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me-conomics part 2 of 2: education experimentation
build a better society by bettering yourself
by maigen thomas (@Maigen)
4.25.11
news

In last month’s column, I sketched out the basics of the various ways in which “America Has Built and Maintains Disposable Lower Classes”. Immediately after publishing, it felt like I had set almost too grand a goal for myself though I was writing about something I was passionate about and interested in. In struggling to find the right tone for a follow up column, however, I realized I was getting bogged down in information overload and possibly in over my head – I did mention my lack of formal economics education, didn’t I? Somewhere, my elation faded to a feeling of impotent frustration.

Stepping back, though, I feel that my approach to the subject matter was pretty dead-on, despite being from a laywoman’s point of view. It’s basic economics, after all. Everyone should be passing familiar with the concepts, but looking at the State of the Union, maybe it’s time for a refresher course.

POOR, POOR YOU

The government keeps you poor. Taxes keep you poor. The ‘System’ keeps you poor. There are many ways in which they do so, but do you know the biggest, most insidious way it happens?

You let it. The intricate social web that ties us together is also the binding that keeps us poor. In our consumerist mindset, we delude ourselves into thinking our ‘wants’ are actually ‘needs’ and in doing so commit to the cycle that pushes us to ‘one-up’ our neighbors, keep up with the Real Housewives and keep ourselves in perpetual financial limbo.

Tana French said it best in her novel The Likeness. “Our entire society’s based on discontent: people wanting more and more and more, being constantly dissatisfied with their homes, their bodies, their décor, their clothes, everything. Taking it for granted that that’s the whole point of life, never to be satisfied. If you’re perfectly happy with what you’ve got – especially if what you’ve got isn’t even all that spectacular – then you’re dangerous. You’re breaking all the rules, you’re undermining the sacred economy, you’re challenging every assumption that society’s built on. Throughout history – even a hundred years ago, even fifty – it was discontent that was considered the threat to society, the defiance of natural law, the danger that had to be exterminated at all costs. Now it’s contentment. What a strange reversal.”

You let it happen with your ignorance and your apathy and with your disinclination to actually Do Anything. In short, your problem is that you spend too much, save too little and aren’t happy with what you have.

TAXES

“In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.”

Benjamin Franklin wasn’t kidding when he said that, and it seems these days even death won’t get you out of paying taxes. The current federal tax crises we are seeing in the news serves to strengthen the point that YOU need to be in charge of your own financial health and security. Yes, you’re going to pay taxes and they’ll be deducted before your paycheck is direct deposited into your account. You can’t stop that, any more than you can stop Sarah Palin from being an attention whore. But you can tune out Fox News, and you can take better control of your withholdings.

See a financial specialist. Read a book. Take a course. Understand what’s being deducted, and what’s important to you. Want more money in your paycheck? Want more money in a refund (protip: that’s not always the best idea, depending on your situation and income.) The easiest way is to check out the irs.gov page. There’s a Withholding Calculator that should help you better understand how to balance your deductions with your lifestyle. With information so easily accessible these days, you have no one to blame but yourself if you can’t find the time to take care of your own needs, first.

On a personal note, I read and agree with the Fair Tax Book, by Neal Boortz and Congressman John Linder. Check it out.

LOTTERY TICKETS

“Forget the Lottery. Bet on yourself instead.”

Brian Koslow wrote 365 Ways to Become a Millionaire, so I figure he probably knows a little more than your average person – he made his first million right around 30 years old. The lottery tickets are not a form of wealth accumulation for anyone but the companies that run them – and they are run efficiently and effectively, like any business. If you really want to get rich, learn how to save your money instead of spending it (and especially stop buying lottery tickets).

DEBT

“A man in debt is so far a slave.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Speaking of saving money instead of spending it, what about debt? At the time of this writing, twenty-seven states rely on federal aid. How can you demand the government stay out of your business, but demand that you receive a bailout? Accepting a part of the Stimulus Package then buying a flat screen TV (instead of say, putting it into an interest-generating account or paying off debts or bills) is fundamentally the same as giving a homeless person on the street $20, then being mad when he spends it on booze.

Only you (and your accountant) know the extent of your personal debt. The more you spend, the greater that debt grows. You need to address that debt in any way you possibly can; you need to stop borrowing more than you can reasonably hope to repay and you need to start building a safety net. A safety net consisting not only of your somewhat untouchable retirement funds such as a 401k or a Roth IRA, but also of liquid assets in an amount that can sustain yourself and your family for a period of no less than six months.

