Ahhh yes, the green stuff. This is a picture of the first harvest of greens from my greenhouse. I have about 25 kinds growing in there this year and they are amazing. I have been eating them out of the beds, on everything I make, stuffed in sandwiches, with raspberries and balsamic vinaigrette, you name it. I can’t get enough. Kind of reminds me of how I am about money. I can’t get enough. And neither can you. No matter how much we accumulate, it never feels adequate to punch down our fears, does it? This is what I am learning. There is not enough money to take away my fear. And the ones who have the most are the most fearful. Money perpetuates fear. When you have a lot, you worry all the time about losing it, someone taking it, bad investments, bank runs, depressions, global economic meltdown-and not one of these is an unrealistic fear. You can have all the same fears if you don’t have money too, but the point is that having money doesn’t dispel fear.
The book I am reading, which I have now gotten completely through for what will be the first of several times, I am guessing, is called $aved. , It is by Ben Hewitt. In it, he describes a journey he is on regarding his view of money. It is an informative book, going through a brief but thorough history of physical money in our country, and how our monetary system works. Did you know, for instance, that if a bank has $100 of your money, it is allowed to lend $900 on it? The $900 only exists on a balance sheet somewhere. And when someone is loaned that $900, they can put it in the bank and the bank can then loan $8,100 on it? And so on. How did $100 turn into $8,100? It is a magic trick and believe me it is not the white kind of magic. It is bad juju and it is part of what is taking us down the road to ruin. Yet, it is perfectly legal acceptable financial practice.
Did you know that our country’s “economic growth” is totally illusory? Since the 1970s, every time there is a report of a single dollar of economic growth, there is more than a dollar of debt generated. At this point, $4 of debt is being generated for every dollar of growth. That is like me buying something for $100 and having a $400 charge on my credit card. Every single time I spend anything. Yet, and yet, our government tells us we are recovering from the economic disaster of 2008. It is just creative accounting. It is nothing real.
These facts and more make for some very sobering-okay, depressing-reading. But it is not really the point he wants to make. He is talking about moving away from a life based on money and accumulating things. Of course he realizes that money is something we need at least some of to function in the culture we find ourselves in. But is it the entire point of life, and should it be the primary focus? We say no, but what do our lives say? He talks about Erik, the guy who lives a life without very much money at all. For Erik, it is not about deprivation. I am sure he feels deprived sometimes, of course. He is only human, geared to seek after creature comforts. And he does move into a house with his girlfriend and indoor plumbing before the end of the book. But the conclusion he comes to is something else entirely.
He talks about how not having money forces us into dependence on others, and relationships of trust and reciprocity. In my mind, this is how it pans out. If I don’t always just go out and buy everything I need in impersonal exchanges with sales clerks and establishments where my obligation and theirs begins and ends with me laying my money down, it changes things radically. I am required to become part of my community and to create relationships of mutual “beholden-ness”. We will owe each other, back and forth, from here on out. If Matt helps me build my chicken coop, I need to be willing to lend him my truck. If he breaks my truck I need to be able to trust that he will fix it. If Janet helps me weed my garden, she should get some produce and some eggs. And I should be willing to be there for her when she needs me. We need to be willing to be inconvenienced by each other. And this is harder than just paying someone to do what I need done. I don’t have to care about a hired worker. I don’t have to care about a sales clerk. I can stay completely disengaged. Except for Facebook of course-another institution Ben Hewitt has a hard time with.
It is harder to live like this, but Ben argues that it makes us much richer. We trade value for worth. We can assign value to goods and services and pay money for them, or we can live in relationship with others and impart worth to each other by helping, being available, giving our time. Ben argues that time is all we have. Life is time. Money is time. It is representative of the time and effort we took to earn it. Using his example, a used bicycle doesn’t cost $675. It costs the seven days of work it took to earn that money to buy it. I hope I am not too confusing in my effort to condense his thesis.
What is my takeaway from the book? That what really makes me rich is not how much money I have in the bank, but the depth and reciprocity of my relationships. Being an introvert, it is much more appealing to me at times to just go to the store and get what I need without having to talk to anyone! I know, its gross. But that kind of life can leave me alone and in fear. When I am surrounded by a community of people with whom my life is intertwined, with history and obligation and intimacy, I can ask for what I need and trust that someone will help me. And they can come to me as well. And that brings color and beauty to life in a way that a closet full of boots will never do! Plus, it is good for the earth, because I am not using my infinite fake resources to deplete the very finite and fast receding resources of our physical planet. If everyone lived like this it would destroy our economy but that is because our economy is not built on anything real. The real would abide. The incredibly strong network of human bonds would hold us all together and we would survive.
I know that I will continue to operate in a world that uses money and occasionally plastic for its currency. But this idea has changed the way I view it all. Time is our currency. It is all we have. We can spend it all to earn money to buy things and do our best to remain aloof from human entanglements, or we can spend some of it getting all tangled up with people. Of course it is not a one or the other proposition. I am sure I will do some of both. But I am no longer confused about the meaning of being rich. YOU make me rich. I make you rich. Relationship, not money, is what can help us live lives uncrippled by fear. I don’t know if I will have enough money to pay for the nursing home, but I know my kids love me and will do all that they can to take care of me when I am old and full of sleep. And their kids will take care of them. And if you don’t have kids, there are so many other avenues to create relationships that will bring that kind of assurance-which beats insurance any day!
I want to continue to think about money, the nature of wealth, the currency of time, and the strength of relationships. But right now, I am going to go out to the greenhouse and pick me some KALE.