For nearly two decades of my life I regularly experienced what I came to regard as a sacred privilege. I got to listen to people and assist them as they were answering the question, “What will you do?” around their accumulated wealth. Most of these conversations were about how to accomplish something good in the world. For some that was a question about what to do in life, for others it was about what would happen with their stuff after their life. Usually it was a mixture of both.
Surreal every time
During that time I got to see people wrestle with hard questions – for years sometimes – then sit down and sign away millions of dollars in a few strokes of a pen. Surreal every time.
Beginning in my early 20’s I had professional roles that routinely put me in those situations through my early 40’s. Even since then, when I work as an interim pastor, similar conversations happen. They’re less frequent or focused, but the same.
Back then, everyone I ever had those conversations with was a solid 15 to 20 years older than me. Often enough they were 30 or 40+ years older than me. They were in the stages of life when those questions tend to become more persistent.
This morning, it was refreshing – and surreal all over again – to hear myself having that conversation for the first time ever with someone in my own generation. Someone saying essentially, “I’ve reached the place in life where I can afford to do what I want and I want to make sure it’s good. Can we talk about that?”
Absolutely. Of all the conversations, this is one of my favorites.
What will you do to do good?
When I was paid to raise money for not-for-profit organizations, I raised nearly as much for other organizations as the ones I was paid to represent. Often enough, the person making the gift appeared to care more about some other way to help make good work happen. I could rarely bring myself to talk someone out of something like that,
By the last phase of my professional career I worked for a foundation that raised and managed money for multiple organizations. It was the closest I came to being an unbiased advisor in my earlier professional context. But, still, there was a context. Now I get to participate in the conversation completely unbeholden to the interests of any organization(s). That feels good.
It’s a conversation worth having and, for me, it’s had best in the wild. The privilege to participate is surreal every time.
Customers are the real Job Creators. Neither capitalists nor the capital they own create jobs. Capital chases returns from investment in the labor of others.
Billionaires have been showing off in space; savoring the most far flung of their lifelong dreams by launching $100’s of millions of dollars worth of hardware skyward for a little fix of something only they can afford. Folks have had opinions on it all. Those opinions have run the gamut across two primary poles.
Selfish Pricks – They could’ve spent the money they accumulated on the backs of exploited workers more beneficially and responsibly by solving any number of dire human problems on a planet that is showing legit, tangible signs of becoming a dumpster fire.
Hey, Show Some Gratitude – We’re lucky there are folk able to pursue these exploratory dreams on behalf of the rest of us and we should be grateful these cosmic capitalists are creating jobs for hundreds of thousands of people while pushing the boundaries of human possibility.
Cultic Capital Confusion
First – no one has convinced me that the hopefulness of that range of perspectives is in any way mutually exclusive. There’s enough money on the table collectively in this case to fully and fundamentally address a multitude of current human needs AND explore the horizons of human possibility. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. There’s enough money though.
What I am convinced of is that the assumption that these capitalists are job creators flounces past a well worn confusion about the nature of capital, and capitalists, in the job creation equation. Too many of us are unquestioning, even avid followers of the Cult of the Capitalist Job Creators.
Pro-Tip: It’s a false religion.
Pile up as much capital as you like. It won’t do anything at all on its own. I’ll wait…
I’ve watched real live capital at work up close in the wild. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I have had a front row seat for the show. I once share executive and fiduciary responsibility for turning a $20 million pile of capital into a $40 million pile of capital over about a seven year period (during two of the worst stock market crashes we’ve ever experienced – ’03 & ’08).
At no point was a single penny of the capital I helped manage the instigating factor for the creation of a single job. It was an important factor for facilitating job creation, but not the instigating factor.
We even invested a portion of our capital in what is known as micro-finance. That is the financial system of institutions that fund and manage small loans to families and individuals (mostly women) in very poor communities. With amazing rates of success they use those loans to create businesses that will expand their capacity for stability and self determination. Even then, we didn’t cause any of that. We were investors seeking returns from the labor of others.
