Hair Ache

I have a Sunday afternoon hair ache. As 2016 came to a close I wrote “Money“. Two weeks into this year as we were all making promises to do better this year I wrote 更多錢 (More Money). In May I posted “A Fist Full of Fiscal Fears“. 4500 words or so on a topic that hurt my heart since I was a kid. I love saying we can live on less. You need to live on less. Me live on less? How about, “no“.

Hair AcheIn 更多錢 (More Money) I promised to report back at the end of 2017. I need to spill so I don’t feel my hair ache so much. How am I doing? Terrible. I’m really good at hustling when the expenditures exceed revenue, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for FUB reasons. This, living on less when I am making a dollar an hour more than what I made in 2001, not so much.

I made all those nice resolutions about living on less right when a lot of us do. Since then I managed to pay for a flight/hotel/rental car trip for Chinese New Years, put a down payment on a redunkulous (24% for 4 years!) car loan, and not end up destitute in Mount Pleasant, SC after a road trip and hotel stay to see the eclipse. Most years, asking me to find a couple grand above my usual bills for travel would be too big an ask. It is too big an ask. I hustled, worked my ass off, and made it so.

How’s That Hair Ache?

In “A Fist Full of Fiscal Fears” I talked about the fiscal nuclear bombs set to go off in my life this spring and summer. It is the last week of August as I write this. The kids are back in school and though fall doesn’t officially start for another month we are all acting like summer is over. The bombs went off. I came out the other side still housed and still possessing my car and its loan. I made it through.

It is two-thirds through 2017. I used all my bad habits to get to this month with a better car and two big travel events in one year. So, clearly, when I want to, I can live on less. Yeah, I know, why not live on less and be a grownup? Y’know, pay down debt, save for retirement, keep my rainy day money instead of using it to buy yet more new shiny things . . . that. Tithe? Don’t say that word.

I write about money roughly quarterly. The topic keeps coming around to me and making my hair ache. This is yet another promise to actually, physically, truly be authentic when it comes to money and do what I keep saying I ought to do.

Things Work Out

Here I am again, with a Sunday afternoon fiscal hair ache on a payday weekend. One more time I don’t know how I am going to take care of myself for another 11 days. I used to start scheming, deciding who I’d boo-hoo at, pleading for money. But . . . being nearly 60 and able to work, working in fact, and the sympathy card lost its power.

But . . . as I like to say, “and then things work out“. I get in trouble and manage to come out stronger. I started 2002 a convicted wife beater, jobless, homeless, estranged from my son and his mother, and shunned by my family. As I sit in my favorite seat at Starbucks I have a house, a nicer car, better relationships with my son and his mom, and the family is grudgingly accepting the idea that I’m the titular patriarch on our bloodline. I’ve had the same job for almost 18 months. I’m doing ok.

To get here I maxed out the credit card and took money I’d budgeted for car payments to pay for my travel. Now that it is Sunday afternoon and my hair aches, I have to pay off the credit card and get back on track with car payments. I am behind with the City of Richmond so water, gas & trash collection are in jeopardy. Verizon is reminding me that I promised to pay them and I have not kept that promise. Verizon’s response? My phone is off until I pay.

Promises Are Free

Promises only gain credence in retrospect. Until they are fulfilled they are “Sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti in vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua“. So, rather than spend another 800 words convincing you that this time I really am going to make a change I’ll just say this: it’s the third quarter and I feel like I’ve failed. I accomplished a hair ache.

If only I had a house I could accomplish my goals. Once I have a car I’ll be able to get things done. I need to make more money to enable me to achieve my bucket list. I have the house. Cars have been the way I get myself around for most of my life. This job pays about 40% more than I really need. My excuses for not living on less are evaporating faster than moonshine spilled in the Mojave Desert.

I’ve said I’d live on less for years. And for years there have been seasons of fiscal storms that give me a reason to live on more. This year, though I am making a living wage, I had to replace my car, I was behind on my bills (wtf? how?) and it felt like a ceaseless march of fiscal thunderstorms across my checking account. Each of which became a reason why I’d start living on less next payday–for 40 years.

Tipping Points

The hair ache has to get bad enough that the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same. That is the tipping point for most of us. For 40 years I’ve been more stubborn, more willing to tolerate misery, than it takes to move me away from my bad habits with money. This has included being homeless more than once.

I can’t say why I am promising again to live on less or whether this promise is the one that will stick. I’ve seen many of my peers rise out of their homeless and criminal past to get comfortable only to backslide into another iteration of jail/half-way house/recovery. Will that be me? I hope not.

I am in a comfortable place. It is easier to slide into living on a bit more than what I make. Four decades of living paycheck to paycheck is a lot of momentum to overcome. But, quoting a Fellowship cliche, “nothing changes if nothing changes.”

Talk Walking Out a Hair Ache

My biggest grudge against God, against the church, against most everyone, is a failure to do as we say and say as we do. Virtue signaling is a venial sin. Don’t signal. Do. This puts an onus on myself. I am no better than those I accuse of sophistry if I too signal virtuous fiscal habits and still belly up to the buffet of first world resources possible with what I earn. Hypocrisy, more than a fear of backsliding, is what eats at me as each paycheck arrives and is spent.

It is the first day of September as I make this edit to the post. 2017 is nearing an end. The trend is toward another year of spending a bit above what I make. It is a “pick your moment” moment.

Goals for the second half: Tithe $1200.00. Pay off the credit card. Catch up all my bills. Complete Dave Ramsey’s “Baby Step 1”. So far, these promises are no better than Gaius Valerius Catullus‘ words from a lover. It’s the third quarter and I’m down by seven points. For better or worse, I’m stronger when I am losing. Will I win? Wait 4 months and find out.

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A Fist Full of Fiscal Fears


I need to talk about money bad. I need to talk about my fist full of fiscal fears. This has been true for years: I explain how much I make and how much I spend and it doesn’t add up. A living wage for me is about $14.50/hr. It’s been that amount for at least a decade. I worked at CapitalOne for a couple years, lived in a hotel and made $14.00/hr. A big reason for pursuing a leased house was to live cheaper in a better domicile. The hotel cost me roughly $900/month. My house with all the bills costs about $150.00/month less. So, do I have that $150.00/month? I do not.

