The Delphic Maxims have a bit to say on the subject of riches, as well as advice that isn’t specifically directed towards wealth, but none the less can be applied towards what one does with it. They remind one to govern their expenses, to work for what they can own, to shun what belongs to others while guarding what one possesses. They tell you to give what you have, and to pursue what is profitable, and always…nothing to excess.
But there is one more piece of advice that they give on the subject.
It seems particularly fitting given the political climate and fiscal situation (and, as far as the debt goes, somewhat manufactured) as we get ready to go over the fiscal cliff of sequestration (which really will harm the economy and people, lots of people) to discuss this maxim. Now, there a number of ways to interpret this maxim–we could talk about the love of money as the root of evil (to paraphrase St. Paul), or perhaps the idea that wealth can be fleeting if one isn’t careful, or even that wealth can be a way to cover up ugliness underneath (the so-called Gilded Age). But honestly, when I hear this maxim, I think of Enron and World Com and the housing bubble and Goldman Sachs and the Koch brothers and…I could go on, but I won’t.
When I read “Do not trust wealth”, I don’t think of money itself, but the people behind the wealth. Honestly, I’m reminded most of a Christian scripture–that its easier for camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to make it to heaven.
Perhaps that is unfair. Rich people are not, after all, evil. I’m not trying to say that wealth makes one malicious towards poor people. Instead, I’m saying that good deal of people with money (politicians especially, and many Republicans in particular) seem to have lost touch with the reality of life for the rest of us.
Studies of charitable giving are quite interesting in this regard. Poor people often give more of their money to charity (generally through a church organization) than wealthy people (wealthy people give more money overall, but poor people give a higher percentage of their income). But, when wealth people live in economically diverse neighborhoods, and are reminded of the day to day realities of being poor, they tend to give more than both groups because they a) can afford it, and b) see the disparity of wealth in a personal way on a daily basis.
I was raised in a lower middle class neighborhood, I’ve never gone to bed hungry from lack of access to food or been homeless. But I know what it is like to live from paycheck to paycheck. I know what it is like to make the decision between an apartment you can barely afford so that your child can go to better school and a place you can better afford with an awful one. I know what it is like to cross your fingers driving home from work because payday is tomorrow and the gas light has been on since you left in the morning. I know what it is like to take half the medication you need, hoping it will get you to the point where you can afford to refill it, without landing in the emergency room.
And I count myself lucky, because I have a roof over my head, I have food in the pantry, and I have a job. Simply by virtue of being poor here, I’m ahead of the game compared to the rest of the world.
But I’m still pissed off. Especially about the sequester BS. I four days, we will be laying off air traffic controllers, cutting the funding for Poison Control Centers, a 22 day furlough for federal employees (BTW, this one reduces our family income by 20% over 6 months), reducing food aid for some 600,000 families, and nearly 400,000 people with assistance for mental disabilities risk losing out on needed services. Instead, Congress (mostly House Republicans) is at a showboating stalemate over of closing loopholes in the corporate tax code and ending CORPORATE welfare (why the hell are companies like GE getting billion dollar refunds and why the hell are politicians giving multibillion dollar profit corporations like oil companies subsidies anyhow?). This is completely and utterly asinine. And the fact that a surfeit of Americans aren’t paying attention to this is infuriating.
We don’t make very much money, and we mostly live pay check to paycheck, but we already set our taxes up to take the max out–so at the end of the year, we get a pretty good tax return. We use it to pay bills and fix the car, and go out to eat a time or two, to pay the security deposit if we move apartments…but we don’t need all of it. Our family is compassionate and patriotic enough to let you raise our taxes, if it means feeding families that need food, ensuring that schools have enough money to teach kids, keeping ships and planes and tanks working and our military is ready and trained, preserving our wild spaces for future generations, maintaining our roads in good condition to promote transit and trade, ensuring clean air and water to promote health and welfare, and putting people back to work, so that they can take part in supporting the place where we all live.
Because, in the end…the wealth of our society–in its human capital and the worth of its natural resources for the future of that human capital matters more than how much wealth I have.