We sought out the best labor we could find in which to invest. Good labor. Sustainable labor. Self-owned labor.
Still, we weren’t job creators. We were rent seekers; investors seeking returns from the labors of others. I’m not even saying that’s inherently bad, but that’s what it was. It wasn’t job creating.
Just Add Labor
Meanwhile, until you apply some labor a big old pile of capital won’t make a single thing or create a single job on its own. There’s no inherent magic in the use of capital that creates any sustainable jobs. The key word is sustainable. Temporary jobs go away when the capital runs out.
Customers are the Job Creators
Only customers can create permanent jobs. Not that “permanent” is ever really an accurate word for a job. Sustainable is a better word. Only CUSTOMERS can supply the ongoing revenue that makes jobs sustainable over time without depleting capital. Customers are the only thing that transforms the use of capital from being a hobby, an experimentation, or pure vanity into a potentially ongoing business.
Capital owners may create the perception of being job creators. It’s a temporary illusion though. Without customers, their pursuits, and any jobs they may have created along the way, will eventually evaporate.
How much of the future of our economy should we base on cosmic capital in search for customers? How many families should stake their well being on temporary jobs rooted in the self-satisfaction of the whims of the wealthiest few?
The Privilege of Power
The rules and laws that govern how we participate in the economy also shape who has access to opportunities. They also shape the kinds of opportunities available, and the feasibility of those opportunities being available at all. Our rules and laws are dominated by the belief that favoring the interests of the owners of capital is best for everyone involved.
Capital is the least essential and least exclusive ingredient in the sustainability equation. Labor has to be particularly suited to a task by skill and experience. Customers have to be particularly satisfied with a product that meets their needs. When it comes to capital though, pretty much any old capital will do.
Why then do the policies that make up our social economic equation tilt so far in favor of the interests of the owners of capital? Why do the resulting policies so often serve to the detriment of workers and customers? An example may help.
You know the contracts customers are required to sign just as customers of most cable, telephone, utility, and financial services companies, right? These contracts usually include default mediation clauses. Customers forfeit their right to sue a business when they sign those clauses. The business is protected from legal recourse even if it fails to live up to its agreements. That’s quite a privileged legal advantage just for owning a pile of capital.
How do the least exclusively essential players at the table always seem to end up running the game?
The Job Creation Myth
Only religion is powerful enough to bestow the kind of social leverage that allows the least significant minority to run the table. For decades now rent seeking capitalists have set about with billion dollar bullhorns proclaiming the mythic mantra that the owners of capital are job creators and worthy of veneration. The religion has many names, or sub-sects: Rugged Individualism, The American Dream, and Trickle Down Economics just to name a few.
All share a core reality that rent seeking investors profit the most when workers, or customers, are desperate enough to accept low wages and high prices just for the privilege of using capital. The proclamations of this dogma usually subsist in holding up anecdotal success stories as representations of what everyone has waiting just around the corner. All we have to do is just keep worshipping at the grindstone on the capitalist’s altar.
Reminder: By any name – it’s a false religion. The quantifiable outcomes of the increasing wealth disparities that result when the rules favor capital rather than workers or customers have never matched the marketing promises belted from the bullhorns.
Balancing The Job Creator Power Equation
Recognizing CUSTOMERS and WORKERS as the true, enduring Job Creators is the most important first step to demystifying our collectively misplaced faith in capital and its owners. Naming them as such helps us see differently whose needs and interests should be prioritized for the greatest enduring benefit.
Have whatever opinion you will on the personal vanities of the billionaire space race. Just be careful if any of your perspective rests on the idea that the supposed status of “job creators” exempts billionaires from any form of scrutiny for how they participate in our civic economy, or from accountability for the outsized influence their actions sometimes have on the rest of us.
Capital will always seek returns. It won’t always seek the best interests of the customers or workers upon which it depends. That will almost always be a cost-benefit decision.
Prioritizing the well being of customers and workers will be best for everyone in the long run. I’m betting the owners of large piles of capital will be fine either way.
If your business model depends on paying employees minimum wage – or anything less than an actual living wage – you don’t have a viable business.
