Wednesday, October 22, 2008


(Week 11 - Wednesday, Oct. 22)

The most common question I hear is "What can I do about money?" This is commonly meant in one of two ways, one inward looking, the other outward.

The inward looking is focused on what the inquirer can do to preserve, expedite or otherwise conduct his or her personal financial situation in a way consistent with the greater realities in the world today. The outward is aimed at determining how he or she can act in a way beneficial to the larger economic concerns of the world from his or her own unique position in it.

What I find encouraging at present is that people are asking ever more earnest questions about the nature and realities of money itself. Heretofore, it has been treated more as a given, and the main concern has been to about how to catch one's share of its currents as it passes through from wherever it came, to wherever it goes. Now people are waking up to the more fundamental questions of "What is money?", "Where does it come from?", "What is its effect?" and "What can I do about it?"

I am not a financial advisor, political pundit or ideological proponent, and have no specific answers or moral judgments to render. My inclination is to offer a conversation out of my own experience that can perhaps help others to clarify their own thoughts and feelings related to matters of money, and thereby come to a determination of what in their life is to be done with it.

This is not to say that matters of substantive personal relevance can't be talked about; only that it is incumbent upon each of us to come to our own final determination of what is to be done.

One thing that can be offered of which I have a sense of certainty is that, whatever our disposition with respect to money, any contemplation needs to begin with ourselves. In a phrase, what is called for is "soul searching". My observation is that the human race has a most disorderly and disharmonious relationship to money at present, and virtually every one of us has contributed to, and indeed continues to participate in, the problem. There is no criticism or judgment in this, in that it is a natural stage in the evolution of a soul from innocence to adulthood.

But now we are adults, and are called upon by the demands of maturity to put away childish things.

Like children looking for whom to blame, the public dialogue on our current monetary straits is filled with expressions of accusation, recrimination and denial. If only, so the thinking goes, we could find out who is responsible for this mess, then we could hold them responsible and somehow clean it up. The culprits may include bankers, the Fed, Wall Street financiers, politicians, the "conservative right", the "liberal left", communists, the media, the corporations, the mega-rich, a coddled middle class, the destitute poor, welfare moms, the Chinese, Islamic terrorists . . . The list goes on ad infinitum.

To be sure, people in each of these spheres have played a role, but the realities they live with are never simple. It would serve the situation well to hold the attitude of removing the beam from one's own eye before attempting to extract the mote from the other.

In the modern world we are all economic creatures, and the actions we take, both by commission and omission, have an economic dimension. Even to move to the woods and live like a hermit is a profound economic act. This is a condition of our age, and it cannot be avoided.

The attitude that we are all responsible, then, becomes the starting point for an intrepid introspection that will lead ultimately to a unique answer for each to the question, "What can I do about money?" I will have more specific thoughts to offer on this in the next few columns.

Richard Kotlarz

The complete set of columns from this series is posted at the following websites.