Friday, December 3, 2004

Can't Buy Me...?

Does it make the world go round? Not surprisingly for someone who is in the last week of an economics course on the way to becoming a CPA, I've been thinking about money today.

One reason for this is that I happened upon an article about economic indicators in the online edition of Wired. I know; that sounds boring, but it wasn't. The premise was that the economic data being gathered these days is as inadequate to understanding the modern world as the old laissez-faire model of economics was in Herbert Hoover's day for coping with the Depression. The kinds of measurements the government makes now are outmoded and increasingly irrelevant to the economy of the information age.

And besides, this article claims, economic indicators don't tell us much about our quality of life. Okay, unemployment is X, and the Gross Domestic Product equals Y, but how are we really doing?  Are we happy?  What we really should measure, the article suggests, half-seriously, is Gross National Happiness.

The claim is that beyond a certain point, more money does not equal more happiness. Obviously, this is not a new idea. Gershwin's Porgy claimed to be satisfied with "plenty of nothin'." The Beatles claimed not to "care too much for money." Arrayed against those sentiments are Money Makes the World Go Round from Cabaret and the Barrett Strong classic Money (That's What I Want), which the Beatles also sang. Maslow's hierarchy of needs suggests that once you no longer have to worry about basics like food and shelter, other things become more important, such as self-actualization (whatever that is). You don't worry so much about being creative and fullfilled when you're living in a cardboard box.

So here I am, 47 years old, a middle-aged ex-English major and novelist who has just spent two years learning about how businesses account for money, adding on to over a decade of accounting for a specific travel agency's money. When I was in college the first time around, I had no clue what the School of Management was about, but I knew I wasn't interested. My master plan was to own a used bookstore, and sit with a typewriter between customers writing screenplays. It didn't occur to me that it would be nice to know how to manage a bookstore--not until just now, that is. I'm still not interested in management theory, frankly, but accounting...yeah, I'm interested.

The reason I'm doing all this accounting stuff is that it's a relatively sure way to work my way out of debt, instead of getting in a little deeper each year. Making serious money as a writer is about as likely as winning the lottery, so I have to use my brain for something else, something I can be good at and enjoy and still make money.  I never thought that would be bookkeeping or accounting. It turns out, though, that I'm pretty adept at the kind of problem solving that accounting requires. That's kind of a shock, because I struggled in math in high school. But I'd good at this. I even enjoy it. Weird.

But ultimately, this new career path is not really about self-actualization and following a calling and using my talents. It's about the security that money can buy. Money may not buy happiness, but a serious lack of it can certainly cause misery. How many couples have argued about money, especially when there wasn't enough of it?  I know that John and I have done this. How about you and yours? Thought so.

I've never been homeless or anything really awful like that, but I've certainly been in tight circumstances financially.  I remember the time in 1978 or so when I tried to dine on spaghetti, an open can of moldy tomato soup and a box of dried milk, because that was all I had. (Then I invited myself over to my Dad's for dinner, and asked for a little extra cash.) Right now, money's tight again, with John unemployed. I was able to talk John into eating out tonight at an inexpensive Chinese restaurant, but only because we didn't have dinner at all last night. So yeah, money is important after all.

Would I be happier with a huge new monitor for me, a new car for John, a high def tv, a high speed wireless connection and all my credit cards paid off?  Maybe not, but I'd probably be under less stress. So I guess I'm going to care about money for a while, not for the pretty toys it can buy, but because I don't want to be 60 years old and $60 K in debt someday, with no real chance of a comfortable life when my health or John's runs out.

Unless, of course, that six million dollar advance comes through for the movie rights to Heirs of  Mâvarin.  I'm not holding my breath on that one.



ryanagi said...

Money, it’s a crime.
Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie.
Money, so they say
Is the root of all evil today.
But if you ask for a raise it’s no surprise that they’re
Giving none away.

jeff466 said...

I think it is great that you have found something you are adept at and enjoy!  I am still searching.  I dropped out of college for real estate and it seems too many years passed by and now I am having trouble finding something to do that I will enjoy and be good at.  I'm good at being broke if that counts!  

The writing is great!  Here's to hoping for that six million advance :)

Thanks for the comment about my dog Rudy, I missed it and just now saw it.  

Hope you are having a great weekend.  Jeff