1/17/2006

money matters, or does it?

I wrote about money in this morning's Metro. The truth is, I'm nowhere near as obsessed with my income as I might seem in that op-ed piece. I make enough to get by, and live pretty much the way I want to live, so I can't complain. My mother sends me new underwear every Christmas. I darn my own socks. Somehow my needs get met. But then my needs are fairly modest. I'm not particularly ambitious. I never aimed to have a big house and a humvee, or whatever it is you've got to have these days to keep up with the Joneses. And anyway, in my neighborhood, there are no Joneses. And it's not that rough keeping up with the Garcias, if you want to know the truth.

Not that I'm on the verge of Nirvana, or anything. I'm your typical samsarin. I've just learned to tie my expectations to my true earning potential is all. I don't really rely on money, though, to tell me anything about the value of things. I mean, meritocracy's a joke. You think Oprah's really worth a billion dollars? To who? For what? I mean, when a teacher in South Dakota makes $31,383 a year? That tells me what I need to know about the value of money right there, and that's why I don't think of it as anywhere near an accurate measure of the worth of people or things.

And anyway, I think the problem is more greed than money, per se, if that makes any sense. You could argue that a big part of the problem with the income gap is the obsession with the income gap. And it's as much a problem for the poor as for the rich. Fact is, the main difference between them is the money. The propensity for an intensity of greed is not the particular province of one class--it crosses class bounds. What differs is the amount you started out with: the greed factor's basically the same, but since it takes money to make money, the outcome, moneywise, is different depending on where you started out.

Obviously, the thing you've got to work on, if greed's your vice (I prefer lust myself, and sloth--lust first, and then a cigarette, and then sloth for the rest of the afternoon), your version of "enough" is what's got to change. I mean, you have to be clever to outfox your vices. So instead of "that Beemer would be enough" you just say "a bus pass will get me where I'm going." Problem solved. But then you've got to watch out for excessive eco-pride. Don't forget, pride's one of the seven deadly sins, too. If you're going to take the bus, don't be a martyr about it. If you do it even in part so that you can boast about it or chide those who don't, all you're doing is trading one vice for another. And you don't want that.

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