Prince Philip’s Mother

The ultra rich fascinate me in the same way that looking at amoebas through a microscope fascinates me. What makes them tick? How do creatures that are so foreign to my existence live their lives? (I don’t envy them, though, and I’m not only referring to the amoebas.)

Having buckets of money is quite liberating in that you don’t have to concern yourself with the daily sturm und drang of survival. If your food and shelter is assured, you can focus on allowing your true nature to come out and play. Most of the time, unfortunately, this does not yield positive results. (See also: Jeff Bezos and Donald Trump.)

It amazes me that wealth seems to increase greed, not diminish it. That makes no sense to me. When do you feel like you’ve got enough?

Fortunately, there are a few examples, here and there, of a rich person’s better angels of their nature coming to the forefront. They could be as bad as they want to be, but they choose to be good. These people are my heroes.

Case in point: Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg. I wish the British Royals spoke more of her instead of sweeping her to the attic of their history. Yes, her daughters married Nazis, but she didn’t. In fact, when she was living in Greece in World War II, she told a visiting German general to take his troops out of her country. That alone would make me love this woman, but there’s so much more to her.

For a start, I strongly urge you to check out a blog called History Undusted, and especially a post entitled The Deaf Princess Nun. That talented blogger will go into a lot more detail about Princess Alice than I will.

Suffice it to say that Princess Alice devoted her life to helping the less fortunate. She helped Greek refugees while she herself was exiled in Paris, all while being abandoned by her husband and raising 4 children on her own. That would be difficult at the best of times, but then add the extra layer of complexity that she was deaf, and one wonders how she managed at all. She did have a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized against her will for a time, and a weaker person might have called it a day at that point, but she didn’t.

After she was released from the institution, she eventually returned to Athens, even though many of her royal relatives had fled the country because of the war. During that time, she hid a Jewish family in her home. She also worked in soup kitchens, delivered medicine, and established orphanages.

When the war was over, she founded a religious order called the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary. A picture of her in her nun’s habit, with Prince Philip by her side, is below. She lived with her son in Buckingham Palace for the last two years of her life.

She was a formidable woman with an unwavering moral compass. She demonstrates that it is possible to allow your decency to flow freely despite all temptations. That’s why I’m thrilled to know that Princess Alice is now considered one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” by the people of Jerusalem. She definitely deserves that honor.

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Maximum Wage

Okay, I’m just putting this out there. Why does anyone need millions of dollars a year to survive? I mean, seriously. It’s quite obvious that it’s not necessary. The vast majority of us get by on a mere fraction of that. If Jeff Bezos lost a billion dollars tomorrow, he wouldn’t even feel it. But society would certainly benefit from that billion dollars.

Asking for an increase in the minimum wage in this country always seems to spark great controversy, even though, on the all-too-rare occasion when it happens, not only does the world not come to an end, but it causes the economy to thrive. It’s blatantly obvious that we all do better when money is more widely distributed.

So maybe we should focus more on the opposite end of the spectrum. I truly believe that there should be a maximum wage. Most obscenely rich Americans could easily maintain their lifestyles even if their income was limited to, say, 750k a year. All the rest of their profits could prop up social service agencies, education, infrastructure, health care, and yes, dammit, an increase in the minimum wage.

The fact that this idea seems so radical, the fact that it causes this reflexive flinch in the very gut of most Americans, is a clear indicator that we’ve been well trained. Even worse, this idea will never flourish because money is power, and we allow ourselves to be ruled by it. Literally.

We make it so politicians have to be rich to get elected. We make it so they are supported by the ultra rich. Even if we tried to implement a maximum wage plan, the rich would find a loophole. We have no power ourselves, and yet we’re the ones who prop up this system. We are treating ourselves as if we’re the enemy. This insanity has got to stop.

There is no reason on earth that any American should be homeless or hungry. There is no reason a child should go without shoes. There’s no reason why anyone should be deprived of health care.

By not supporting those in need, we are supporting the very people who don’t need support and never have. We shouldn’t be here. It’s obscene. And yet, here we are.

Daddy_Warbucks_-_Bad_Guys

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Spiritual Wealth

In the interests of full disclosure, I am not a Christian. But I do believe that there are a lot of important lessons to be learned from the Bible. I think there are lessons to be learned from many other sources as well. The trick is to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Unfortunately, the chaff often does not come from the philosophy itself, but from the way that philosophy gets twisted by others for their own benefit. Nothing makes me more angry than seeing people get taken advantage of. Nothing is so heartbreaking as seeing people preyed upon and then cast aside.

I may not be an expert on all things Christian, but I do know this: Jesus did not advise people to crave money. He never said that the way God shows favor is by making you rich in this life. He cast out the money lenders. He said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.” (Matthew 19:24)

Basically, Jesus wasn’t about stuff. He wasn’t about accumulating riches. He wasn’t trying to show people how to game the system so that God would give them prizes.