A Fist Full of Nothing

Where is it? If I had put that $150.00/month in a savings account I’d have $4500.00 in principle. Dave Ramsey talks about having $1,000.00 in cash as a reserve. After paying off your debt the next step is 3-6 months of cash reserve. Assuming it costs me $2200/month to live, I need at least $6600.00 in the bank after becoming debt free. That $150.00/month cost savings is 68% of what I need in cash reserves. I have $500.00 or so.

I haven’t answered the question, “where is it?” Where is that $4500.00? Gone. Spent. On stupid stuff. $4500.00 of FUB.

Promises, Promises

As I type this I am a month behind on my utility bill with the city, I owe almost $400.00 on my cell phone bill and I don’t have the rent money due this week. My car’s inspection sticker expired last October and I have three traffic citations accusing me of driving the Impala with the expired sticker. The car needs another couple thousand to make it right even after spending $3,000.00 on repairs. I owe $540.00 on my credit card.

What I say to everyone is that I am broke. I can’t afford to do the responsible things with my money. Doing the right thing has to wait while I put out one more fiscal fire. I keep putting this off, telling myself that I’ll take care of it once I have a job that pays enough. Just a little longer and there won’t be so many fiscal fears and fires to deal with. When things are better I’ll do the right thing. I’m on the far side of my mid-fifties. Hillel, “אם אני לא לעצמי מי הוא בשבילי? ולהיות עצמי, מה אני? ואם לא עכשיו, מתי??

I promised as 2016 came to a close, to tithe more and save more. It’s what you do when in the company of a case worker. You say the right words about doing the right thing while knowing you are lying. I am tithing less and letting the calls from collection agencies go to voice mail. My promises mean less than Catullus’ words from his avid lover.

 

The Fist Full of Fiscal Fears

One more thing. A couple months ago I maxed out my $750.00 limit on my credit card. Then I made my plans for a trip to South Carolina based on having sufficient available credit. If I didn’t pay off the credit card the South Carolina trip falls apart. So, I started paying $50.00/week and more toward my credit card balance.

The Impala needs too much work. Court dates on the Impala start next month. I need a car before returning to court. There are still bills that need catching up. It is the end of May. My employer is converting me from a temporary worker to full-time. I have fiscal nuclear bombs exploding in my life for the next couple months..

I’ll be getting paid twice a month instead of every week. I won’t see a paycheck until late in the first month. Rent, the utility bill from the city, my cell phone bill, and my light bill, all have to get paid twice in a few weeks to avoid the sort of fiscal nuclear bomb that would put me on the street. Plan for that? No. I ain’t got no plan for that.

Mo Money Mo Better?

Oprah discovered this. It is an easy slide up the economic scale. As income increases we expand our lifestyle to consume the increase. New vistas and possibilities open up as our income climbs. Some of us make polite sounding noises about the increase not changing our lifestyle. Right. Pay cash for a bucket list car? Why thank you, I think I will.

Each step up we say again that we are entitled to the shopping list made possible by the new economic level. It gets easy to forget the old roach and rat infested third floor walkup with hissing steam radiators that only seem to work in the summer. Cash for a genuine Rolex? Definitely.

Yet, when we lived in that dump and rode the bus we made ends meet. The budget balanced because it had to. Now that we have arrived and can buy a watch equivalent to over a year of wages our budget doesn’t balance. Mo Money isn’t on its own mo better.

Money won’t fix it unless you get at the underlying reason why someone can’t keep it together. I have to do the work to heal my broken relationship with money. If I stay the same then my post in December of this year will have nothing to show for my added $900.00/month.

The Challenge

Jesus tells us to take nothing with us. God provides for the sparrow. How much more will he provide for us? We live in an empire that is a top ten all time wealthiest. Our first world life affords us a base-line lifestyle most of the world envies. The challenge is to live a frugal life in this cornucopia of indulgences we bathe in.

This is my challenge also. To live a $15.00/hr. life while earning $5.00/hr. more than that. Resist the natural growth in lifestyle available because of the extra income. My history on this does not bode well.

Jesus Doesn’t Deserve This

A thousand words down and I finally come out with it. I have a huge problem with giving money to the church. I’ve held this grudge since I was a kid. You read pieces of it here. I don’t like blindly giving fish. I wish we in the west would slow down before we fly 10,000 pounds of rice over the African Savannah and push it out of the back of a C-130 because of that doe-eyed kid we’ve all seen in UNICEF TV ads. So much of what the church does with tithing bugs me. I give to the church grudgingly, when I give at all.

I am still a fan of Robert Lupton’s, “Toxic Charity” and Dambiza Moyo’s, “Dead Aid.” I want the church to be smarter about how it does missions and service. Just doing resource dumps is stupid.

But . . . countless times in my nearly three score years the church has had my back. There are many in a number of congregations who are angels to me. It wasn’t always cash. Sometimes it was strong words or prayer. Everything done for me was done without an overt demand for compensation.

I.O. Him

Name for me another organization that would provide food, shelter, mental health services, transportation, access to medical care, religious education and fellowship for free. Where else can you find a scholar deeply educated in scripture who will give of his time free of charge? Grocery store gift cards.

Is the church sinful? Yes. It is filled with people. People sin. Not all people. Enough people to make the two word premise valid. Churches are filled with messed up people who did some fucked up shit. These messed up people are there because something drove them to seek revolution in their lives by following the way of life evangelized by a no-account carpenter from Nazareth who was martyred over 2,000 years ago. 2,000 years is a long time to not screw up.

In 2,000 years, have Christians ever done anything to anger others? Have we sinned? Every damned day. So, I, along with many, who get self-righteous and point angry fingers at the church, need to check our selves. Since when did we gain the right to stipulate that we are without sin but those guys, those Jesus freaks, well . . . they are evil. It is not credible that I could justify my resentment and miserly contributions to the church because those guys don’t deserve it until they come correct.

Money Bull Sh*t

Right, so here we are. The right thing to say is, “I am sorry. I’ll start tithing more diligently.” Those words are crap. What we both know as I type this is that I still have some forgiving to do. I owe the church the recognition of what it has done for me for free in the form of a stack of Benjamins. I ought not continue to judge. My cries of poverty are bullshit. I’ll let you know how it went in December of this year.

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更多錢

I am divorced from a Triad Mafia Princess. We have a son who is grown. When she asks if I have money her number has several more zeros in it than mine. If you ask me if I have money I am thinking Hamiltons. She’s thinking Salmon Chase (10,000). In Taiwan the middle class owns things debt free. It is shameful to ask a bank for a loan. If you need money you need to figure out how to earn it.

