You Can’t Take It With You – But Can You Give It Away?
Money. Wealth, and its distribution. It’s the root of the world’s problems, it’s what the fighting’s all about. If you don’t think so, listen to Pink Floyd’s Money – or, better yet, watch the capuchin monkeys and the grapes and cucumbers.
Really. Watch the monkeys. It’s perhaps the most important (and amusing) video ever filmed.
I’m absolutely fascinated by giving and receiving, especially when the exchange involves money. I’ve been paying focused attention to all of the transactions I am party to, or witness, particularly people’s emotional states. For example, I recently asked a friend for some money. He’s quite well to do – his admitted net worth is in the range of 100x as great as mine, even including my retirement plans – and I wasn’t asking for much, but the transfer of actual money was fraught with intense emotions. Shame and disgust, anger and sadness, guilt and remorse. Perhaps this isn’t a big surprise to anyone, but, at least in the Western world, we don’t spend much time questioning these feelings.
Should I feel guilty for being in a place that required me to ask for money? Ashamed? Both my friend and I have PhDs in biochemistry, both of us worked like dogs to succeed, and he succeeded vastly more than I did. And I ran into a bad patch. Does my lack of success despite similar efforts make me worthy of disgust, and should I feel shame?
Whether I should or not, I felt a real sense of shame, a visceral guilt. And I know I went down several notches in my friend’s esteem. I’ll pay him back in less than a month, and tack on 5% (better return on investment than anything legal I’m aware of) – but the feelings won’t just evaporate.
I always give beggars a buck. I know many are shiftless, or professionals, but I respect what they do. You don’t? Here’s a little test: go out on the street and stop a stranger and ask him for money. Try it. Most people would rather piss their pants in public than ask a stranger for cash. Perhaps this will make you think the next time you walk past a beggar with your nose in the air.
I’m hoping to have time to develop another business, one based on exploring this fundamental activity and how we can manipulate it for good. My concept is a sort of non-charity charitable organization, or a non-charitable charity – essentially, an organization that collects money and gives it away randomly. Not to the poor, not based on need, just to anyone we run across. To rich old ladies driving Cadillacs, harried middle-class moms toting kids, teenagers wandering the mall, grumpy convenience store clerks (and happy ones too). I see it as a research project, a way to understand why some people will gratefully accept, some will reject a no-strings gift no matter their need, and everything in between. I want to understand why, especially when money is involved, that it’s so difficult for most of us to easily give and receive. And why receiving is so difficult.
I think I know the answers before I will get the data to confirm or deny them. Money is a measure of your life, the currency we use to define our productivity. We wield it like a bludgeon in our capitalist society to define our relative worth, looking down on those who fall between the cracks and revering those who either excel in playing the capitalist system for their own gain or who inherited great wealth from their ancestors.
What. A. Crock. Of. Shit. Some of the best people I’ve ever known have no sense of how to make money off their creativity, nor any desire to learn it for their own benefit. They fumble through a world that forces them to eat ramen noodles for sustenance and get no retirement benefits nor any health, dental, vision, legal, or any other employment-based extras that many of us take for granted. They can’t play the capitalist game, yet most of them would be better dinner-party company than those who can.
I’m not a communist, nor a socialist, nor an any old -ist. I just know my social equals, and those who can bang out a decent black-smithed item, paint a charming picture with oil paints, sing a decent song that they’ve created themselves, or just sit down with me and kill a bottle of fine red wine while making exciting conversation simply blow away people who see money as a way to make more money. Because they always see their money not as a way to buy a bottle of fine cognac, but as a potential investment that will get them two bottles of fine cognac if they just invest it. Yet they never seem to have two bottles of fine cognac, nor would they share it with you if they did.
So – give it the fuck away. Recent studies of people who won big money in our lotteries has shown that those who are happy (vs. those who piss all that money away, and often end up perversely in debt), are those who give most of their money away.
Let’s say you’re rich. You have millions and bazillions of dollars. Let’s say that our human population is reduced to 100 people, and you are the rich guy. You own 99.999% of the village that is humanity.
Are you happy? Will you stay happy when everyone around you is destitute compared to you?
Give it away. Don’t do it to people you know. Don’t keep control. Let. It. Go.
I love you,