Ethical Decisions about Money, Time and Life

Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”
~ Benjamin Franklin

This is a subject I have somewhat neglected until now: how I earn my money, how I use it and how I invest it. The same with my time, as these days, time is money. However, ethical decisions need to be made at all levels if we want to be true to our values…

When I moved to Canada, I decided to learn about personal financial planning, something I haven’t done before but that suddenly seemed very important: we were by ourselves in a different country, with two sons and no financial stability. I set to learn about retirement (RRSPs, OAS, CPP), children’s studies (RESPs), mortgages and taxes. For a while, I became a fan of all these cool tools that would allow us to be “safe”…

As many others, I followed the book: started RRSPs as soon as I started working, contributed to my children’s RESPs and learned to do my family taxes online. I became an “expert” in taxes and financial planning. Not that it worked so well…

Then, in December 2011 I started to peek and learn into what I know now: that the “economy” is not safe at all, it is indeed built over a very vulnerable house of cards: it won’t bounce back forever: it is not sustainable and can’t “grow” perpetually as most economists, financial advisors and politicians would like us to believe.

I sincerely believe that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies, and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.”  ~ Thomas Jefferson

Many books and articles have been written about this topic, so I won’t repeat their words here. It is a trap and we are all slaves: most of us bought the idea of a stable job, a 30-year mortgage that builds “equity”, saving for our children’s education, lifestyles sustained thanks to access to credit cards and loans and the need for saving for retirement.

The reality is that jobs are no longer stable, mortgages are a never-ending curse that we will probably pass onto our children, RESPs will never be enough to pay for our children’s education and they will go broke as we currently are, credit cards and loans are a hole in our pockets and savings (if we are able to make it) may be lost or won’t cover enough…

This is, at least, the reality for most immigrants who came to a new country with nothing but their dreams and skills. And it is also the reality for many Canadians who would never be able to “retire” or send their children to the university. People wouldn’t live the life they currently live if it wasn’t for the credit cards and other loans to buy cars pay for studies, etc.

A few months ago, I decided to explore this “dark” side of life further… (dark because it is taboo, most people wouldn’t openly talk or even acknowledge that they are in debt, concerned about their future and that of their children). And I decided to see the ethical part of it and take the covering veil that says our safety and security as individuals, families and communities rests only on having stuff and money.

And this is what I found:

  • Security (financial or otherwise) is an illusion: we are never safe and will never be. Money losses its value, is stolen or used up. Investments are another way of slavery: you put money each month so others can benefit from it and make themselves rich, making you think you’ll have your share. Reality is that investments are the most insecure thing you can think of in this world. Markets crash and bubbles explode…
  • Houses never go up, they go down: they are actually over-priced and the bubble will eventually explode. Houses depreciate with time as they age and require maintenance…equity is just wishful thinking and delusion artificially kept by investors who want you to get into debt so they can play with the infinite interest you pay.
  • RRSPs are OK as long as they are ethically invested. But unless you have started them when you were 20, you will never have enough to retire and live from them: if you retire at 60, you still may have 20 more years ahead: how much money would you realistically need to pay for shelter, food, transportation, health, etc.? Most advisors will tell you that you have to put at least $1000/month towards your retirement: I wish I can meet those who can do that…most people I know don’t have $100/month to save!
  • RESPs are good only if they are ethically invested and if you have started putting enough money aside for your children when they were babies. College education costs a lot more and your children will rather see you healthy, happy and debt-free than completely exhausted and indebted just to pay for their studies.
  • None of these are “investments”: houses, vehicles, clothes, entertainment, savings accounts, funds, masters and PhDs… but most people still believe they are and continue wasting money, efforts and their entire lives for these…
  • Jobs are not stable and most are a way to dumb us down and keep us quiet: most people surveyed are overworked and exhausted. Many don’t care about their jobs and may even think badly about their employer’s agenda and impact on the world, but continue working because they “have to pay the bills” and “save for retirement”.
  • The “you deserve it” propaganda surrounds us so we can continue doing what we are doing, so we earn money to pay for things others say we “deserve”. However, what we really deserve (i.e. fresh air, healthy food and clean water, exercise and time to enjoy Nature and the company of family and friends, freedom to travel and explore, time to read and learn without the pressure of credentials and assignments, etc.) we don’t have because we are “too busy” trying to earn the money to pay for things we don’t need…