I started this blog post before starting the book, “Rich Dad/Poor Dad”. Go read it. The cray cray that spans generations in my family made my Dad desperate for stability. What he wanted and mostly got, was a multi-decade stretch of relative calm. It was a fight to make it through four decades working at RCA’s Camden facility designing power systems for mainframes and later their Radar and Defense Systems Division. The fight ended when GE fired him with a severance package that was way too small. He has been able to make money work for him well enough that the original pension buyout has generated 30 years of upper-middle class income and he’s increased his net worth substantially.

My purpose in writing this has changed since I started it. I had two thoughts prompting me. The first was how incredibly austere the Egyptian Desert Fathers lived. It puts to shame my whining about hankering for a new laptop and a better larder. The second is the way my Triad Princess thinks of money. There is no social safety net in Taiwan. Your social safety net is your family. The older generation relies on the younger generation to take care of them when they are too old to work. You don’t see beggars in the streets of Taipei because it is both illegal and a source of tremendous shame to the family of the beggar.

Rich Dad/Poor Dad adds to the shame. My Dad is still waiting for me to land the white-collar union job that I can count on until I hit retirement age. He would be very proud if I found a job that had a defined-benefit pension. I was never that guy. My first ambition was Broadway. After that I sort of lost my way and since have swung between that phantom white-collar union job and unemployment punctuated by cab driving, dish washing and computer whack-a-mole.

Define it how you will, I can’t sit still. I used to self-destruct routinely for a few reasons, one of which was I loved the work of recovering from disaster. I am at my happiest when the sky has fallen, Chicken Little is being mourned by kin, and the conventional wisdom is that we missed our chance to pucker up and kiss ourselves goodbye. I don’t get robbed because the robbers can’t figure out if I am insane or just weird. Threatening me just makes me get all hard & wet. So, multiple decades punching the same time clock? Not me.

Last thing before I get to my point. My ancestors had a particular meaning when they said, “I have/need my own money”. Wealth for them meant land ownership. Having money meant having land that could support the lifestyle they sought. Women, in seeking husbands, wanted to see the books. They wanted to know that their man had money and more importantly, was a good steward of it.

Well, almost last thing. In at least three generations of my lineage there has been a money man. It is the family member who is particularly adept at converting earned income into passive income. This family member is the bean counter, who does tax returns and provides consulting on the best method of moving away from earned income to passive income.

My Dad, for all his red-diaper urges, has been that money man. RCA/GE kicked him to the curb with a severance package that wouldn’t last a year for me with my love of shiny new things. God has provided and he has been good with God’s providence. As a result, that pitiful severance payment has grown into a net worth that nears millionaire. As the first born son, that is something I was supposed to do. It is, it seems, something my son is doing.

There is an inherent contradiction in our family’s puritanism, ascetic leanings, and tacit expectation that we will have our own money. We are supposed to maintain our station and signal our nobility in our support of our church and chosen charitable giving. To be authentically puritan and ascetic should mean we deny ourselves, deny our body and suffer as Christ suffers. So, many of the trappings of first world life are licentious. Yes, snowflake, that means you can’t have your smartphone and be authentically ascetic. Our family lives in blissful ignorance of the contradiction and has lived for generations this way. We decided to err on having our own money a long time ago. We do both, we confess our profligate life and compete in signalling with the material trappings of dissolute living.

Last year, not that long ago, as I was looking for work, I heard that I needed my own money. I need my own money the way my ancestors meant it. The ugly truth is we all age and at some point we will have to live on passive income because we become too feeble to hold down a job and earned income. Whether our government will change its ways and force us to be self-reliant or it will collapse with the same result is still being discovered. Either way, passive income is the new millennium land. It is the wealth and privilege attacked by some who also desire it for themselves.

I dislike New Year’s Resolutions. Rather than an annual iteration of, “Sorry about last year, I’ll do better this year,” I’d like to see us build daily habits that bring us closer to God. There is a place for confession and repentance in all of us. What bugs me is the showy signalling of a promise to do better that isn’t consequently lived out. Don’t just signal, be it. Don’t just talk about having my own money, live so that I do.

My ancestors, on facing a loss of their land and thus, their wealth, used the one thing they still had: an ability to work hard and sacrifice so that they could get out of the earned income trap. The thing that I have been doing wrong is worshiping the signal, my personal brand, rather than humbly seeking God and any necessary misery in accomplishing the goal of having my own money.

The Empress, my name for my son’s mother and mayhaps Triad Princess, came from a family that believed earned income was a failure. Having money meant having assets that generated passive income which precluded the need for earned income. The only hitch in this is that they gained their assets through the lust and greed of their customers. Still, the quest for an end to earned income, even ill gotten, is a good one.

This one, like my prior post titled “money”, is a story without an end. Whether I do as I say or join the many who make pretty words in December and January only to resume their normal dissolute life for the remaining ten months is something that remains to be seen. Many stay on this merry-go-round until they go tits-up. Will I? We shall see.

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Hello 2017

I don’t have 1500 odd words on a single topic. I have a storm cloud of random thoughts buzzing around like knats on meth. So, this post will be a little (a lot) scattered. Your normally crazy-making, pugnacious blog posts will resume soon enough.

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We have been told for a century that we have no agency, we can’t do it ourselves, we must keep taking what pittance Pimp Daddy US deigns to grant us and praise him for his benevolence. We don’t need to burn down D.C. or anything that dramatic. Just move our commerce into the black market. Yes, some of us will get arrested for failing to pay taxes and such. That’s the cost of doing business in an authoritarian, socialist republic. Pimp Daddy US has never been able to completely shut down the extant black market so I don’t see him able to do so anytime soon. Self-reliance, the thing of 2017.

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These are the current cabinet departments under the Executive Branch: State, Treasury, Defense, Attorney General, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health & Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Education, Energy, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security. 15 huge bureaucracies that have an enlightened self-interest in continued existence. In addition, there is the White House Chief of Staff, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Trade Representative, the Ambassador to the United Nations, the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, and the Administrator of the Small Business Administration. 7 more bureaucracies that are treated like Cabinet level offices in the Executive Branch which also want to continue to get funding.

