Money, Large and Small

A few decades ago I was being trained in estate planning. John Briece, a very astute planner, told me something that clarified my experience with my clients, and changed my understanding of finance and economics.

“You need to understand that some of the people you talk with have already made all the money they will ever spend. More money for them is not about being able to buy things, or about security. It is about investing – it is about power and control.”

It is hard for most of us to really take this in: having all the money we will ever need – to pay the rent or mortgage, car payments, food, clothes, gas, electricity… everything we will ever need to pay money for.

Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Well, John was right.

There are those of us who have a completely different view of money: it is not about paying the bills, because all that is already taken care of. Money is about power and control – donating money to the college and getting a building or stadium named for us, having the power to call the mayor, or the governor, or our congressperson, and to get through to them personally, and to have our opinions taken seriously. Power to have laws enacted that favor us and our friends and what we want to have happen.

These are the people who do not understand what it is like to try to work for a living in this country. They do not know the month/money problem (is there money at the end of the month or month at the end of the money?) They do not understand what it is like to be unable to find work, even when you are well qualified, because the jobs simply are not there. They do not know what it is like to be stuck in a job that is underpaid, but to be unable to leave for a better job because there is no better job, and this job includes health insurance, although the insurance does not provide much actual health care.

From this pool of very wealthy people come most of our politicians, and we elect them to public office, to represent our interests and to make our laws.

Maybe we should stop. Maybe we should start electing people who know what it is like to work for a living, and care about the rest of us who still do, or are at least trying to.

Then perhaps our laws would reflect our needs and desires. And our economy would provide rewarding jobs for us all, paying living wages and providing real health care.

What do you think?

Taxes and Interest

We have been taught, during the last 3 decades, that taxes are bad. That the government takes “our” money and wastes it on bloated bureaucracy and wasteful programs for the undeserving.

We have often been told that we would all be better off if the government was run “like a business”, the implication being that businesses do not have bloated bureaucracies or indulge in wasteful activities.

So, we object to paying taxes, but we still want functional court systems with swift justice, honest police forces, effective fire departments, well-maintained roads, etc., etc. – all paid for by taxes. And we want more and more for less and less.

But we don’t seem to object to paying interest on credit cards, in return for which we get what? The ability to spend money we don’t have? Interest is every bit as much a tax, albeit imposed by lenders, as any tax imposed by the government.

The difference is that we actually get valuable services from the government. With a lot less bureaucracy, and a lot less waste. (Do you know any government bureaucrat who gets multi-million dollar annual bonuses?)

Doesn’t seem to make sense to me.

What do you think?

We’re All Ignorant

Let’s start with common ground: we are all ignorant, we’re just ignorant about different things. The other side of that coin is that we all know stuff, and while a lot of the stuff we know is common knowledge, each of us has some knowledge no one else around has.

That’s one of the great benefits of diverse gatherings of people: when we get together we can call on our broad collective knowledge to cover for our specific individual ignorance. This applies equally to families, towns, states, and nations.

This is one of the reasons I glory in diversity, and support it whenever and wherever I can.

But that does not mean that I give up my responsibility to think for myself, and to evaluate as best I can what I hear, what I see, and what makes sense.

Essential to this evaluation process is the ability to think clearly, and to have access to accurate information.

Both of these essentials have been under attack for decades, and the results are clear to anyone who looks.

Schools, particularly primary schools, no longer teach analytical thinking (essential to evaluating information), nor vast parts of the history of this country (essential to a sense of perspective). Schools no longer challenge students to form, and defend, their own viewpoints. There is little or no discussion of ideas and principles, and none of everyday ethics or of the commons.

Accurate information is almost a thing of the past – most popular media is owned by a few large corporations, and these corporations use their media to present only those viewpoints that support their ideologies.

The traditional protections for public access to the airwaves have been dismantled. The fairness doctrine not only is gone, it is unknown to the majority of listeners and viewers.

Case law now supports the Fox News Network’s position that corporations using the public airwaves are under no obligation to tell the truth, even in “news” programs. Media owners can lie in their programs, even when they know they are lying, and it is legally condoned activity, say the courts.

Reasonable entry of individuals into the public discourse has been, like political dissent, limited to “free speech zones”. Even the Internet, an unprecedented opportunity to open discussion to “the masses”, is under attack, with the powerful demanding control of who speaks, and when, and how.

The founders of the United States of America knew, and said, that our democracy depends upon an informed public. We are uninformed, and misinformed, and we are therefore losing our democracy.

What do you think?