He did not approve of greed. And he certainly never told anyone to go without groceries so that some creepy preacher could buy a private jet. Jesus would be horrified by the prosperity gospel.

Money is not the key to happiness in this life or any other. Whether you agree with him or not, does Trump seem particularly happy to you? He worships Mammon, and I wouldn’t want his life for anything. Golden toilets don’t make the going any easier.

Love, decency, kindness, generosity, the ability to learn and think critically… these things are priceless. Clamoring for stuff and money… that’s not your kingdom here on earth. It’s just a form of burial before death. If you learn nothing else in this life, let it be that.

Money Church

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Capitalism 101

Apologies in advance. I’m feeling a tad bitter today. I have absolutely no idea why I didn’t think of this before, but the capitalist system, our system, can be easily explained as follows:

The main goal of this system is profit. The only way that corporations can make a profit is by making sure that the amount their employees are paid is less than the amount of wealth those same employees produce. That’s it, pure and simple. The profit comes from our sweat.

And it’s even better for them when those same employees spend those meager earnings on stuff, thus returning it to those same corporations. Do we really need the latest iPhones and 50 pairs of shoes? Why does fashion go out of style? Why does software become obsolete? Why is everything so disposable?

Now do you get why unions exist? Almost everything you see around you was created by some underpaid, underinsured, struggling shmuck who is just a cog in a corporate wheel. And why the hell did we elect a corporate mogul to lead this country, who is doing his level best to strip it of what few riches it has left?

It’s time to stop sniffing the glue, folks.

filthy lucre

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Inherited Wealth

Recently, on my online newsfeed, I saw an article that asked the readers if it is ethical to pass your wealth on to your children. I confess, I didn’t read it. Why would I? It’s not a problem that I’ll ever have. My parents didn’t have much money to pass on to me, and I don’t have any children. Problem solved.

But I did think about the issue from a philosophical standpoint during my next long commute. Naturally, Donald Trump sprang to mind. I’m convinced that the only reason he has money today is because daddy gave him obscene amounts of money to begin with. Donald Trump is barely literate and has no people skills whatsoever, and how many times has he declared bankruptcy? There’s no way he’d have been a self-made millionaire. The world would be a much safer and healthier place if his father hadn’t given him that leg up.

But on the other hand, it’s the average parent’s instinct to try to make his or her children’s lives better than the preceding generation’s. Who are we to deny them that? It’s their wealth. (Well… it is and it isn’t. I’ll save that particular rant for another day.) They can do with it whatever they choose.

Having said that, though, I feel the need to point out that with wealth comes power. If you’re giving your child power that that child hasn’t earned, then you bear a responsibility to make sure your kid is worthy of that power. (Trump’s father never did that, and now we are all paying the price. Lucky us.)

It’s every parent’s duty to instill a strong moral compass in children. They need to grasp laws and ethics and morals. They should understand the need for, and frequently practice, philanthropy. They must possess a certain level of compassion and kindness. Above all, they should have respect for others. With such an unequal balance of power being presented to them on a silver platter, they must be taught to avoid the impulse to grab things (or people) that don’t belong to them.

If little rich kids don’t have these qualities (and unfortunately many do not), then giving them an enormous nest egg on which to lounge is a disservice to the human race. Sheltering them from the real world, and coddling them from life, only produces cruel, dangerous, psychopathic individuals. The last thing these warped individuals need is for you to throw power, in the form of big sweaty wads of cash, into the mix. It creates a toxic stew.

inherited

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Basic Economics

Many people fall for the fantasy of the American Dream. Who could blame them? It’s a beautiful story. Its moral is that you are completely in control of your own destiny. If you work hard enough, do everything you’re supposed to, and floss your teeth once a day, you’ll live happily ever after. Pffft. If that were true I’d be a millionaire.

There are several flaws with this theory. First of all, it’s fairly safe to assume that most rich people aren’t self-made. God knows Donald Trump isn’t. If it weren’t for daddy, the Donald would probably be one of those loudmouth losers sitting on the last bar stool at the corner pub, and everyone would go out of the way to avoid him. And do you think Paris Hilton would be rich from her own efforts? Please.

Second, getting you to buy into the American Dream has some very nefarious results. It undermines your confidence. You’ll always be able to look around and see people who are doing better than you are. What are you doing wrong? Aren’t you working hard enough? What’s wrong with you? Work harder! And it also makes you focus on what you should have, rather than taking a hard look at your current circumstances.

Rich people need all of us down here being worker-bees, so they won’t have to. They need us down here focused on grinding out our widgets rather than getting uptight about our current situations. We are commodities to them. The more they can get us to produce, the more valuable we are to them. It’s the same in a slave-holding society. The hardest workers are sold for the highest prices.

