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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

 
Your Lovin' Don't Pay My Bills

John Aravosis wonders if liberals have "issues" with money --- he sees a hostility toward money on the left and wonders where it comes from. His readers offer some very interesting opinions on the matter, so be sure to read the comment thread if you find this topic intriguing.

I have a slightly different perception on the matter than most, it seems. I admit to having issues with it, probably because I always valued time over money. (Of course, as you get older you begin to realize that you run out of that too.) However, I don't harbor resentment toward others. I made my choices and I don't live a life full of regret about much of anything. I have no moral qualms about making money (in a decent way) and I don't think that it's my business to judge others on what they choose to spend it on. I appreciate what it can do to make life comfortable for the individual and how it motivates people to work. I certainly accept that there is something intrinsic to human nature in the acquisition of wealth and the desire to succeed. But I do have issues, nonetheless.

John's readers more than adequately explain what I think is the common liberal argument against money and it's the general belief in egalitarianism --- that it is not really moral to have too much when others have so little. These are ideas that, ironically enough, stem from Christian teaching. So much for the godless heathens of the left.

I don't approach this from a moral standpoint, although I'm sympathetic to the notion just from a human empathetic standpoint. If you've ever spent much time in the third world, you realize right quick that human life is valued very differently on our planet and it won't make you feel particularly terrific about your own (except, of course, for the South Park Republicans who apparently can't think beyond their good luck --- what they would call their natural superiority --- at being American.)

It has been my experience that money confers power over others and that is where I personally get uncomfortable. This is not directly related to marxist theory, although I would suspect that there isn't a lefty (or a righty for that matter) who hasn't been influenced to some degree by it, so it's certainly relevant to my thinking on the issue. (He diagnosed the illness, it was his prescription that wasn't so hot.) Mostly,though, I think it's a matter of human psychology. People who work for wages, particularly those lower on the scale, are simply not in control of their lives in the same way as are those who work for themselves or those who are independently wealthy. From being treated like a lackey by the boss to having to answer to your mother-in-law because she loaned you money for the down payment, there is a slight, and sometimes not so slight, corruption of your freedom every time you are dependent upon another individual's goodwill. And it is a rare person who will not immediately exercise this power over others if they feel threatened or angry and a rare person who will not feel the metaphorical lash at having to answer for it.

As much as I am concerned as they are with individual freedom, this is why I find it so hard to relate to libertarians; I think that the common experience of working for wages and being beholden to another individual is more of a tangible infringement upon personal liberty than the extraction of taxes for the greater good. The infringement on personal freedom that is most immediate and constant in most people's lives is having to brownnose another human being or play fast and loose with the rules because their financial survival depends upon it. It's why I support unions and workplace rules and consumer rights. In the everyday lives of most people, the biggest limits on their freedom and challenges to their integrity come not from government regulators but greedy and powerful employers.

And yet, it is the way of the world and we each have to find a way to live with a modicum of decency and integrity within it. And I think it is a much more complicated and difficult row to hoe than we Americans think it is. It is not as easy to obtain financial freedom as some would have it nor is financial success a perfect illustration of an individual's merit. That's why I don't much like money, in a general conceptual way. It has corrupted friendships, family, jobs and relationships in ways that nothing else in my life ever has. It can and is used as a weapon as often as a tool. In a hyper capitalist society such as ours, it's perhaps the single most powerful method the individual has (or doesn't have) to create his or her own destiny. It's both a blessing and a curse.

It's a good thing to think about how you really feel about it --- most Americans never question their assumptions. In many ways, it's probably easier that way. Bravo to John for bringing it up.

And by the way, I hope this makes it clear that I do not hold with the idea that because a blogger accepted donations that he or she is required to answer to the donors. Indeed, I think the opposite. People give money because they appreciate the work. When they don't appreciate the work they don't give money. It's one of the cleanest exchanges of goods and services around, fully voluntary and without further obligation on either part.

This reminds me of a relative who wanted to help out her grandfather in his later years. He was living with an aunt who also had little money. This relative agreed to send a hundred dollars a month. When she went to visit she found out that granddad was drinking a couple of beers every night and the aunt played bingo on Saturdays. The relative considered these expenses to be a waste. She figured her hundred a month entitled her to straighten up these people's bad habits and she insisted that because she had sent them, by this time, more than a couple thousand dollars that they already owed her quite a lot, even if she withdrew her monthly stipend. They gave up the beer and the bingo but the relative continued to find their spending habits objectionable and made sure that they knew it and did as they were told. Granddad was reduced to sneaking around and the aunt was isolated from all the friends she used to see at weekly bingo. They felt like children. Luckily they both died before long and ended the ritual humiliation the whole thing had evolved into. The money was not worth it.

If Aravosis wanted to blow all his donations on lottery tickets they'd be his to blow. If that bothers you, don't donate again. But making a donation doesn't entitle anyone to think they own John or his blog. He owns himself, always.



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