Sunday, 28 September 2008

Money, Get Back

You learn a lot about people when traveling. For example, when visiting different places you can tell a lot about the locals through their attitude to money.
Take the way payment is received and change is given back at your run of the mill shop. In Israel it's so casual they may just lay the money somewhere for the other party to pick; in Australia they'll be less casual but they're still pretty casual; in the USA they make sure they stick all the money inside the palm of your hand; and in Singapore money is taken and handed over while being held by both arms.
People's attitudes towards making money are just as indicative. Take, for example, the normal notions about what women should do with their careers once babies enter the picture. In Australia, most women will take their time coming back to work: only 50% or so will go back to work within a year of giving birth, and for the vast majority of those work actually means part time work. In Israel, on the other hand, the concept of part time work doesn't really exist; friends of ours were surprised to hear Jo is now working part time. Another example came through my mother, who asked us when are we going to "advance" into taking our baby Dylan to childcare full time as opposed to just twice a week; we, on the other hand, actually consider it beneficial for the baby to go to childcare and expose himself to the world, but also consider it just as beneficial to be with the baby as much as we can. If anything, finance allowing, we aspire to both work just four days a week so that we can each spend a day with Dylan during the week. Currently, we're not there for various reasons, including finding only two days at childcare to begin with; but we definitely do not consider it progress to go back to work full time so that we can afford having someone else look after Dylan for us.
Let me tell you what my opinion of money is. A guy I'm working with has advised me to create a profile in LinkedIn, a website that's like Facebook for professionals. I did, out of curiosity, and found myself surrounded by people whose profiles talk about how they are going to make money - lots of it. I, on the other hand, don't care for much money.
You see, we cannot all be millionaires. This world has limited resources, and the amount of money each of us has just represents the amount of resources behind us. Since someone has to do the dirty work we cannot all have all the resources, at least not under a capitalist system.
My opinion is therefore simple albeit unique: As long as I have enough to satisfy the lifestyle I'm used to, I don't see much reason to aspire for more given that I know this would come at an expense of something more important. Like, say, having time to spend with my child.
At least when it comes to money, I'm a pretty ambition-less person.

Talking about different attitudes to money brings me to the world's most burning issue of the hour, the crisis of the financial markets. At the moment it seems like a potential solution may be at hand: the American tax payer will fork out 700 billion dollars to save the economy. And I am here to say that I have a problem with that.
700 billion is a number so large we cannot even imagine it; it's just too large a number for people to be able to come to grips with it and relate to it, and anyone that tells you otherwise is a liar. We can write the number down, compare it to other numbers, but we cannot fathom it or imagine it the way we can imagine, say, the number 42. There is a reason why we're unable imagine this number: evolution had no reason to equip our brain with the capacity to handle such numbers, the same way it didn't equip us with the instinct to digest just how large our universe is.
Note I am not saying this money should not be spent this way. I do not consider myself enough of a financial expert to know whether spending this sum of money will save the day, nor do I have the skills to know whether this spending is worthwhile cost/benefit wise. Mind you, I doubt those that do refer to themselves as financial experts truly have the skills to make some rational judgment on these questions; they can start by answering, for example, why 700 billion as opposed to 600 or 800. My own gut instinct tells me this whole affair reeks of greed, but then again I do not think decisions of this caliber dealing with unfathomable numbers should be made based on instinct.
What I am complaining about is the ease with which these 700 billion dollars have been found. Don't we have other problems to worry about that could have been solved with such a large amount of money? Isn't there like global warming or something, a truly existential problem, that could have been knocked down through such an investment? Aren't there already enough poor people in this world, mainly in Africa and Asia, that could have benefited from a nice investment of 700 billion dollars much more than the CEOs of some bank that got into trouble it shouldn't have got itself into in the first place?
I find it amazing how, for the right people, all the money in the world can be found when required. Shows you exactly who is holding the power in this world of ours. Shows you who is running the world today.

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