SOCIAL SECURITY

“I was too old for a paper route, too young for Social Security and too tired for an affair.” – Erma Bombeck

Getting out of debt is a great start, but ultimately you want to be able to stop working at some point. It might not be sixty-five or sixty-seven – this economic downturn has put many people on hard times when it comes to savings and retirement, but it’s not the end of the world. However, life, work and savings should be approached with the anticipation that there will be NO Social Security when you retire. If there is, then that’s a bonus.

Find a retirement calculator. Do some research and figure out what your needs might be. Talk to the generations ahead of us, if you can, and see what kind of preparation they had for retirement. While you’re at it, learn about how they dealt with needs that went unmet in times of far more dire problems than we currently face. How about the Food Rationing Program during World War 2? Have you ever truly felt that you were unable to get what you needed? Take some time to wrap your head around what is necessary right now, and then get a better idea of what you can ‘sock away’ for retirement.

HEALTHCARE

“Clinton's attempt to socialize healthcare was the second most disgusting thing he did in the oval office. I can't remember was the first thing was.” – Anne Coulter

When did healthcare become a ‘right’? Besides the fact that there are costs involved in healthcare – costs that SOMEONE has to pay, eventually – a founding truth that people fail to realize is that hospitals, doctors, nurses and drug companies are all For Profit. A doctor may be drawn to the industry of helping people, but they have expenses such as debt to medical school, malpractice insurance and a family to support. Expecting free healthcare is at best presumptuous and at worst downright ridiculous.

I stated before that staying healthy is one of the most basic human needs, but that wasn’t intended to mean that anyone has a RIGHT to healthcare. If you can afford it, you pay for it. That healthcare is available doesn’t decrease personal responsibility in health maintenance. There are innumerable ways to maintain a healthy quality of life that do not require a person to be a drain on resources or rely completely on the healthcare system. It is a lifestyle, not a quick-fix. This, again, requires education and self-awareness.

SUBSIDIES

“Thanks to farm subsidies and the fine collaboration between agribusiness and Congress, soy, corn and cattle became king. Chicken soon joined them on the throne. It was during this period that the cycle of dietary and planetary destruction began; the thing we're only realizing just now.” – Mark Bittman

We have too many rights and not enough responsibilities. We’re like a kid at Christmas. Every year we expect there to be a celebration and presents. And every year we expect those presents to be better than the ones that came the year before. But we have, as the embodiment of that child, no understanding of the cost or value of those gifts and what it took for our parents to earn the money to buy them and place them under the Christmas tree. We take for granted what we DO have, and bitch and whine and complain that there isn’t more. More free money, less taxes, food for everybody and a shiny new car to boot.

Stop expecting and accepting a fucking hand-out already. Grow a backbone and get some pride. If you can’t provide it for yourself, learn how to live without it.

The only way to protect yourself is to take an individualist view. I truly believe that no one else is going to look after you when it comes to life, work, healthcare or retirement. Practice “ME-conomics” – you earned it, so take care of your personal economy. Above all, you need to be smart about your money. I’m not saying you should stuff it in your mattress or invest in the National Bank of Folgers, but I’m also not telling you NOT to.
You need to educate yourself on what your projected needs on both a short term and a long term basis will be and plan accordingly.

Spend only what’s necessary. Don’t starve yourself from the comfort of treats, but definitely be frugal. Give up the Starbucks; do better research on healthcare options. Speak to a professional regarding a 401k or IRA vs. ‘short’ term deposits like CDs. Don’t rely on credit (I think we’ve all learned that lesson the hard way), but build your credit and keep your score as high as possible on the off chance you NEED to borrow against your future earnings. Be realistic about Necessity vs. Luxury.

When the people are weak, society will continue to be weak. A severe lack of health, education and information combined with egregious personal expectations (that are based on the idea that we are entitled) cause this pervasive weakness. We don’t work as much or as hard as we should because we expect the government – this vast, enormous, invisible genie – to grant our wishes and take care of us. Assuming that we are entitled – and assuming that we SHOULD feel entitled – essentially promotes our expectations higher than our abilities. This expectation combined with a lack of understanding has caused and will continue to cause our downfall. Bettering yourself will actually have the effect of a stronger, more productive society.


ABOUT MAIGEN THOMAS

Maigen is simple. is smart. is wholesome. is skeevy. is spicy. is delicate. is better. is purer. is 100% more awesome than yesterday. She';s traveling the world and writing about her experiences with life, love, yoga, food, travel and people. Mostly people. Because they';re funny. hear more of her random thoughts @maigen on twitter.

more about maigen thomas

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