“A country of free men is not free if they are owned by somebody else.”
~ Joseph P. Sekula

So, how do you make sound and ethical choices to be “safe” and “secure” for your future and make sure your children (and all the other people’s children) have some peace of mind for their present and future?

Here is what I have started doing (some) and plan to do (most):

  • Invest on skills building, not a career: fixed studies won’t work anymore in the future. They are starting to fail right now: most jobs are for those who are eager to explore and learn and continue learning informally and truly applying the things they have learned. A paper that says you have a master or PhD will probably do nothing for your job stability. Your everyday passion, your real contributions, skills and efforts will. Skills will also give you other type of “security” the ability to create your own job, become an entrepreneur, become self-employed, work remotely from home or explore different career options such as the new opportunities opening in ethical and green jobs (jobs related to social and environmental well-being and regeneration, instead of destruction and erosion)
  • Invest in community, friendship and family building: the best “security” is having people around you who care about you because you care about them. Intergenerational and multicultural neighbourhoods can be scary, messy and unsafe…or can be the best place to be! It depends on how you work around the challenges and find opportunities to share build and create things together. Check here for more ideas and inspiration:
  • Invest in land and ecosystems restoration: land should be a common property, which would be the only way to guarantee housing and food for all. But it isn’t, so buy land (not overpriced houses) and build your own house. Take care of the existent ecosystems or create new ones where Nature can thrive: this is the best security for you and your children’s future, as land and a cared for ecosystem can provide safe and clean water and food and a place to rest. If you have more than what you need, share: share the land with those who don’t have the opportunity to buy their own. Share by leasing or just free sharing and allow others to farm and play and live. If you live in Vancouver area, you can check this website:
  • Invest in durable and useful tools: tools will help you grow your food, repair your house, help neighbours with their chores, and build things you may need. Tools may be anything from knitting needles to shovels and ladders. Try not to trust much in energy-depending tools (such as those that need electricity or fuel to work)
  • Invest in books, not eBooks: as much as I love Internet and technologies, eBooks are not sustainable (sorry to have to say that): they depend on Internet connections, batteries and electricity. What would you do if you don’t have those around you? Do you think I’m too radical? Check the energy crash in Argentina and the state of electricity in Venezuela, just for some current examples. Don’t think that what we have around now will exist forever, even during our own lives…
  • When possible, look for ethical and green jobs: work for organizations that care for their local communities and the environment. Look for those who care for their employees’ wellbeing and create a healthy and flexible environment where people do much more than enslave themselves 9-5. Look for jobs with a clear and ethical vision and mission for both the present and the future.
  • Invest in your health and that of your family: eat healthy and exercise, spend time with your children, partner and parents. Your children won’t benefit from piano lessons, summer Math and soccer as much as they would from being free in the wild, learning how to grow food, how to differentiate species, work with others in the community, care and respect for the elder, build a house, care for an animal, cook, walk along with you, hand-by-hand, play and enjoy life.
  • If you are one of those lucky ones who actually have surplus money and can choose how to use it, pay any debt you may have (including mortgage, remember, there is no such as thing as “good debt”)…
  • If you have extra money and don’t have debts, consider one of these options: 1) invest in ethical businesses or help people in your community. There are many small organizations, groups and businesses trying to do great things and need money…or 2) determine if you truly need to continue working that hard: you may want to reduce your hours or invest some or all your time in helping others who are not that lucky!

“…. most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth.”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.”
~ Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

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