Affluence Afflatus, or, moneymoneymoney

February 19, 2008

Money, Money from Cabaret

Money makes the world go around,
the world go around, the world go around,
Money makes the world go around,
it makes the world go ’round.

This past weekend, I ran across this brief at Make Wealth History, a blog that calls for the equalization of economies worldwide — for environmental and social reasons, of course:

One way to avoid environmental catastrophe would be not to end poverty but to end wealth. It is wealth, not poverty, that makes the problems….This is why I would recommend that every family and individual try to earn and spend less money, not more. Use your imagination to to live well on less each year. This way you will consume less and so create less pressure on the world’s resources. Ending global wealth may be the only way out of our predicaments. —Tom Hodgkinson, for The Ecologist

Great point, yes. But perhaps it is not so much that people need to earn less; perhaps it is that people need to spread the wealth, as they say. Contribute funds to those whose current economic structures can’t support the wages paid in other countries, for example. Certainly, all of us could try to earn less, but that wouldn’t support the lifestyle we have grown to accept as normal. My two cents: It is this perception we need to change first — this conception of what we deem part and parcel of the good life.

No Impact Man, a small-livin’ brother about whom I’ve written before, today reports on Professor Tim Jackson’s 2005 paper, “Live Better by Consuming Less?,” in which Jackson outlines the idea of sustainable consumption (kinda sounds like an oxymoron, right?). Jackson discusses pleonexia — roughly, greed — and its implications in our current grab-and-go, consumer-driven society. To quote, via No Impact Man:

The assumption of insatiability at the heart of economics is directly counter to certain classical conceptions of human well-being. Pleonexia, the insatiable desire for more, was regarded in Aristotle’s day as a human failing, an obstacle to achieving the “good life.” In the modern consumer society, it is encoded in both the ideological foundation and the institutional structure of the market economy.

In essence, Jackson asserts that our cultural conception of pleonexia — the desire for more — is completely opposite the conception held by classical philosophers. Zounds. This is getting heavy.

So, in personal terms of $ and possessions and their equation to happiness, or, the “good life”: When I look back on the early years of cohabitation with the Mister, we subsisted on 1/4 of our current income. (Of course, we had a garden then, but we also owned a car. Six of one, half-dozen of the other, I should say.) Our lives were nice. We threw bon fêtes. We shopped at the farmer’s market. We even spreed at Value Village monthly.

But we didn’t own a house. We didn’t buy major appliances. And we didn’t have cats who swallow sewing needles and require invasive surgery.

So here am I, caught in contradiction. Is my current lifestyle pleonexic? Is it ethically bow-legged? How much of my income should I be passing off to a South American coffee grower or a textile collective in Thailand? But what about the immaculate penny-for-penny savings regimen I devised on Saturday? What about my IRA?

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3 Responses to “Affluence Afflatus, or, moneymoneymoney”

  1. Jeremy said

    Good post. I find I’m living with all the same questions. Ultimately, I guess whether we’re rich or poor is in some ways irrelevant – it’s how we choose to live that’s going to make the difference, whether we choose to be generous or selfish.

    Thanks for the word pleonexia, by the way. I might stash that one for later.

  2. Jeremy,

    Thanks for stopping in.

    I tend to agree. After all, you can’t take it with you, as they say. Keep me posted as to your conclusions. (And let me know if you find a good IRA interest rate.)

  3. […] bar cabinet home from an antique mall in the Greenwood neighborhood; another time, we hauled our aforementioned needle-eating kitty to the emergency vet), we’ve found that, as city dwellers, regular car travel isn’t […]

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