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Sunday: Make this the week you free yourself

Commuting to work in Copenhagen

Thursday, November 17: Shut Down Wall Street

If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, Matt Taibbi has a piece in the Rolling Stone where he confesses that he didn’t “get” Occupy Wall Street at first, but now he does:

What both sides missed is that OWS is tired of all of this. They don’t care what we think they’re about, or should be about. They just want something different.

We’re all born wanting the freedom to imagine a better and more beautiful future. But modern America has become a place so drearily confining and predictable that it chokes the life out of that built-in desire. Everything from our pop culture to our economy to our politics feels oppressive and unresponsive. We see 10 million commercials a day, and every day is the same life-killing chase for money, money and more money; the only thing that changes from minute to minute is that every tick of the clock brings with it another space-age vendor dreaming up some new way to try to sell you something or reach into your pocket. The relentless sameness of the two-party political system is beginning to feel like a Jacob’s Ladder nightmare with no end; we’re entering another turn on the four-year merry-go-round, and the thought of having to try to get excited about yet another minor quadrennial shift in the direction of one or the other pole of alienating corporate full-of-shitness is enough to make anyone want to smash his own hand flat with a hammer.

If you think of it this way, Occupy Wall Street takes on another meaning. There’s no better symbol of the gloom and psychological repression of modern America than the banking system, a huge heartless machine that attaches itself to you at an early age, and from which there is no escape. You fail to receive a few past-due notices about a $19 payment you missed on that TV you bought at Circuit City, and next thing you know a collector has filed a judgment against you for $3,000 in fees and interest. Or maybe you wake up one morning and your car is gone, legally repossessed by Vulture Inc., the debt-buying firm that bought your loan on the Internet from Chase for two cents on the dollar. This is why people hate Wall Street. They hate it because the banks have made life for ordinary people a vicious tightrope act; you slip anywhere along the way, it’s 10,000 feet down into a vat of razor blades that you can never climb out of.

That, to me, is what Occupy Wall Street is addressing. People don’t know exactly what they want, but as one friend of mine put it, they know one thing: FUCK THIS SHIT! We want something different: a different life, with different values, or at least a chance at different values.

Personally?  I want to live in a place like Denmark.  Your mileage may vary.  And I think that’s part of the point of Occupy Wall Street.  If you want to make millions producing something useful like green technology or a new drug or some personal gadget that we can’t live without, by all means, do it!  I would *love* to make a new drug that helps people but I know that the current corporate model for doing that is dead.  But starting a new biotech in this particular kind of capitalism is extremely risky because there are predators out there who see you as nothing but a money machine ready  yoke you to their plough.  They give you the money to get the work done, you hand over whatever they want.

But what if money is not your personal endpoint?  What if doing what you love is your goal but you want to earn a wage that doesn’t leave you destitute?  What if you’re ok riding a bike to work in an urban setting?  What if your starter house doesn’t have to be 3000 sq ft?  What if you are happy living somewhere between Ikea and Pottery Barn?  Does that mean you’re a loser if you don’t want to make millions but only want to discover the next drug?  This society is telling the real producers that they are losers and that the only true winners are the ones who eat what they kill in the free market savannah.

Six months ago on my last day of work, I wrote about what was happening to us.  We are locked into the Wall Street extraction mechanism almost from the first day on the job.  Our pensions are so small and the possibility of getting one is so remote because our careers are  unstable that we are forced to turn to the marketplace to build up our nest eggs.  We invest in 401K’s that are so heavily penalized by taxes that the money becomes hostage to the Wall Street movers and shakers.  And investing in the market makes us the very same shareholders who demand our terminations.  We are forced to put our savings into the global casino so that some assholes on Wall Street can play with making a killing by porting our jobs overseas.  And we’re supposed to be grateful to them for “producing” this great wealth that only they can accumulate and spend and pay for *their* kid’s college education.  Yes, they get a bonus, you get an excise tax bill, to be paid up-front, if you need to take that money out to pay for the hardships produced by putting that money in the market in the first place.  How crazy is that??  How did we let ourselves get talked into this bizarre arrangement? And it’s not real money to Wall Street.  It’s play money.  It’s not *their* money.  And if they lose some after they skim off their bonuses and cry and complain about how unappreciated they are, it’s no big deal.  With the next working guy’s paycheck, the coffers will be renewed from all of those contributions to the retirement account.  This game is set up so that the fund managers never have to feel accountable to anyone but themselves.

