Friday, March 29, 2013


I have been thinking about money a lot lately. I know we talk about it all the time as Americans, especially. We appear to be obsessed by it at times. It rules our world, it rules our existence and in too many ways it decides who rises and who falls. It decides whose voice is heard, who succeeds and who gets to pave out the path of the future. It brings many of us to early deaths due to overworking and over stressing. While it has so much power, its lack is almost more damaging. With so many hungry, homeless and working poor, it not only makes us, its lack breaks us.

When you think about it though money really only had arbitrary value. Sure, we as humans have placed a certain amount of value on what a nickle, penny, dime and ten dollar bill are worth. Once that value has been assigned, the argument would be that the market and the economy, Federal Reserve etc. then with the help of inflation, GDP, etc. all determine the values of the goods and services we want. And, we can then buy a salad in the city of New York for about $7, on a good day, with a bunch of toppings.

Anyone reading this blog can clearly see that I have no idea how value is assigned to money. I never claimed to have a huge amount of knowledge about the Federal Reserve, how it works, the market and how it creates supply and demand and oh cranky, don't even get me started on my lack of understanding about the stock market, and how White Whales can come into to a company like JP Morgan and make them lose millions of dollars in a day, or how in one day, there can be a huge computer glitch that causes the stock market to drop to a scary low point, to suddenly go off-line for a few minutes and then immediately bounce back by the end of the day.

Money, not only appears to have an arbitrary value, it feels so intangible these days.

Let's see if I can argue my point as far as its value. So, let's pretend you are on a remote island. This island only has one local tribe. The tribe doesn't speak any English and you have no way to communicate other than gestures. When you arrive on the island, you have $1,000,000 with you. You realize suddenly you have no way to communicate with the outside world and no way to return to your previous life. You have come to the realization that this is your life. You are excited because you know you have your money with you. You figure immediately this will help you get settled. You walk around the island and start to look for something or someone help you create a shelter to keep you safe. You offer hundreds of dollars to anyone around that may be willing to help you get settled. They look at you like you are pathetic. You then offer thousands of dollars and they still have no interest. You quickly realize that your money literally has no value to them. You go to your brief case and you find a lighter, some matches and a pocket knife. You quickly begin to barter, make friends and realize quickly everything that you thought had value and would get you far in life is now worthless. You continue to make friends as you help them come up with other types of inventions and tools that will help them improve their way of life. Money is never exchanged and you have a new appreciation for life and the stress of needing to "make money" quickly floats away. At night, you burn your $1,000,000 and help cook a wonderful meal for your new found friends.

Can you imagine? There is enough to worry about already in this world? Taking away the stress of making money. I have no doubt this makes me sound like some "crazy socialist". I know the arguments are people will be lazy, people won't work hard, everyone will do the least possible, why would someone work so hard if everyone was rewarded the same, I deserve more than him or her because of x,y or z. I just think sometimes if money wasn't something thought of as a resource that was in such demand, maybe some of the wars, fights, killing, arguing and unnecessary suffering in this world wouldn't be what it is today. I mean, for the richest country in the world, we certainly have a TON of working poor, homeless and hungry. There has to be a better way.

The goal of life, in my mind, should not be about how much money you can make. Realistically, however, that has to be the goal as we understand there is a certain amount of money we need to survive. Then of course there is the difference between making enough to survive, " live comfortably, " "succeed" the entire want vs. need argument. Unfortunately due to student loans and living expenses, there is clearly a minimum amount of money I need to make in order to maintain my current lifestyle. Whether that be living in Manhattan, owning a cat, being able to pay my bills on time, have access to cable and Internet, pay my student loans and have a bit of a social life. I literally "need" money on this level.

Do I want to need money, no. Would I prefer to live my days out with Greg and Norman in Montana in the middle of nowhere making pennies or making coconut rum drinks on some deserted island for pennies, yes. Would I prefer to live life to make me happiest, sure. Does that, for me, require my making money? No? Granted I understand this thought experiment is neither realistic nor helpful, I just feel like it is important to remember that money is important because we as humans have chosen to make money important.

Now let me see if I can argue my point that today money, not only appears to have an arbitrary value, it feels completely intangible. When I say this I first think of the mortgage crisis that happened back in what, 2008? Literally, thousands of folks had bought mortgages that had been sold to Bank 1, to Bank 2, to Bank 3 and maybe even then to person 4. So far removed from the original owner of the mortgage that nothing can be pulled apart and traced back. The proof of any original money is hard to find. So, while people were given mortgages they probably should not have been, and while millions are being kicked out of their homes, a huge majority can not even trace back who currently owns their mortgage and how their money traveled. Did the money really even travel? Was it all just done on paper? Electronically, who knows, regardless, it is crazy.

I also cannot help but think of the stock market today. I was listening to a podcast recently that was talking about the technological aspects of trading and how they have to make it so that each cord is the same length regardless of how far they are from the main computer so that no one has any type of unfair advantages when it comes to purchasing and trading. They also talked about that day back in 2010 (maybe??) when the stock market just started tumbling. Even to this day, NO ONE knows what happened. Some say that the computers got backed up with all the trading that was going on because when the computers came back on-line, everything was just fine. This makes me think that with technology today, how does trading even happen? How does it work. You aren't literally walking your money down to Wall Street. It is truly fascinating to me.

The podcast went on to try and discuss this point better than I will ever be able to. Money can feel intangible. Thanks to on-line payments, credit cards and mobile devices you can exchange currency all while never holding any money in your hand. I have nothing against technology, I just wonder if not seeing, feeling and touching the money makes us value it less than we should, or somehow makes it feel like it rules our world even more?

Am I advocating for laziness, no. But at the same time I am also not arguing for greediness. I just think we can all learn so much from the rest of the world. The rest of the world that really is so much better at enjoying life. The rest of the world that appreciates their time with family and takes time away, often. The rest of the world that appreciates and enjoys the simple things. The rest of the world that realizes the biggest cars, the largest homes will NEVER make them happy. You always hear sociologists say that those in the world with the least are often the happiest. I think we can all learn a lot from those around us. I understand the lack of money can cause so much stress. If you cannot pay your bills, feed your family, stay in your home, it is clearly stressful. I just wish there was a way I could make money not be so powerful. Not be so make and break.

I wish we could all just walk out of work right now and enjoy the weather. I wish we could all turn off our computer screens and give our best friend a hug. I wish we could all share a big Seder meal together, all teach each other, all support each other and all laugh together. I wish we could remember more often that in ANY moment when you find peace and happiness you should feel grateful. I wish we could all find a way to reach out our hand to those struggling. I wish we could all take a more realistic assessment of what we need, and pass along what we don't.

I dream of morning runs, afternoon yoga, evening reading and board game playing. I dream of 4pm wine, cheese, bread and honey. I dream of a day when the amount of money you make has NO relevance on your value and "worth" as a contributing member of society. I dream of a day when all ideas are taken seriously and money isn't the end all, be all, or the decider. They always say to enjoy life, because you cannot take your money with you when you leave.....

While I know money currently is a necessity, I am hopeful to find ways to give it less power.

One of my favorite Dalai Lama quotes to wrap this all up

Man sacrifices his health in order to make money.
Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.
Then he is so anxious about the future that he doesn't enjoy the present:
the result being that he does not live in the present or the future;
he lives as if he is never going to die,
and then dies having never really lived.

And that's all she wrote....

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