Since my very first summer job at the age of 15 working in the mountains of Southern California for the Youth Conservation Corps, I’ve done almost everything you can think of to make my own way. Some of them skilled jobs, some not so much. Just off the top of my head, here are a few jobs I’ve held, in no particular order:
- San Diego Tour Guide
- Lexicographer (Computer translations Portuguese-English)
- Teacher (ESL)
- Marketing analyst
- Newspaper In Education Manager
- Account Executive (Sales, educational software)
- Pizza restaurant worker
- Clerk at University Bursar’s office
- Guy Friday (I cut pictures from newspapers and magazines for a weird dude in a penthouse in NYC)
- Motel Night Clerk
- Cab driver
- Insurance sales
- Real Estate sales
- Videographer in a hospital
- Missionary Trainer & Teacher Supervisor (MTC in Provo)
- Small business owner (franchise)
- Funeral Director’s Assistant
I share this to explain that I have always been willing to do anything and everything to pay my own way in life. I’m not too proud to do ANYthing. Even within certain jobs I’ve always been the person to say, “Yes! I’ll do that!”
While teaching ESL, for example, it always shocked me when new teachers would only agree to teach certain classes. Some would refuse the advanced classes or the test preparation courses but I never understood the attitude that there were restrictions on what you should be willing to do to make a buck.
In my working years and fluctuations in income I’ve learned a thing or two about work and money:
- There are basically 3 categories of people and money:
- Those with NO MONEY. These are what we consider poor people. Yes, money occasionally touches their hands but it’s not enough to cover the basics of food, shelter, transportation and healthcare. They have to cut corners on those basics.
- Those with SOME MONEY. These are considered the middle class. Some handle their money poorly but they can cover the basics.
- Those with MORE MONEY. These are the people saving for retirement, owning more than one property and able to put their kids through college.
- The gulf between NO MONEY and SOME MONEY is far greater than between SOME MONEY and MORE MONEY. Those with NO MONEY live without hope of ever getting SOME MONEY.
- Most people with SOME MONEY or MORE MONEY have no clue regarding and couldn’t give a shit about those with NO MONEY.
- Most people with MORE MONEY mistakenly believe that the same traits and abilities that carried them from SOME MONEY to having MORE MONEY are the same ones that will help those with NO MONEY get SOME MONEY. Not true.
- The category you are born into is generally the category you will finish up this life in with a few nice anecdotal exceptions.
- Having NO MONEY leads to poor decision making and a person in this state is a huge drain on society.
- Each category contains equal numbers of liars, cheaters, slackers and creeps.
Having thought about this a lot lately, 5 recent news stories about money caught my eye:
First, a Mormon Bishop in a ward populated with folks having SOME MONEY disguised himself as someone with NO MONEY. A few people tried to give him money but most of the congregation either ignored him or asked him to leave. Does this surprise anyone? I’m certain that it could have been any other denomination among the same economic level and the reaction would have been the same
Second, a Japanese truck driver discovered recently that he had been switched at birth with another baby who had been placed with his very wealthy biological parents. A Japanese court awarded him $317,000 in damages for the switch. I don’t think his counterpart, the rich one, got anything. Of course, the baby with poor biological parents and wealthy real parents had a much more lucrative career path.
The fascinating part for me is to consider how the one man raised poor is a victim any more than the other baby would have been if the switch had never occurred. Shouldn’t all babies who end up in desperate circumstances receive some sort of compensation? Unless you assume that inequality in society is a mark of social justice and poor “deserve” their fate.
Third, that brings me to the new Pope’s recent comments regarding caring for the poor.
“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,”
The most recent Oxfam data shows that up to 146 million Europeans are at risk of falling into poverty by 2025 and 50 million Americans are currently suffering from severe financial hardship. (http://rt.com/news/pope-francis-capitalism-tyranny-324/)
Fourth, A study published last week in the journal Science shows that the stress of worrying about finances can impair cognitive functions in a meaningful way. And “Why I Make Terrible Decisions,” a comment published by a person in poverty, is a great illustration of the Science study.
“I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don’t pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It’s why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It’s more basic than food.
(Note: There has been some question raised as to the actual poverty of the blogger above. I believe it’s irrelevant. Her ideas should be criticized, not her).
Last, given the political climate in America, this would never be a serious topic of discussion here, but in Switzerland the population will soon vote on giving every adult in the country a $2,800 check every month. That’s everyone, rich and poor. Even over there it has a slim chance of passing, but given my recent observations it actually seems like a fascinating idea.
“This would allow people to survive and to live, with dignity, assuming that other systems stay in place. It puts a floor under wages — people could say, “I don’t have to do that job if you’re not going to pay well.” People could pursue a lot of activities that are not particularly well paid but that have a lot of social use or personal satisfaction: art, creative work, volunteer work, working with people who have disabilities.
So if we were a very rich world, which I think we are to a certain degree, it would be a remarkable way to make sure that people could maximize their ability to express themselves but also maximize their ability to participate in the communities that they live in in a full way. Stay home and take care of kids if that’s what you want to do. Take care of your parents when they’re old and sick.”
Before anyone cries the dirtiest word in America, “Socialism!”, this is not socialism. Look it up. It is basically an unconditional income, not a forced redistribution of wealth, nor is it public ownership of production or distribution. And it’s already being done here on American soil…
Native American tribes with successful casinos pay their tribe members a monthly stipend for merely being a member. I had the chance to speak recently with a few local tribe members and they told me they each get about $3,000 a month, comparable to the Swiss proposal. I couldn’t finds any standard of living reports about the tribe so I’m going to guess on a few things based on my observations:
- None of them are homeless.
- None of them starve to death.
- They all have a car.
- Their houses are nothing spectacular.
- Many of them don’t work.
- Many of them DO work and use their extra money wisely.
- Their incidents of drug and alcohol abuse are about the same as in tribes that don’t get a stipend. No more, no less.
- Their sum total effect on the larger community is a positive benefit rather than a drain.
I couldn’t find any reports with facts on this social experiment currently under way with the Indian tribes, but there are facts that lead to the conclusion that SOME MONEY can go a long way to eradicating the social ills of poverty. What a great potential solution to poverty, homelessness, starvation, malnutrition, etc. Ensuring that everyone has SOME MONEY wouldn’t take away anyone’s free will or desire to succeed.
Government transfers of money have proven successful in Mexico and Brazil, for instance. In particular, attaching conditions to these transfers—such as requiring school attendance, regular clinic visits, and savings behavior—may allow for an end to poverty traps that too frequently seem to end with the poor making unwise decisions.
And can someone who’s Christian explain to me why that doesn’t align better with Jesus’ biblical approach to the poor as confirmed by Pope Francis’ recent remarks?