I’d rather be free to live modestly than live miserably and precariously with the vague and insincere promises of riches decades down the road.  I want out.

29 Responses

  1. Free yourself and others from the print and broadcast media, the ones most responsible for our current state of affairs. Our government doesn’t need a Ministry of Propaganda because the Fourth Estate does the job quite well.

    Fox News preaches to the choir, that 30% that gave Bush the Lesser his approvals. It’s the other so called “Liberal Biased” media that has caused the most damage. They are responsible for eight years of Bush and the attendant disasters that occurred from 911 thru Katrina to the financial crisis that is engulfing us all. Not satisfied with the damage they wrought they foisted Obama on us to finish the job.

    The enemy isn’t the corporate toadies in congress or Wall Street fat-cats it the ones who makes their crimes possible by convincing the American public to vote against their self-interests. Use your imagination to compare our lives under a President Gore then President Clinton to the reality of the sellouts we are saddled with in Washington. Then you realize how vile and despicable those who practice the art of journalism have become.

    • Hey, that’s a great idea! Let’s make this comment thread about the steps you can take to free yourself.
      Turning off TV news is definitely a good step.

      • Drop your bank and join a credit union?

        I did.

        • I haven’t watched TV news in years and bank at a credit union. One caveat to your original comment.

          The MSM is not selling the wars and products on their own dime. They are doing it because they are owned by Wall St and the Big Money interests. So even that can be laid at the doorstep of the 1%.

          The enemies are still those damned fat cats,

    • Genuine news has to be paid for. If there are any outlets selling quality reporting, buying their product helps them keep their reporters employed. If I were more loose-fisted, I would buy every copy of Rolling Stone with a Matt Taibbi article in it, for example. (I have given up trying to read the Taibblog because the left side of it is cut off on the screen which makes it too physically frustrating to try reading it).

      One newsletter/paper I buy is called Acres USA. It is mainly about scieintifically supported organic farming/gardening but it has some editorials and even articles about economic/political issues. They have a website with some articles to get a feel of what they feature. They even will send you a single free copy one time so you can decide
      if you like it enough to want to subscribe.

  2. Study “Your Money or You Life,” the latest edition. This is the holy grail of enlightened personal finance. Be aware that the original harkened back to the hippie movement, when a generation of boomers might have moved towards personal as opposed to consumer gratification before Ronnie Reagan was appointed by California big business to usher in the Yuppie Era–“he who dies with the most toys wins.”

    Reach the point of financial independence for yourself, and you start to own yourself. When we buy something, we are spending non-renewal life energy for it (unless we have inherited wealth, in that case we might be spending our future). If my actual hourly wage is $10 an hour (includes commute, preparation and downtime), and I want that second red sweater that sells for $40, I am exchanging 4 hours of my life for it. If that is how I want to invest that bit of my life so be it, but it does make me think.

    So what if I decide to wear the red sweater in my closet and put the $40 towards financial freedom? There’s the rub. Most Americans are in debt for the previous red sweaters. The interest rates are high. I need to first pay off my debts. Getting down to zero other than a mortgage on what one considers a reasonable amount of space, varies greatly, but larger spaces need to be crammed with more stuff, right–can’t have empty rooms…getting debt free requires discipline and a decent job. That same thrill of purchasing–now the sweater is on sale, only costs 3-1/2 hours of my life energy–has to be transferred to paying off credit card debt and college loans. BTW, the $200,000 mortgaged house at 6% is going to cost you $600,000 over 30 years, lots of interest up front. Three times what your mind registers as the cost. By the time you sign all of the dozens of forms, who cares? That is my future life who has to pay.

    Then debt free after years, you start to build a nest egg. But where to get some return? Zilch for safe “financial vehicles.” There’s always the stock market casino, where the price fluctuates based on where the big traders can move money. Here solid, boring stocks with a history of paying dividends might afford a modest return. Watch out for those promising unrealistic returns. Don’t risk what you can’t afford to lose. Don’t put everything in one basket. There’s a reason getting a safe, modest return is hard–the financial services industry is huge and highly paid. Make finances too opaque for the average person, who is just making minimum payments on the item that has already fallen apart.

    When I have had a chance to spend time with older generations in my family, what strikes me most is how little stuff they had in their homes. The family Bible that recorded the first generations in America was prized. Their lives were consumed with meaningful work– their own farms or small stores. The social context was much richer. Time spent with people, not canned entertainment. Today the phony right/left divisions, and the false superiority of the expensive car or the right label, even if purchased with borrowed money, serve to alienate us from community and real values. Naomi Klein’s “No Logo” is a good antidote to impressing with logos. For many prized, wearable brands, most of the money goes into advertising and packaging, not the product.