Congress has its own administrative organization feeding from the trough of Pimp Daddy US. You have to also add in the lobbyists, who are a hidden fifth element of the federal government. Much of the sausage making of governing this empire happens inside the offices of law firms lobbying on behalf of their clients. They provide the staff needed to write the laws, provide congress with the digests of the legislation written, advocate for the laws desired by their clients and provide cover for congressmen and senators who want to claim that the junket to the Turks and Caicos was a working one. We won’t be able to do much with the licentious relations happening on K-Street. Free speech, etc. There are things we can do, though.

We are a multi-trillion dollar economy. We are one of the wealthiest and largest empires in history. It takes a government of a certain size to run this massive empire we have made. That said, we have built an unwieldy and ineffective bureaucracy in the Executive Branch that has become a tail eating serpent. It no longer exists to serve the President or us. It exists to serve itself and to grow. We will not fix our present malaise unless we cut this cancer on the republic down to size. So, if I were king (no danger of that), I’d do several things. First, day one,shut the government down for a hundred days. Essential services like Defense and Homeland Security would stay in operation. Everything else, though, would be shuttered. All Executive orders would be suspended pending review. Next, these cabinet offices would be kept: State, Treasury, Defense, Attorney General, Commerce, Transportation, Homeland Security, White House Chief of Staff, Office of Management and Budget. The others would be shut down over two years. The work they do would be turned over to private, non-profit entities with supporting law and/or regulation through the Attorney General to ensure they behave themselves. These entities would not receive federal funding.

Dumpf campaigned on “Drain the Swamp”. The first president to take a serious whack at the bloated fourth branch of the government will get crucified by the press and those with a vested interest in sustaining it. The opposition will unleash all the political dirty tricks they have. It will be a fight for power unlike anything we have seen since the Civil War. If that president survives the fight and manages to eliminate the Cabinet departments I’d like to see gone it will have the effect of taking money out of Congress’ hands and out of the kitty of any following President, maybe. Anything done on an Executive Order can be reversed by succeeding Presidents. Part of the victory will be to tie the hands of any successors so that putting back the eliminated Cabinet Departments will be too politically expensive. Swamp drained. Power in Washington reduced. Both good things.

I am not so naive as to believe that shrinking the Executive Branch will make the government less corrupt. Wealth and power are like water. They find their own level. In the absence of power vacated by the Executive Branch something will step up to fill the void. We’ve had our century of feeding on Pimp Daddy US’s benevolence. Government is already corrupt. I’d like to try allowing that corruption to go somewhere else. Gone out of the White House maybe we can find a better battlefield on which to fight it to the death.

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I am reading James O. Hannay’s, “The Wisdom of the Desert”. Holy Crap! We are a bunch of glutinous wussies. I keep talking about living on less, devoting a whole blog post (Money) to it recently. I haven’t changed my habits. I still fuss over finding an afternoon at Starbucks on one cup of coffee to be too expensive. Will I follow through in 2017? The new year is 2 days old. We have 363 more days to see if I do.

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Ray RobertaBob’s rules to live by:

  1. Lidera con compasión y misericordia. Solamente después de que su encuentro con alguien desafíe su opción para comenzar con la compasión usted encuentra maneras de limitar creativamente su misericordia hacia ellos. Incluso entonces, considere a los monjes y su voluntad de sufrir más allá de lo que la mayoría de la gente consideraría sana.
  2. El perdón te hace libre.
  3. Constantemente pregunte si sus elecciones actuales le acercan a su deidad o interfieren con su relación con su deidad. Todo lo que te aleje de una relación sana con tu deidad debe dejar tu vida.
  4. Un poco de miseria es bueno para el alma. Algunos de lo que quieres sólo pueden venir a través de la lucha.
  5. El rey no es tu papá de azúcar ni tu amigo. Deja de esperar que él te cuide.
  6. La sabiduría comienza con parientes y amigos. Amad a vuestros parientes, amigos y enemigos por igual.
  7. La forma en que usted califica para ser servido es servir a otra persona.

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That’s pretty much it. I joined my local YMCA as 2016 neared an end. I’ve done 3 workouts so far. I’ve been on diabetes meds long enough to be addicted and overly tolerant of their effects. Bringing my disease under control will mean more addictive/damaging/powerful meds or a much more impactful change in habits. If you want to pray for something, pray that I’ll get it in gear and eat better/exercise more. I’ve said enough about my money dysfunction. It’s not a matter of more knowledge or more words. New Year’s Resolutions are slow-news-day filler. I am a writer. Talking about doing something isn’t the hard thing. It’s the follow through. Stay tuned. This story will play itself out over the next few years. Keep reading the blog to find out how it ends.

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Money

1 Timotheum 6:10, “Radix enim omnium malorum est cupiditas quam quidam appetentes erraverunt a fide et inseruerunt se doloribus multis.”

Money is neither the answer nor the problem. It is not, by itself, the root of all evil. Money is how we have chosen to conduct our barter to acquire the things we want and need.

Deep in my genealogy is British landed gentry. When times were good and we hadn’t decided to tell the crown to piss off, we didn’t need a job. We had our estates and the staff that ran them. Life was good. Wealth wasn’t defined in terms of the fatness of our wallet. Wealth was defined in terms of your position and the health of your land. We had money but it wasn’t a primary occupation for us.

Then we sided with the more obstreperous minorities within the Reformation and began to insist that the king was apostate. Kings. Kings can kill you because they are the law. We would not shut up. So, out of mercy, the Dutch let us move to Holland. What of our land? Gone. Everything that gave us status was lost. But . . . we were fighting heresy, so we were good with it.

Much happens and we end up in two places, Plymouth, Maine and Jamestown, VA., where many of us die trying to farm strange land using seed and methods from our manner homes. It didn’t help that the staff we had back before our departure to Holland were the subject matter experts. Still, there were heathens to evangelize and a utopia to make. Plus, the King of England wanted us dead. The heathens only wanted us to leave them alone.

This falls to me as a presumption that I am entitled to a certain degree of deference and station. Which, I worked hard at shedding. I was successful enough that I’ve been broke most of my last 36 years with times when I’ve called a shelter home.

I hear this a bunch from some, “If I had money I’d be straight.” To which I want to start talking about the lottery winners and other windfall recipients who blow through the money only to find themselves worse off. Just having money isn’t the answer.

