Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My own personal miserliness and my last (as in previous) post

(My friend KB commented on my last post, which spurred me to reflect even more on my thoughts about Christmas, the poor and government.  I wasn't completely done with my thoughts about spending and frugality, as I'd been mulling them over in the wee hours of this morning after G awakened me.  Reading her comments this afternoon kinda brought some ideas together for me.)

I generally think of myself as pretty darn frugal, but I probably wouldn't be too far off the mark to say I'm miserly.  I take care of my own, but I am not what anyone in their right mind would call generous, particularly with money.

We don't attend church so tithing is not part of our life.  We occasionally donate to organizations, like public television or public radio or our local zoo, but there isn't any one thing we make a point to donate lots of money too.  I sometimes purchase items to donate to local shelters, but it is not with any regularity.  Every year when I do our taxes I am embarrassed by how little we donate to charitable organizations, and I tell myself that next year we will do better.

With this in mind, I wonder whether other people are similar.  I don't see everyone's budgets or checkbooks, so I have no idea what the average person contributes to charity.  I guess I could probably Google it.

I feel miserly a bit, and so it makes me feel better to know that off the top of whatever D makes, some of it goes into government programs to help people less fortunate.  Like D's 401(k), taxes mean we never see the money so there is never anything to miss.

Since I am stingy with giving money, I automatically assume/think/feel/suspect that the majority of other people feel similarly.  I ask myself whether people would give to the less fortunate in great amounts if government wasn't doing it for them, making them do it?

KB made a great point that Jesus would say a person should take care of the poor, not because government makes them or tells them to, but because that is the right thing to do, and I think she is right.  But I don't believe enough in the goodness of people (especially in such an excessively consumeristic society as ours) to think this would happen if government didn't make us.  We are motivated by self-interest.

I remember in college, studying economics and hearing about Adam Smith.  Learning about how the invisible hand makes people work in their own self-interest, which ends up inadvertently doing public good.  But the individual is not planning, hoping or intending to help others; he is only concerned with doing what is best for himself.  It just happens that something beneficial to others might come out of it.

Some might think I hate the rich.  I do not.  I think it is great that some people have worked their butts off and been blessed with tremendous wealth.  It inspires others to live out their dreams.  (For all intents and purposes, since no one but me, D and our financial advisor knows our net worth, we could be the millionaire next door.  And compared to a vast majority of the world's population, D and I are truly rich beyond belief.)

What I despise is excess, and I see this manifested in the rich as well as the middle class, but it is more glaring in the rich (and the lower classes try to imitate).  I find it disgusting when people have closets larger than my living room full to the brim with clothes and shoes and purses.  I find it disgusting when people have so much stuff they have to rent storage space because they don't have enough room in their homes.  I find it disgusting when people get rid of their perfectly good furniture just because they buy a new house.

I don't find the people who do these things disgusting.  I simply have a very difficult time reconciling myself to their choices.  But they have the right to their choices.  And I have the right to my opinion.

So that, in a nutshell, is why I do not have a problem with government taxes taking care of the elderly and the disabled and the people who can't afford health care even though they work full-time at Wal-Mart.  (Of course, I think this has turned into one long ramble so I'm not even sure I explained anything satisfactorily.)

(As I was reading a bit about what Adam Smith has to say about government intervention and the poor, I happened upon this interesting article, which I think sorta derails the arguments I hear about how the poor have cell phones but they still need government assistance and isn't that so wrong.)

1 comment:

Keri said...

I liked reading the rest of your thoughts on this subject. And I can appreciate the logic that brings you to your conclusion that you think it's a good thing for government systems to be in place to help cover needs of our citizens when charitable giving comes up short. I agree that so-called safety nets needs to be in place. I have a couple of friends who have used -- needed -- food stamps to get their families through tough spots during stints of unemployment, and I'm very glad that money from our family's income helped to make that possible for them (and, obviously, for others who I don't know). I guess that my beef is just with the extent of the help, and the attitude of many in our country that it's the government's place to make sure no one gets "too rich" while there are people in need. In my mind, that's simply overstepping the bounds of government.

After I read this post this morning, I was curious enough to investigate a statement that I remember hearing - that America is the most generous nation on earth. I wanted to see if the facts supported that. I found this article that I really like because it seems balanced and realistic, and it looks at different aspects of the issue. You might find it good food for thought.