    • I like the cut of your jib, CB. this is kind of the way I’m thinking these days. I would love to buy my grandparents’ old house in Pittsburgh. I could own it outright. And even if it only has one bathroom and is rather small, I know I could be happy there.
      Now, if only I could find a job in Pittsburgh….

      • RD,

        From what little I’ve read, Pittsburg is a happening town. Aren’t there colleges? Any kind of biotech there? Maybe you could write for Teresa Heinz’s foundation?

        Might be too cold to grow your own food, but you could build a small greenhouse.

        Financial independence can be expedited if one gets one’s monthly expenditures lower.

        • Like I said, I’d love to work in Pittsburgh. Maybe in a couple of years after the kid graduates from High School I’ll move back there.

  3. I emigrated 🙂

    I walk to work. 3 km, past Père Lachaise. Most of my adult life I didn’t drive, much less own a car. My only car I bought from my mother and Bank of Mom has lenient terms. We don’t own a car now,not that we need one. I walk or ride my bike around Paris.

  4. It occurred to me several years ago that I wasn’t happy being simply a consumer, so I just stopped buying gadgets etc. After a bit I was actually happier without the junk and complications so I started saving to pay off my mortgage and retire.

    I retired this year, completely debt free, on a really small pension and social security. Any investment income, dividends etc, are reinvested in very boring stock, It’s not luxurious but it can be done and I’m just happy as can be about it.

    • Ayayay! I love gadgets. I absolutely have to have a new iphone next year when my contract is up. It pisses me off to no end that I lost Siri on my iphone 4.
      Cars, on the other hand, I could do without. I spent years in Pittsburgh getting around by bus and walking. Probably spent less on groceries back then too since I could only buy what I could carry home. Sure, it’s a pain waiting around for a bus. I blame that on our piss poor transit system in this country. But with gadgets, you don’t have to be disconnected from your work while you wait for one.
      We all have our vices and gadgets are mine.

      • My vices are I like to eat and spoil my grandchildren! My 10 year old car only has 80K miles on it and I’m going to drive it until it falls apart. When I was working, the company furnished all the “work from home” gadgets I needed and then some.

        My son and his family are iGadget types. He has 5 iPhones on his plan and his own is furnished by his job. There are 4 iPads that I know about currently. But then again, all his expenses are pretty outrageous to me. Luckily he can afford it at present.

        • Only 2 iphones in this house. One is a 3GS. That’s enough. I’m cancelling the landline. We never use it. Yeah, it’s more than I want to pay but for the money, I get unlimited data and texting and these days, it’s worth the access to the web on the go. I can find addresses, make grocery lists, get automatic reminders of the things I need to do when I’m near specific locations, check my jobs database alerts, respond to networking emails, and look things up. Like the time I needed a specific type of screw to put my microwave back together and couldn’t figure out which one in the hardware aisle was the one I needed. So, I whipped out the iphone and looked up the installation manual from the Samsung site to know that I had to get it from another store. That kind of stuff is invaluable. I literally live with my iphone. It’s not just a phone. It’s soooo much more. It *should* be cheaper to run the sucker, especially in NJ where ATT signal sucks. But I won’t leave home without it.
          Same with my iPad. I can blog on it from anywhere. And although it would kill me to lose it or have it stolen, it’s better than losing my laptop. Plus the battery lasts all day.
          Damn, there I go again. I can’t help it. I like shiny new hardware with glossy surfaces and amazingly cool software.

          • If you make full use of the smart features, then it’s worth it. I know myself well enough that I wouldn’t do it. 🙂

            I like shiny too but it’s a matter of priorities and my top priority was to get out of the rat race and stay out of it.

          • I use it as my second brain because the elves that are supposed to be running my primary brain are frequently off daydreaming.

          • I like my Apple gadgets, too! But I don’t charge them on a credit card I can’t pay off immediately these days, and I use them a lot. I don’t consider them as financial drains because they are high-quality tools. If the technology hadn’t advanced, each of my many Macs would still be usable. It’s a trade-off for each person, and what one spends one’s money on differs from person to person. That’s the beauty of applying the “principles” of “Your Money or Your Life,” it’s non-value judgment. If you want a dozen of the same red sweaters, that is your choice. Just be aware of what exchange in terms of your life energy you have made.