In Christian history are many who read Luke 9:3 and abandon everything for faith that God will provide. Todd White is part of a long tradition of ascetic Christians. Todd is one of the few who succeed at living on 5% of their income. He’s not as extreme as some of the Egyptian Desert Fathers who chose completely inhospitable land to locate their hermitages. It can be done. It is done. Could I do this? No. I’m too soft, too attached to my heritage.

Todd and other ascetics could not survive if there were not a much larger majority of dutiful working stiffs who faithfully tithe, do their annual two weeks of vacationary, serve on church committees and so on. For a time, it was a grudge I held against God that I wasn’t more like Todd. Why didn’t status fall from the sky? Why didn’t someone recognize how awesome I was? Why was I yet again elbow deep in a commercial pot-wash sink cleaning pots after a church supper? Don’t they know who I am?

Yes, they do. Which explains why I end up pot washing. An old aphorism, “Live on 80% of what you earn before taxes. 10% goes to charitable giving and the other 10% goes to savings.” Right. If I did that it would ruin my current financial habits. I could not live as I do on 20% less of what I make.

It is almost the end of 2016. My troubled relationship to money goes way, way back. Money for me, is for spending. A highlight of my week is the Saturday afternoon grocery run where I shop for what my heart desires. Within a few hours I have lots of stuff and less money. Like an old heroin addict I know I have a problem but keep being addicted because it is how I feed the monkey and avoid feeling sick.

I keep having the same conversation with a parade of kin and friends. They ask how much I make and how much my bills are. I answer and the stark truth is there is a wide gap of unaccounted money between what I make and what I say my bills are. My claims at being unable to tithe or save because I can’t afford it don’t ring true. With each conversation the kin or friend walks away suspicious that I am not being completely honest. I’ve been asked many times where the money goes.

You can ask me. I use Quicken diligently. I balance all my accounts to the penny. I make an effort at tracking how I spend my cash. I can almost answer the repeated question with some accuracy. Quicken in its own way embarrasses me because it too can’t figure why I finish each month scrambling to make the rent. It too, though inanimate, wonders where the money goes.

This is the time of the year when I feel the ache of my spendthrift ways rather acutely. I am scratching the itch to once again promise that next year will be different, again again times 36. Rather than iterate the same old tropes about Dave Ramsey‘s Baby Steps, Rockefeller’s 10/10/80, and others I’m spending these 1500 words confessing my failed habits with money.

And talking about some goals which will demand that I do what I have promised for almost 40 years—treat money as something to be saved. My rented house is valued at $33,000.00. Realtor.com pegged it’s sale price at $41,000.00 or so. That works out to around $370.00/month. I pay $600.00/month in rent. There is a lot of room for cost reduction if I am able to buy my house on a 15 year fixed rate mortgage.

All well and good. How much money do I have saved for this? You guessed it. 0 Zero Nada Nothing. Typical me. Great ideas, terrible follow through. And another thing. I like travel. I like the trips to Boston I’ve done for Chinese New Year. This year I am pulling this feat off in a last minute binge of cab driving on the weekends. Why haven’t I saved for this? You don’t know me well enough. I said it above, for me, money is for spending. One more. I ain’t so young anymore. It’s not that long before I am expected to quit my day job and live on my savings. My non-existent savings.

Ok, one trope, forgive me. Us who have hurts, habits or hangups have a high tolerance for pain. We continue our malfunction way past when most people would have sought help changing. It has to hurt bad enough that we are moved to not just initiate change, but stick with it. 36 years living this way is a lot of stubborn loyalty to being a spendthrift. So . . . saying here that 2017 will be different doesn’t mean much.

Rehab, hospital, jail, or all three repeatedly until something changes or the something that changes is a move to the morgue. There may not be as severe a risk with money that there is with other hurts, habits or hangups. Still, I’ve been homeless more than once living as I have. You would think I’d have ached bad enough to keep behaving better. You would think.

This week the press will exult in all the promises we make for 2017 that we made for 2016 and kept up for a month or so. Gym memberships will spike and then collapse by March. Some of us devote hours to lovely looking spreadsheets projecting great progress on our debt and spending habits which become so much bullshit almost as fast as we upload them to the cloud.

The end of this story can be told in two years. If, by then I have changed my ways and spent 24 months using money as something to be saved it will be a trend worth noting. It’s been almost 40 years like this. Two years of fiscal responsibility will be something radical for me. If I am only my past then in two years I’ll have yet more stories to tell of FUB‘s and near disasters as I keep doing the painful things I’ve done so far with my money. Mark your calendars. My history isn’t encouraging.

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Chicken Little

First Posted 21-Jul-2014

I have people in my life who narrate certain events in the most emotionally dissonant way possible. Suggesting that parasitic space aliens are infecting family members through transporter beams embedded in cell phones has them nodding agreeably. It totally explains the voices in their heads and their secret urge to eat live silk worms as a primary protein.

Predator-FaceSomeone I know checked their bank balance and saw that $900.00 was gone. This was not a transaction they had authorized. Panic. An hour in the bank, nuke everything that may have been compromised, new everything in its place, and the bank said, after investigation, that they may give back the $900.00. This is somebody like me, who lives paycheck to paycheck, so this was a huge loss for them. That’s the back story. In the meantime, his financial life has taken a big hit and important bills like rent, car payments, insurance, groceries, and utilities and so on, are now harder than usual.

Last I heard, he’d gotten some help here so it’ll be ok. Still, in the early moments of this, life was scary. Along the way, wanting to understand why he took a $900.00 hit on his account, he tried checking his credit score to see if anything was there. This guy, though, is young and so far, except for checking and savings, does not have a credit history. He grew up in a family that operates with cash, usually without a bank account. What they own they save for and pay cash. Credit just isn’t in the plan for them. So, being a good son, he also has cash, mostly, though the checking and savings accounts were/are necessary for payroll. Now, that’s the mellow, reasonable explanation for browsing to a credit reporting agency’s site and finding nothing.

This site likes parasitic aliens. It explains a lot. We know there is no such but parasitic aliens is such a seductive lie it’s hard to ignore. I mean, Ray(bert(a)) is a thing in this space, just saying. The lack of a credit report and the questions the site asked along the way can’t be spoken of as a normal thing. Nope. That doesn’t have the requisite emotional heat. Better still is this: Russian Separatist Rebels had hacked the credit reporting web site and put up a page to phish for this guy’s data so they could get more than $900.00. The rebels, having been cut off because the old accounts were nuked, were now pissed and thus, sending Mexican gang members infected with alien parasites to educate this guy with knives and baseball bats on proper humility and cooperation with the rebel’s need for more money. Crazy, right?

