its point of view by its choice of criteria by which to judge quality of life for senior citizens, got tangled in your prejudices against the very choices that Stephanie Christensen made. The giveaway sentence in your blog is the one I quoted from above: “Thus, without saying that life is better in the automobile-dependent suburban south of shopping malls, chain restaurants and sparse public space and services, Christensen drives us to considering these places first when thinking about retirement.” The sentence relegates the South and more rural environs to a parade of horribles without any recognition of the values of those venues. If you want to attack shopping malls, attack Water Tower Mall in Chicago or South Side Works in Pittsburgh along with suburban malls; if you want to attack chain restaurants, attack Applebee’s in Times Square along with Applebee’s in Rockville, Maryland. These things for which you have disdain are pervasive; they’re not just in suburbs anymore.

  2. Marshall says:

    The writer veils his personal predilection for the North in weak arguments about the South being more suburban than the North. Really? Have you been to anywhere in New Jersey outside of Jersey City or Newark? Have you been to upstate New York even 20 miles north of New York City? Have you been to Reading or Lancaster or Johnstown or Altoona or Valley Forge or King of Prussia in Pennsylvania? All of these places are renown for “shopping malls, chain restaurants and sparse public space and services.” Intown Atlanta has neighborhoods that are walkable and a fine metro system. The Atlanta Chorale has for decades been considered the best in the U.S., and the Atlanta Symphony, the High Museum of Art, and Georgia Tech are comparable institutions to their northern counterparts. Audubon Park in New Orleans and the New Orleans Zoo contained therein have no reason to cower when mentioned in the same breath as Lincoln Park in Chicago or Central Park in New York City. The question “What is the writer selling” begs the question, which writer?

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