          • Um, yeah, my apple stuff is all paid for from the beginning.
            What I find weird is that two commenters have mentioned clothing items like Jimmy Choo shoes and red sweaters. Have either of you had girlfriends who were into those things?
            I’m tall and nothing ever fits me right so I tend to not shop for clothes. It just frustrates me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like new clothes when the old stuff looks old. But I’m curious as to where the concern for red sweaters and designer shoes come in. I’m partial to Frye boots, which are also expensive but much more practical and long lasting. Do Fryes ever go out of style? But multiple red sweaters?? I don’t get it. Who buys a lot of red sweaters?

  5. We haven’t purchased a new car since ’85. We buy only used, quality cars. We now have 2 Toyota Avalons (one is a ’95 with over 200,000 miles), and drive them until they die. We haven’t had a car loan since ’85. How do we do it? Buy used, drive them until they die, but we automatically have money come out of our checking account each month and invested into a safe investment. The secret is MAKING interest, not paying interest!

    We bought a house (a fixer-up), on three acres. We planted cherry, apricot, apple, and plum trees, raspberries, strawberries, asparagus and rhubarb, the first year that we moved in (20 yrs. ago). We have two large gardens, and can and freeze lots of fruit and veggies. It’s a lot of work, but there is nothing better than taking your asparagus from the freezer in January.

    We fixed up our house, one room at a time, and paid cash as we went. Our house was paid off in 15 years. Now, if only we could do something about our property taxes!

    We’ve been married for 32 years, and never once paid interest on our credit cards.

    The secret to getting ahead is paying cash for everything. (and I worked at a Credit Union for 20 years, so I saw how much more you pay for everything when you take a loan for it).

    I retired from my part-time job at 45. Now I just enjoy life. Don’t let debt run your life. Turn off your TV’s. HGTV taught us that if we didn’t have stainless steel appliances and granite counters, our kitchens were nothing.

    “Sex In The City” made us lust after Jimmy Choo shoes; not healthy.

    I think you get my point.

    • I most certainly do. BTW, I have never had a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes or any other pair that costs over $100. I drive a second hand car, paid for. I don’t have credit card debt. And the only reason I renovated my kitchen is because I might have to sell my house. The kitchen cabinets were in really bad shape. In fact, when were doing the demolition, the sink base disintegrated. I couldn’t have sold the house with a kitchen like that.
      But I do hear you.
      I don’t much like gardening though…

      • What is great about gardening is the excess that is created. We pass our surplus on to our neighbors.

        • Because otherwise, you have to buy a freezer. And that would sort of defeat the purpose somehow.
          I guess you can put them up. My mom used to make us pick elderberries and then she’d make jellies and preserves. I think one year she and her neighbor went a little nuts with a garden on about half an acre. They preserved green beans and tomatoes. But it’s kind of a pain in the ass. You can’t be too careful.
          I don’t really have the room for a big garden around my townhouse anyway so maybe I’m safe from having to actually plan one out and then weed it and fertilize it.
          I like fresh lettuce and tomatos though.

          • If job and money precarity get severe enough to cause food precarity, then more and more people will decide ” that pain in the ass
            feels like food to me”.

            There might also evolve systems of sharecrop-gardening. People with some gardenable land might allow trusted neighbors or friends to garden on a limited part of their yard in exchange for a percentage of the produce.

            Meanwhile, there will always be the bitter old men screaming: ” I had no shoes when I was your age. What do you need feet for?” Let them scream on . . .

  6. We participate in a program here called “Plant a Row for the Hungry”. My excess produce is taken to our local food pantry. My extra tomato and pepper seedlings are planted in a community garden where people can help themselves.

    We have many volunteers in our local community, and the beauty of our town shows it. We also have a soup kitchen and homeless shelter. On the last Sunday of every month, our local churches take up a second collection to help fund the soup kitchen and food pantry.

  7. Riverdaughter,

    I see several green tabs at the top of the blog. They are perma-links to permanent features.

    I wonder if you might consider crafting another green tab permalink to another permafeature; a sort of standing information-node. It would be where you store any ideas of the sort you solicited on this thread for personal survival and scaape if you think they are good enough for permanent storing and access. Maybe it could be called something like… Escape. And survival in the meantime. If enough other readers decide such a green tab permafeature might be a good thing, would it be worth your time to consider?

    • I’m not sure I understand the intended content of the permalink you are suggesting. Could you describe it for me in more detail?

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