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Living out of the Squirrel Cage
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"If you live paycheck to paycheck, and you hate it so much, and you're so mad about it, stop blogging, go get a second job, invest your money, and make a better, more wealthy life for yourself. "
Jake made this comment about a recent post. Its funny because if he knew me he might realize just how silly this remark is. But he doesn't know me and the responsibility lies with me to explain myself better.
I have made a very conscious decision not to be rich. I am not materialistic at all. I have very few possesions and I don't sit around all day wishing I had more. Every so often I do however get rid of anything that I don't use on a regular basis. I try to keep my sentimental knickknacks to a minimum with exceptions for things that have special meaning. When I do buy things its mostly music or recording equipment, because you see music makes me very happy. I choose to live close to my family here in Oklahoma because I don't want to wake up one day in a huge house with three cars and not remember my mom's name. I realize that the things I don't have are a result of decisions I have made for myself.
I do not argue for myself.
Why do I make the case I do about the inherent injustice I see. Because I see people who live day to day without options. Because I assume a fundamental reality, and it is this: when some people have more than they could possibly need that leaves less for everybody else. The answer is never just to get a second job. That advice makes as much sense as telling each person at the end of a tug-o-war that if they just pull harder they will win. You know that there is only one winner in tug-o-war.
I assume a basic rule of fairness: if you work hard and play by the rules you should expect a reasonable standard of living. That implicit contract is fragile. For many parts of the world it simply does not apply. I fear the same could be true here. You can assume that here in America we will always have the oppurtunity to advance ourselves given our own desires and talents to do so. That does not have to be guaranteed. I do not rant and rave against the rich beacuse I want to be one (laughs) I do so because they limit the options of others by their demand to live not by their own labor, but by the increasing fruit of our labor. You can't tell a single mother working one full time job, raising her child with every penny of her income going to pay for rent, child care, health care, groceries, and gas for the car to just get another job. Her options have been taken from her by the rising costs imposed from above. When the very costs of survival have risen to point that the contract has been broken you have to ask the question. Why has this happened?
Because wealth, like energy is neither created or destroyed only redistributed. Increased demands for more wealth will come from one of two sources, the environment or human and mechanical labor. Both of which are the primary means to derive material wealth. Take a quick look around you. Everything you see is a product of a natural resource in either its raw form or manipulated into an object by human activity.
As we increase demand for material wealth that puts more pressure on the two sources.
Global Ecology and the Common Good
A defining trait of the system is that it is a kind of giant squirrel cage. Everyone, or nearly everyone, is part of this treadmill and is unable or unwilling to get off. Investors and managers are driven by the need to accumulate wealth and to expand the scale of their operations in order to prosper within a globally competitive milieu. For the vast majority the commitment to the treadmill is more limited and indirect: they simply need to obtain jobs at livable wages. But to retain those jobs and to maintain a given standard of living in these circumstances it is necessary, like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass, to run faster and faster in order to stay in the same place.
So you see that feeding the overall trands in consumption and production only increases the demand. If you take it for granted that costs of production will be limited, then even if you take a second job, in the long run it will only be offset by rising costs or lowered wages. Your suggestion might be feasable for short term gains, to crawl ahead of the pack for a moment but you will quickly find that the pack will catch up as they too feed the treadmill. These trends have fueled the increase in two income families, higher costs in health care and other costs of living increases. But in general these trends have not increased our overall well being. Despite fluctuations we exist in a zero sum game. You may not recognize that your desire for wealth is nothing more than your recognition of this fact and your desire to escape this cycle.
Obviously there is much more to be said on this subject and I've only skimmed the surface. But I do hope this deflates the myth that I'm simply jealous of rich people and want to ratchet up my own participation in the cycle.
have a nice day, and remember that we are rich as long as we have a beautiful world to live in and friends and family to enjoy it with. Growing materialism puts that at risk, do you really want to make that trade?
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