Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wealth and responsibility

Who is John Galt?
Americans are undergoing a rough transition from the politics of the New Deal to one of No Deal. We have been transforming our social mores for the past 40 or 50 years beginning with the rise of Ayn Rand novels and the teachings of economist Milton Freidman. I have read, studied and followed these teachings to the point of outgrowing them. Much like Alan Greenspan, I had come to a point where the failings of these philosophies  in everyday life were too blatant to ignore.

With Ayn Rand, it was the late 1960's and I was sold on the idea of 'Atlas Shrugged .' I came to understand, I was in my 20's, that this was ego-centered, selfish behavior that was unsustainable in a life that included loved ones, family and an extended social circle. Being sold on the idea that I am the center of the universe and anyone that opposed my interpretation of events was a threat to my rugged individualism only lasted so long. Too many people had helped, and continued to help, me achieve my goals. That was an easy one to figure out.

A little more challenging was my experience in Graduate school in the late 1970's. I enrolled in the University of Rochester M.B.A. program to continue my career in health care administration. I enjoyed working with others in the hospital field to deliver quality health care in my community. Of course, I was young and on the rise in my organization and feeling great that they were giving me a recommendation and Fridays, with pay, to attend classes. The UofR program was staffed mostly with "monetarists" trained in Chicago by Mr. Freidman. It wasn't long before I was up against the same principles that Ayn Rand espoused, but with statistical and economic twists. It took me until my second year to figure it out but then my challenges to their teaching became somewhat disruptive; I wrote poems, made statements and left classes in a flurry of disbelief at the blatant propagandizing going on in the name of education. We were the elite and expected to swallow everything whole in order to advance in the corporate line-up. I declined.

The root of it all came into focus over the following years. In order to be successful at business one needed to concentrate on the details and ignore the bigger picture of life, not pay attention to anything that Ayn Rand wouldn't approve of. Developing a faith in the ability of the profit driven system to regulate itself was both a belief and a rationalization. By giving oneself to this mechanism one never had to question the outcome of ones actions nor come up with another justification for ones actions. This is what Mr. Greenspan held dearly to for so many years until the debacle of the banking collapse when he realized that greed trumped rational self interest.

Now we have a political movement overtaking the country based on these basic ideas, philosophies and economic theories with a large dose of anti-science and scapegoating thrown in. It isn't pretty and it isn't moral, or healthy, or good for the long-term good of the country.

I met a man who spent his health to gain his wealth, and then with might and pain, spent his wealth to gain his health, again.

When you collect your wealth using whatever means possible, one should endeavor to preserve it by being good to others. Keep some portion of it in reserve for charitable purposes. You might say that this is a process of atonement to maintain one's riches; a way to launder and atone for the actions taken to gain wealth with the exclusion of all else. This is more the way of the world, in fact.

In the pursuit of wealth most people neglect their eating habits, social interactions and family life; you have to follow a pretty strict regimentation if you want to stay rich. Then you have to spend it all to become whole again. Such is life.

Anger on either side of this transitional struggle will only deepen our divide. If you have an understanding of the shape of the problem facing us, then you are the one to begin building the bridge to the other side. It's those that have the tools that have to do the building.

So those with wealth in wisdom must share with those in the poverty of ignorance just as they expect those with wealth in riches to share with those in financial poverty. A way will be found... it always is, to come back into balance.

Many wisdom traditions of the East and West offer a different way of life that includes charitable giving of wealth and heart. It is by balancing out work life with our spiritual life that the puzzle is often solved.

"Money is a good servant but a bad master." F. Bacon
"Money is the means of exchanging love." W. Wilson