Money and how we burn it
I know things work as they do for the reasons they do. I realize that our current form of bureaucratic insanity is the result of centuries of careful, refined and deliberate progress. I accept that trying to alter the direction of how things are done is as effective as trying to hold back a hurricane with a riot shield.
Still, how we choose to set fire to vast fields of money still gives me pause.
Our government, founded by the people, for the people, operates through the use of paper monetary notes, regulated and accepted as legal tender for goods and services. Taxes are the price we pay for civilization, it is correctly said. Through those dollars, agents of our government execute their duties to ensure good order and accomplishment of various civil tasks.
But there’s another aspect of our government. I call it the “GIMMEH!” factor, taken from the base childish demand for “give me!,” itself from the concept that a group needs more.
You see, at the dawn of the Christian age, with those first in the faith of the Way, everyone lived in communes. They all sold their possessions, lived together and gave as each had need. This equitable distribution of wealth was taken so seriously that an early Christian couple, who decided they would save money from the sale of personal goods, was struck dead by the Holy Spirit, as the story goes.
So, as the basket came around, people took out what they needed, on the faith that everyone would show restraint out of respect for others. It’s a tremendous idea, and requires the careful introspective examination of each person to keep humanity’s inherent greed at bay.
Then enters Capitalism and the idea that men should be rewarded for their hard work. If a person works harder, the theory (roughly) goes, to him or her goes the spoils. Why should someone else gain from the work of another? The transfer of wealth comes through the marketplace. Each person competes and outperforms others. Some get more; some get less.
In a world of excess, both systems work well. But what happens when there isn’t enough–as in the real world?
What happens in the Christian model, when a person at the end of the bread line has an empty basket, or just crumbs? Maybe that person tries to get to dinner earlier? Maybe he or she tries to sit earlier in the order? Maybe he or she tries to establish rules and social circumstances that prove the right to sit closer to the bread basket?
Or, maybe the person takes more. Even if not hungry, what if the person takes more? There won’t be a second time around, the person assumes.
What happens when everybody starts taking all they can, supposedly in “need”? Who starts to judge one person’s “need” over another’s?
In the Capitalist system, when there’s not enough, some stay in business, some don’t; some succeed, some fail; some live, some die.
And yet, in our government, we blend the two systems. We see ourselves as Christian Capitalists, and our government tries to be both a provider and a business.
So we operate on the assumption of group fiscal responsibility, but we all secretly grab all we can from the bread basket.
It’s October and many in the building are still trying to spend all their money from last fiscal year. I hear people passing by my cubicle:
“What’s the status on the money? Spent yet?”
“Nope. Working on it.”
There’s talk of excess and the scramble to spend it all–often on useless or unneeded things. My dad talked about these sorts of stories every year during his time in the Navy. At low levels, at high levels, organizations grab all they can and spend all they can, whether they need it or not.
When Capitalist Christians have their turn at the bread basket, they all grab all they can, because there’s the fear there won’t be any left after everyone has gone through.
And they’re right. If an organization doesn’t spend all of its allotted money–the money they’ve fought and argued they “needed” in the past–next year, they won’t get it. Their budget will shrink. And even if it should shrink, what manager wants to see less money? What manager wants to run the risk that some day that money might actually be needed? So the original amount must be maintained. More, in fact, should be argued for. There’s always the need for more.
When everyone does this, it’s a feeding frenzy. There’s no saving, no conservation, no rewards for taking less. If you’re hungry, it’s your problem. You should have taken more, even if it was out of the mouth of another. At the Christian meal, everyone is elbowing past each other, snatching bread from the arms of their neighbor, and gorging themselves with mouthfuls of food they’ll spit out, just to show how much they “need.”
So when we talk about “conservation,” I laugh. When I hear about bailouts, I sigh. When there’s the talk about cutting back, tightening our belts and learning to operate smartly, I roll my eyes.
None of it can happen if we operate in a government that takes all it can and burns vast amounts of excess, just to show they need more later. How can we move to an era of fiscal responsibility in our economic plight if we continue to sack Rome as barbarous reprobates?
Because meanwhile, while the guys the next hallway over are looking to throw $100,000 away on a NLE video system they don’t need, I can’t get training on InDesign to update my course curriculum. I can’t get $49 to buy a webcam to hold webinars to benefit the global public affairs community. Last year, we were given 20 $1,500 huge beautifully-bound Webster dictionaries, but our software is years behind.
Basket is always empty for the sucker who lets others go before him.