We write novels and make movies with stories like that. We spend good money watching them. But, in life, such stories can be a problem for us. The emotional energy in them, that makes great fiction, can drive us to behave in ways which generate trouble and could manifest a version of our insane narrative. My friend is ok. He did the needful and now has his bills paid. The bank has said that it’ll take time but it looks like he didn’t do this and so they’ll be giving him his money back. It could have gone differently, perhaps if he’d taken on the “Russian Rebels” narrative. It didn’t, though, and that’s a good thing.

We can’t always control the circumstances we find ourselves in. We can control the way we narrate those circumstances for ourselves and for others. We can also control our choices in those circumstances. Please, before you start hating on cell phones & family members, ask yourself if this isn’t a little nuts. Maybe the story you tell about cell phones & family members needs a little fact-checking. Also, it’s probably not true that Russian Separatist Rebels would put that much work into a web site to attack just one young guy. Just saying.

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Capitalism

First Posted 15-Oct-2014

Before I get going on today’s post I want to acknowledge a milestone. This is post 100. This site has been up for the better part of three years. In that time I’ve earned a little more than $10.00 in ad revenue and had a few hundred visits to the site. I can’t say how many posts I need before I can say this is more than a hobby. But, to those who challenged me to finish something, 100 posts is a big step in the right direction.

Now, on with the show:

“DOWN WITH CAPITALISM! DESTROY THE UNFAIR WEALTH DISPARITY! UP WITH ROBIN HOOD! HE’S MY HERO AND HE LOOKS HOT IN TIGHTS!! OBAMA FOR DICTATOR! FREE FOOD IS A RIGHT! FREE EDUCATION IS A RIGHT! FREE HEALTH CARE IS A RIGHT! FREE FAIR TRADE COFFEE IS A RIGHT! STARBUCKS IS EVIL FOR CHARGING MONEY FOR COFFEE! DOWN WITH THE RIGHT! UP WITH THE LEFT!”

Think I’m stupid yet? Agree with any of that? I have friends who would walk a picket line chanting the above and think it was serious. ROBIN HOOD HAS FREE COFFEE HE STOLE FROM STARBUCKS! HE’S SO MY BFF! Some of them believe that some flavor of anarcho-blah blah would be better. ANARCHISM IS BETTER. Really? Anarcho-Socialism is MORE FAIR!

diamond_dollarSeriously!? Capitalism is easy. I have some form of money and need some good or service. You have a good or service I desire and are willing to trade it for my money. We negotiate a price and make the trade. Done. Socialism gets in the middle of that and tries to enforce some degree of “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs”. Socialism tries to make it “fair” based on a value system that has a religious orthodoxy no less crazy than my own Christian faith. Socialists assume that there is disparity, that a small minority of wealthy hoard resources which could be better used by the peepul.

UP WITH PEOPLE! There are all these pie in the sky utopian ideals about ending poverty and misery by taking from the rich and giving to the poor. END MISERY, MAKE WEED FREE! FREE WEED IS A RIGHT!

Yes, capitalism is vastly more complicated than that in ‘merica in 2014. We are an empire of over 300 million people. Our GDP is $16 trillion. Only China has more people and controls more wealth. Even they have mostly abandoned their heavy social control of their economy in favor of a free-er market. We have been a socialist democracy since Woodrow Wilson and maybe before that. The difference is the degree to which we tax and regulate our commerce. Until recently we were more free-market than most countries. The current trend is toward more socialist policies, toward higher taxes and more regulation.

I may be oversimplifying, but I believe this is what is hurting us. Neither is it reasonable to say that it would be better if government was not involved at all. As big as our economy is, some regulation is necessary to keep the thing from collapsing into overwhelming avarice. I don’t trust people not to cheat or misbehave. For the sake of contrast, let’s say it would be better if there were no privately held assets. If everything was owned in common through the government. This becomes a feudal system where a few lords control the great majority of wealth, ruled by a titular democracy controlled by a dictatorial president whose power effectively makes him or her king or queen. A $16 trillion empire. That $53,000 in GDP is stripped from us and given instead, to the Peeepul, through government ownership. Since the lords control it and arbitrate who must produce based on ability to fulfill assigned needs, in effect, it ends up being like we are back in the 17th century as tenants and serfs forced to exist on what we can get from our overlords. It’d make it great to be president and bad, very bad to be a serf. That’s more fair?

My anarchist friends would vehemently deny that this is what they promulgate. They say they do want law but don’t want government. The people would be in charge. After much rhetorical tap dancing they finally admit that they would be in charge as representatives of the peepul. They’d decide who had the needs and who had the ability. So, they’d be the 17th century lords feasting on the toil of their serfs. That’s more fair, supposedly.

Since we would own neither the land we live on nor the means of transport or anything, not even the clothes on our back, there would be no reason to give a shit. Tenants famously don’t maintain the apartments or houses they rent. Owners do. Owners give a shit because it’s their shit. They benefit from or suffer from the condition of what they own. Tenants do, sometimes, but many don’t. In a system where the rule is that to each is given based on their needs from each according to his or her ability it’s hard to give a shit because nobody owns shit. The maintenance costs are huge.

Then, who decides need? Who decides ability? What if the most profit is gained in appearing to have the greatest need while hiding any great ability? Where do things come from if everyone is attempting to present themselves as having tremendous need while denying that they have any ability whatsoever. It is a system where ability is punished. Nobody wants to show ability because doing so would diminish need and thus diminish wealth.

And . . . this assumes there is no cheating. Every organization, every system, has to deal with criminals who find ways to game the organization or system to their advantage. Corruption in socialist or communist economies is way off the charts out of control because there is a someone deciding need and ability and thus has control over resources. That much temptation is very powerfully addictive and corrupting. Capitalist economies are not immune to corruption. But without a baron or lord in charge of assigning need or ability it’s harder to cheat. But, if you dump all that, allow private ownership, private capital, private commerce, and try to wrangle a $16 trillion monster into relative submission so on a macro scale it mostly functions to the good, many of these problems disappear. Poof.

