May 11th, 2009
At back-to-school night, I found out something terrible: Walden wants to be rich. (He mentioned it in one of his essays.)
And it is my fault. I have recently made a friend who is very wealthy, and I have been gushing about private jets and yachts. So, it was my responsibility to explain to Walden the pros and cons of being really rich.
The big pro: You can do anything you want, anywhere you want, anytime you want.
The big con: Humans weren’t meant to have their every wish fulfilled.
Humans are designed to work. Work is what brings people together with a common purpose. It gives us a reason to get out of bed in the morning. The goals that we reach through our work demarcate the seasons of our life. (Research indicates that people who work are happier and healthier than people who don’t.)
Being useful in this world is one of our most important blessings.
Beyond the damage to the individual, it seems like a terrible waste to have talented people spending their lives perfecting their golf game and watching baseball.
(Side note: I was in Silicon Valley in the mid-1990′s. Every 25 year-old engineer who arrived thought the same thing: “I’m going to work really hard until I’m 30, and then I’m going to retire and play golf.” Because of the dot-com collapse, they are still working. I suspect that the iPhone would not exist today if the dot-com bubble had lasted two more years.)
In most religions, great wealth is not considered neutral, as we tend to spin it today. Wealth is an indication that you have not given enough to those in need. I am not a christian, but Jesus was quite specific on this: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Thus, praying to Jesus for wealth seems especially silly me; Jesus likes you poor.)
I make a good living, and I suspect that I will end up paying more taxes under Barack Obama than I would have under John McCain. I am delighted to pay those taxes. My father worked his entire life for the federal government. My brother, who has cerebral palsy, lives on Social Security. Much of what I know about the world I learned in public schools and libraries. I cannot possibly repay the government for all they have done for me, but I am happy to do my share.
And when I’m dead, I hope the government takes a big chunk of my estate. And, as Walden writes the check, I hope he thinks, “Well, I guess I still need to make myself useful in this world.” If he thinks, “Well, I guess I need to go mail some teabags,” I’m coming back to spank him.