Sunday, May 1, 2016

Some Musings on Money and Freedom

Why is it so important, to equate an ability to earn money with freedom? So long as individuals have the capacity to earn money for their work efforts, they maintain the chance to create new beginnings for themselves, when life's unexpected "endings" and other scenarios leave them compromised. Even though lack of economic access is also closely related to broader circumstance, for those who lack access, that loss is keenly felt at a personal level. All too often, it manifests as the pain experienced due to one's own personal shortcomings.

When it becomes difficult to maintain vital economic connections through work, social connections with friends and family tend to break down over time. Money is a resource conduit for understandable and reciprocal interaction in today's world, which people otherwise would not have. It is the link between the resource capacity the world holds, alongside the resource capacity of our time value. The Beatles sang "Money Can't Buy Me Love" when another generation was beginning to question the validity and importance of money. Just the same, access to money through own's own personal efforts is more important now, than it ever was in the past.

Even though excessive requirements for living and working mean less work for governments to raise tax revenue, the high bar for access also means governments end up assisting or otherwise managing externalities (crime) for the individuals who fail to make the grade. These access limitations make it more difficult for the marginalized to take part in life's most important primary relationships, as well. Often, the unemployed will convince themselves they've found the fortitude to overcome such losses, only to keenly and unexpectedly experience them again. In one sense I am fortunate for having lost economic access late in life, because that means fewer years will be needed to manage the consequences. I would not wish such a loss on anyone at an early stage in their lives. That is far too long, to be expected to live with the reality of exclusion.

Basic or other forms of guaranteed income pale, as compared to the self respect that money can buy through employment. While this approach may appear "moral" as opposed to welfare or disability payments, basic income nonetheless amounts to a lifetime judgement from society. It would be far better, for today's institutions to generate sufficient economic room for inclusion, so that people can continue to make their way in the world. Unfortunately, a basic income would strengthen class divisions which are already starting to become apparent.

No one can equate a basic income with new beginnings. This approach is solely a public apology, since the efforts of many are not wanted or needed in today's existing institutions. Arguments for basic income, are in some respects an uneasy truce for opposing political parties, given a lingering economic stagnation. It's a response which reflects a growing belief that there is only so much room in society, for individuals to achieve success.

Of course others also doubt the connections between money and freedom. In some instances, it isn't easy to equate the money that results from work with true freedom, because the need to work appears as though a burden if one doesn't have the "right" employment. And when there are more bills to be paid than money to pay them, money may not appear as though freedom!

But think about the alternative scenario, of a life without work. Weekends and vacations are meaningful when one has a job, whether or not one's work week holds sufficient meaning of its own. Yet when jobs are lost, those who no longer have employment are more likely to prefer the activity of the workweek taking place around them, to feel some sense of normalcy. For these individuals, it is clear, that money is key to personal freedom and respect. While psychology pays close attention to problem solving in interpersonal relationships, spiritual writings often stress the necessity of personal self sufficiency as key, before other aspects of mental clarity are truly possible.

As present day economies were beginning to evolve, those who believed in the potential of the marketplace, knew just how important the correlation between money and freedom really was. Jerry Muller, in "The Mind and the Market", stressed how Adam Smith felt about this connection:
For Smith, the most liberating effect of the rise of commercial society was its replacement of direct and open ended personal dependency with the cash nexus, the contractual relations that limit the entitlement of men to dominate one another. To the extent that every man became a merchant, rather than a slave, retainer, serf or servant, society became more interdependent, while direct, personal dependence declined. This was one of the many senses in which commercial society provided a greater degree of freedom than previous social systems. 
We need to make certain everyone has means to remain economically viable. There are ways to utilize knowledge in incremental ways, which would allow the marginalized greater inclusion than they now experience. There are ways to structure ownership so that those who are not as strong, can maintain a life which doesn't overwhelm the skills capacity and ability they do hold. By making certain that money as concept remains linked to money as personal freedom for all concerned, many other problems can be addressed as well.

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