I’m going to say something very controversial; The FIRE movement is really just people aspiring to revive the Gentry Class with themselves as members of that class. In fact, to me, that’s not only okay, that’s totally normal and unsurprising.
Before you dismiss me as some crazed medievalist who wants to live in a castle and writes crazy posts about reviving the Gentry Class, hear me out.
FIRE versus Gentry Class
Let’s start with what the Gentry Class was… Historically, these were people that did not have titles of nobility and were not wealthy enough to be deemed aristocrats, but were effectively wealthy enough that they did not need to work beyond maintaining their estates or investments (generally rental properties).
Let’s compare that with the Financial Independence component of FIRE. Financial Independence means you have enough wealth to live on without working. Financially Independent people have enough assets or income producing assets to cover their expenses effectively for their lifetime. The Retire Early component is essentially that you do not need to work beyond managing your investments (but you aren’t required to do no work at all).
Both those who have already FIREd and the Gentry are essentially the same thing. They’re not aristocrats, royalty, or nobility, but they are wealthy enough that they do not need to work for the rest of their lives.
The Goal Of FIRE and Joining The Gentry Class Are The Same Thing.
You’re probably thinking that the FIRE movement is about achieving FIRE whereas the Gentry Class never worked? Oh my dear upwardly mobile friends, prepare for an extremely short history lesson.
The goals of upward mobility and joining the Gentry Class are not new. In fact, old Gentry and aristocrats historically derided those who just joined the Gentry Class as mere “new men” in Tudor England and “novus homo” in Ancient Rome. There has always been that group of people working their way up the financial and social hierarchies of their time with the goal of reaching a level of self-sustaining wealth. It’s just that they have been looked down upon by those who came before them.
Those who reach FIRE during their lifetime are the New Men and Women of our time. Unlike earlier eras, we celebrate their accomplishments in this meritocratic society. They join the Gentry Class, and we cheer them on. Members of this New Gentry encourage others to join them in achieving FIRE.
So Is Anything Different?
There are some differences. The FIRE movement has a much more modest and mathematical approach to determining how much is enough to declare FIRE than earlier generations had regarding when they had made it. In fact, a greater emphasis on savings rates, expenses, math, and statistics is really the major difference.
The FIRE movement is the extension of a centuries old tradition of people working hard to reach a point where their wealth is sufficient to last their entire lives. It is a person’s intra-generational effort at economic upward mobility. It’s not a new concept, but rather a new take on an old concept.