Third, the American Dream is based on the concept that there’s an unlimited amount of wealth in the world. Rich people would have you believe that wealth is like kudzu. Just provide the right conditions for it, and soon you are up to your eyeballs in the weeds of abundance. You’ll be so darned rich that you’ll be chopping money down with a machete in a desperate attempt to see daylight.

Kudzu

Poppycock. Wealth is finite. If it were infinite, it wouldn’t be worth anything. If our economy were based on the kudzu standard, you’d need acres of the stuff just to buy a loaf of bread. This is why so many economies were originally based on the gold standard. There’s only so much gold on the planet. When something is rare and hard to obtain, it’s considered precious. It is said to have worth. But really, gold is just a lump of metal. It’s just that we all agree to assign it value.

Now that we’ve established that there’s only so much wealth out there, you have to face a hard fact. In order for people to accumulate wealth, they have to take it away from the rest of us. In other words, they are rich because we are poor. The system is set up to keep you down.

But here’s where it gets really weird. Even the rich people are now bumping up against the problem that wealth is finite. They want more, but there isn’t more. Not really. So they create all sorts of fictitious types of wealth that are based on… well… nothing. More and more rectangular pieces of paper that are called money for no good reason other than that we all agree it has worth. Credit. Stocks, bonds, loans, unsustainable mortgages, liens that will never be honored… All of these things are starting to get further and further away from actual substantive value, and that’s why we have things like the economic disaster of 2008. Things fall apart. The center does not hold.

I think the thing that scares the 1% more than anything else right now is the internet. The 99% are starting to share information with each other. We are starting to pull our heads out of the sand and actually see things. We’re getting smarter, and they’re not able to get away with as much. And when they do, we’re getting angrier. We’re starting to share our anger with each other.

We are also starting to reevaluate what has worth. We are talking about quality of life issues such as human rights and healthcare and climate and education and housing. These are things that you can’t fake or inflate.

That’s got to be terrifying for rich people. They’re sitting there, jealously guarding their pots of gold. What will they do if we all decide that gold is no different than lead? If that happens, then the Trumps of the world will be revealed to be the fools that they are.

I think economics is going to be a vital and dynamic field during the rest of this century. Change is coming. I, personally, am looking forward to it.

Monopoly
It’s just paper.

How Microloans Change Lives

I just opened my drawbridge for the Boeing Corporate Yacht. That thing is probably worth 3 million dollars. And it will most likely be coming back through in less than an hour. Every time I do this, I can’t help but think that the money they are spending just on fuel for that one little jaunt could pay off my relocation debt and allow me to start saving for a used car that actually has a working heater. But no. That’s not how the world works.

But then I realize that for the vast majority of people on this planet, I must seem like the Boeing Corporate Yacht. What am I doing to help them? Quite a lot, actually, relatively speaking. I just gave my 58th microloan to a woman in my 48th developing country. Through Kiva.org you can make these microloans in increments of $25 each. And so far, I’ve always been paid back.

Twenty-five dollars may not seem like a huge amount to you or me, but for these people, it can mean the difference between being able to send their children to school or not. It can provide their family with nutrition that they wouldn’t otherwise receive, and allow them to build up businesses that can sustain them for many years.

Just recently I got an update from one of the loan disbursement organizations in Myanmar that I have supported. Here’s a little bit of what they said:

Before her loan, Daw Lei Lei’s family finances were in dire straits. Like her many neighbors who were gravely affected by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, Daw Lei Lei’s family lost a daughter and their seven-acre farm was demolished. Since then, the family has survived by farming ducks, but they have had to pay exorbitant rates on loans.

Rarely do microfinance organizations make it to these hard-to-reach rural areas, and when they do they rarely lend to non-crop farmers. According to a UNCDF research study, over 63% of the rural population has no access to regulated credit, and virtually no one has access to regulated savings or insurance.

Proximity’s loan has done wonders for Daw Lei Lei’s family. They have used the $200 micro-loan to purchase more ducks and quality duck feed. This modest injection of cash was enough to stabilize their income and generate profits from their duck and egg sales. With their newfound profits, Daw Lei Lei’s husband purchased a boat to start his own transportation business. His new business yields enough profit to cover their two children’s school fees. Now, instead of taking their children out of school early to work on the family business, a predicament that is extremely common in Myanmar’s rural areas, Daw Lei Lei and her husband are able to provide their children more educational opportunities than they were able to have.

I hope you’ll join me in making microloans through Kiva.org. The one percent may not be spreading the wealth to the rest of us, but that doesn’t mean we have to follow their horrible example. When we lift up others, we all rise.

[Image credit: kiva.org]
[Image credit: kiva.org]