Ability becomes the valuable thing. Innovation, hard work, things we like to call good American values, these become treasured. Capitalism is neither completely evil nor completely good. It is mostly good and mostly works for the majority. It works better than any other system of managing commerce yet imagined by us. Is it unfair at times? Yes. Our own history is plenty proof of this. But relative to the other choices, it’s damned good.

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The Twenty Percent

Old habits die hard. I’m trying in 2016 to break the habit of preaching. The ethic among those in recovery is to share. It’s a good ethic. This post is a fail in that regard. A couple years ago I was in love with yelling at anybody in earshot that if they had a dollar they could tithe a dime. Most of my ire was directed at a particular friend who had kept up his hungry maw ways. The Calvary came for him, helped out, and he iterated.

by Ken Rockwell
by Ken Rockwell©

Next month, same thing. A poor-mouth speech about how he couldn’t afford his bills and the man was oppressing him and if he could just get that one big score or the man would cut him a check, he’d be straight. Next month, +1 iteration. It got old. He has a late model Cadillac. Whatever thrift store he shops at must have friends in expensive places. His clothes have that “Pimp Daddy” vibe to them. I thought I had him checkmated with the premise that everybody, no matter how broke, can tithe a dime on a dollar. I thought this move was brilliant. It isn’t. The point then was that you can’t really say you can’t afford to tithe. So . . . how did that work for me? Not so well.

Looking at all my income sources last year, I had a decent year. I made $4,000.00 above my 7 year average income. I had that job at Bing Maps and Uber Map Improvement which paid about double what I usually make. With all my bluster about having a dollar and giving a dime, how did I do? meep. Charitable giving was 2%. I gave 2¢ on each dollar I earned.

Let’s make things worse while that turd sits on the screen and reveals me to be the hypocrite. How about savings? Dave Ramsey in his book, “Financial Peace”, recommends that we save 15% of our income. Did I save $5,000.00? Nope. There is a difference between depositing money in an account and saving. I deposited $2600 in my investment banking account. I have $8.00 in that account. In a previous post I gloried in depositing enough money in that account to have Baby Step 1 done. $8.00 of that money is left. So, I have saved $8.00 (0.025%) of my $2600.00. Woo.

Here is what I shoulda, woulda, coulda done, what you can do (sorry, sermonizing). Live on under 80% of what you make. Give 10% to charity and save the other 10%. Yeah, I have that rant in my head, that our tax burden can be a big hit on our net income. If we pay child support that can be a big hurt on the budget. Minimum wage isn’t enough, the job you have isn’t enough. My bills average about $1100.00/month, or about a 40% of what I usually make.

The other turd in my life is that every time I compare my income and expense averages the claim that I can’t afford to live on 80% shows up as a lie. Last year I spent $1200.00 on dining out. I gave fast food restaurants 10¢ of my dollar earned, five times what I gave in charity. Another fine, oft spoken trope about us spendthrifts, if we just stop with the Starbucks and McDonald’s we could easily afford a 20% cut in our spendable cash. I know, we know. It’s not about knowledge. It’s about making the choice (again) and doing it.

You and I that run from paycheck to paycheck, always chasing bills, never quite able to get ahead, perhaps envying the 1%, we have to decide. Do we want to keep being miserable this way or are we willing to invest in a little more misery for the short term to make a change? No, no, I won’t listen to a rant about how if the 1% just cut you a check you’d be fine. Go look at my “Big Score” post if you have forgotten.

I have a nice little thing running. I get a job, I get money, I spend money, the job ends, I cry wolf, the Calvary comes, we eat wolf steak for a bit, rinse & repeat. I’ve slowly climbed from a cot in a church social hall as a client of Richmond’s CARITAS to sitting in the second bedroom of a single family home with all my toys. Yes, it’s a gap time and for now, I am broke as a joke. Some bills will not get paid until I find money for them. As things sit it looks like I might lose my cable TV and wired Internet access. It’s a pause in my growth curve. But as things sit it doesn’t look like I’ll fall as far as CARITAS.

The standing question I haven’t answered, though, is whether I will rinse & repeat or I’ll break my rhythm and do what I so proudly declaim as the right thing to do? Will I live on 80% of what I make, even now, as I am broke as a joke. One of those Twelve Step clichés: nothing changes if nothing changes. I totally get you reading this and snorting with sarcastic derision at me because it’s another iteration of, “I’ll do better this time.” Will I? Will you?

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FUB Score

FUB Score You

The Urban Dictionary defines “fubbing” in a much nastier way than my definition following. Go look it up if you don’t know. I defined a FUB as something one spends that gathers the ire of someone aware of the expenditure. It’s an ancronym that stands for F**k yoUBudget. It comes from my time living at Carlos Bee Hall with Timothy Johnson and Akira Hashimoto when I owed Akira money and instead of paying him back, spent the money on movies and other stuff that had no lasting value.

obama-middle-fingerAkira, in accented English, said something like, “So, you spend money on movie and don’t say the words but it’s just like you say, “F**k You! You like to talk about budgets you make on the computer. I must be in your F**k You! Budget in that stupid spreadsheet”. A FUB purchase is an expenditure that is stupidly self-indulgent, has no lasting value, makes the fiscal picture worse and bonus, makes a mess of relationships.

Fast forward to today as I type this and the mashup of the Urban Dictionary definition and my rueful definition of a self-destructive and self-indulgent expense is working for me. It’s as if I had stuck (redacted) Akira’s (expletive deleted).

High FUB

I used to say a FUB is a choice made to forgo paying bills because the available cash isn’t sufficient in favor of a self-indulgent blowout of dining and shopping. Afterword, you have no money and the bills are still there needing to be paid. You have made the problem worse in an orgasm of cash fueled pleasure.

My son Tim suggested there should be a metric of how self-indulgent and self-destructive the expenditure was. He was trying to design a sarcastic credit score that measured how much was spent, how irrational/self-indulgent/emotion driven the expenditure was, and how much damage is done to your fiscal and social life. It is an anti-credit score. We never considered fingers penetrating strange orifices.
High FUB scores indicate very self-indulgent, expensive and self-destructive spending. Bernie Madoff has a lifetime achievement award and a FUB score in excess of 1,000 for his ex-traordinary success being profligate with other people’s money. We on the staff of this site bow to him and are not worthy.

Low FUB is Boring

Low scores or scores in the negative indicate self-sacrificing, Holy Spirit driven budgeting that builds fiscal stability. Well behaved, fiscally wise folk will have a FUB score approaching zero if they still work a day job and increase their net worth through savings and wise investment. Church going folk who donate above their tithe to local charities and save/invest wisely can gain FUB scores less than zero. The lowest scores go to folk who have gained and keep enough net worth to be able to quit their day job, donate above their tithe to local charities, and create living wills which will mean they will die with their entire estate going to charity after normal costs and ensuring the fiscal security of their heirs. These folk, while admirable, annoy us for being so responsible.

Our FUB Wish

Low scores don’t make good copy or drive traffic to the site so we tend to ignore people who have them. We have a secret wish that they have an undiscovered addiction or fetish we can blast across Facebook. It’d make our day. We are having a big debate on how to report on Dennis Rodman since learning he got drunk in North Korea. Some on the staff want to give him our second ever four digit score for getting plastered on communist won. So far, it’s not getting traction because we haven’t heard that he spent money irrationally, or that it was expensive to him, or that it hurt him financially.

But, there it is. A FUB is a sarcastic score of your spending. It is intended to shame you into spending your money better. Save that, to have a good laugh at your spending habits since you won’t pay us back. The Urban Dictionary definition? Eew.

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The Big Score

First Posted 26-Feb-2015

This one is as nuts as some of my recent posts, maybe more. A friend of mine, who did a long bit in prison, still wants to hit the big score and dump a bunch of cash into his neighborhood. His idea is that if the score was big enough he could buy off all the poor people and in one fell swoop, fix the problems in his neighborhood. People would love him, he’d get his (new) Cadillac, young women would want to be with him, and so on. It’s a fantasy that only works on TV or in Hollywood. In Real Life, it’s a non-starter.

diamond_dollarThese ideas come up. It’s a popular fantasy that you could dump enough cash into one locality to end poverty there. Let’s play with it for a bit. To make the score big enough we are talking $32.1 billion or so. There are roughly 26,000 people in this guy’s neighborhood. It’s a nice mix, with the median income being about $28,000.00/year. To make the math easy, we’ll say the median income is $30,000.00/year. Median age is 38. So, we are talking about $30,000/year for almost 40 years for 26,000 people. $31,200,000,000 to create enough cash that all 26,000 could spend $30,000.00/year for 40 years and not be broke. Show me a single crime that can pay off 31.2 billion in once score. IMHO, doesn’t exist. So, the size of the score is one problem.

The other concern is 26,000 instant millionaires who may not have the life skills necessary to be disciplined with $1,200,000.00. The feeding frenzy potential here is pretty intense. 26,000 to 1 that everyone would behave with their 1.5 million is lottery odds. If 1,300 (5%) misbehave that’s still $1,560,000,000.00 worth of cash dumped into the grey & black market economies. The possibilities are scary.

that’s the number in play if we are going to give everyone in his neighborhood enough money to retire comfortably. It is that much money. Enough that the size of the wad of cash starts twinkling in the eyes of the politicians and the one holding that bankroll suddenly has friends in high places he didn’t have before. It is a big impact on the social and political scene in which it appears.

That’s enough cash dumped into one zip code that it would change the character of the neighborhood. Before the money Highland Park is perceived as a a ghetto. It isn’t, actually. The medium income is decent and the majority of the folk in the area work. It’s only a small number of bad actors that get the attention and drive the news narrative about this zip code. After dumping $31.2 billion into it and just the cash makes it a desirable place to be. Suddenly lots of folks want to buy the 19th century homes in the area, driving property values and initiating the sort of gentrification that would permanently alter the character of Highland Park.

It would mean my friend could not live there and pay the same rent he currently pays. I reckon he includes himself in the group of folk who would collect their $1.2 million so maybe this doesn’t matter. My friend, in his naiveté, believes that he could do this and it would come out the way he wanted it to. People would behave, invest the money wisely, and be able to afford a reasonable income for the rest of their lives. I disagree.

This is so much cash that it would take on a life of its own. The challenge of mastering it rather than becoming a slave to it is daunting. With this much money in play could he live a disciplined life? He could totally, stupidly indulge every one of the seven deadly sins and have plenty of money left over for his philanthropic largess. Right now, he’s living on Social Security Disability. There isn’t enough money in his life for him to get into much trouble. $31.2 billion, though, is a lot of potential mischief. It’d take a remarkable person not to be drawn into at least a little excessive behavior. He’s not that remarkable. He’d do something and depending on what he did, make a mess of it, maybe a irrecoverable mess. This too, $1,560,000,000.00 given to the drug & crime lords in his neighborhood from a guy whose expressed purpose is to eliminate economic misery and the monetary motivation to commit crime. Somehow, having 1,560,000,000.00 loose in the black market doesn’t seem like a crime reduction plan. It seems like a cash fueled bacchanal that would spike crime and have the opposite result from what is intended. Then, the cash would be gone at some point and what then?

That 5% that fueled the bacchanal would have to deal with a community hangover of prodigious size. The money is gone so the lifestyle it supported would collapse. The support systems that existed before the windfall may have been pushed aside by all that cash and thus, wouldn’t be there when the hangover began. It would be an epic economic crash, an epic community hangover. You can poke around to find stories of lottery winners or others that had a sudden windfall of cash and instead of it solving problems, it creates them. I don’t see any difference here. Even if 95% of the folk who got their $1.5 million dollar gift from my bank robber friend did behave, the other 5% that didn’t would still have a big effect on the community. 2,000 people in a small geographic area who are suddenly rich and then suddenly facing Sunday morning, hungry, broke, hung-over and in trouble. Bad news, I’d say. I made much of Robert Lupton’s, “Toxic Charity“ and Dambisa Moyo’s, “Dead Aid“ last year. These two writers talk about the damage that can be done by ignorant resource dumps of the sort that my friend imagines as the answer. More money isn’t the answer. Intelligent engagement with the community and a long term plan for micro-investment to promote economic development is a better answer than $32,100,000,000.00 dropped into the ghetto he lives in. One last thing. Alongside this wish for the one big score is a core belief that he doesn’t want to do more time. If he did pull off a $32,100,000,000.00 job, he’d be prime beef for the FBI. He’s already done 30 years in prison. He’s in his 60’s. If he did this, he’d die in prison. There is no way they’d let him get away with it. So, the two don’t go together. He can’t have his big score without doing big time. The whole thing is nuts.

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