Living Wage Earning Employees or Donors?
What you have is a charity to support your hopes and dreams. Your employees are your donors. They show up every day and give you more than they get back to support your “business” – and your lifestyle. All while they struggle to make ends meet.
They probably didn’t agree to that because they were EXCITED about underwriting your personal dreams. More likely, they agreed because they couldn’t find anyone else who wouldn’t also take advantage of their need for income to entice them into working for less than a living wage.
You’re pretty lucky to have a gig like that. If your donor/employees had to be let go during quarantine, they’ve had time to reflect on this. Perhaps they reached a point where they decided they can no longer afford to support YOU like that. They may have even decided they have to go find a deal that takes care of them too. How you respond to that is all about your character – not theirs.
The Least You Could Do…
The least you could do is thank them for their previous support as they go. Blaming them for being lazy and not wanting to keep working in your unviable personal charity that you call a business isn’t a good look.
My farm is not a viable business. We give everything away and have no sales revenue. From time to time I ask people to give money to support me and the farm. The reality is that if I spend enough of my time making the farm “work” I don’t usually have enough time left to earn all the money it takes to support me and the farm.
At least I’m honest about what’s going on here.
Oh, and PS: spare me the lectures of not understanding what business owners go through. Yes. Yes, I do. I went to sleep each night through much of my 20’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt for a real estate business I’d started. There was a wife beside me and a newborn across the hall. Seriously, spare me.
The First Amendment only forbids the federal government from interfering with, or dictating citizens’ speech. That’s all it does.
The First Amendment does NOT:
entitle any citizen to a platform for speech.
require anyone to share their platform with you.
require anyone to listen to you.
protect you from the consequences of the things you say.
“Free Speech Rights” only mean that if you manage to get a platform from which to speak, the government can’t be the one to knock you off of it when they’re tired of hearing what you are saying. “Free Speech Rights” don’t have SQUAT to say about whether or not anyone else can.
Any person experiencing the consequences of their own speech – by being told they are no longer welcome on a public platform – who then tries to claim their free speech rights are being violated, is telling you one of two things. There are only two options.
They are utterly ignorant of the 1st amendment and you really shouldn’t listen to them on that topic. -or-
They know exactly how the 1st amendment works and are utterly comfortable lying to you about what they are experiencing in order to manipulate your outrage.
It’s always up to you to decide which one you think is going on at any given time. However, those are your only options.
Another blog? Yeah, I think anyone who publishes one of these pretty much has to answer that question – as many of them as there already are in the world. I’ve got control of three other blogs I already don’t write on enough. Seriously, another one? If that’s not a question you’re asking you might not care to read this.
Maybe you’re not asking questions about how best to emerge from quarantine either. I am.
Or, you might not be asking questions about how to re-engage the world around you. I am.
Since part of the answers to those questions when I ask them is a need, and a responsibility, to engage the world outside my solitude more often and more directly, I’m asking the questions out loud. You do you…
But why here? Why ANOTHER blog…?
The other blogs I have access too are all fairly specifically focused around their own conversations. Those are conversations that are important to me but, they’re not always the only conversations I’m trying to listen to.
Often enough though, the conversations I am trying to listen to don’t really fit in those specifically focused spaces and would risk just being a source of confusing distraction. So, I don’t write reflections about them at all. Then, I end up not writing for the more specific topics either because I’m distracted by the things that I don’t really have any place to put.
Yeah, I could open a text file, dump the thoughts, and save them on my hard drive without going public. That’s not what I mean though. I mean a place to put them where I have to own responsibility for them in the world. A place to put them that makes them real in The Neighborhood, not a place to set them aside.
Fives are cerebral types focused on discovering and understanding. The Enneagram Institute describes Fives as Investigators. The Center for Action and Contemplation describes us as living in the Need to Know.
The hardest part of a patch-work-quilt of an economic strategy for life is that you have to keep promoting yourself to find work – and get paid – and have electricity – and tap water. As an Enneagram Five – and throw being a rather pronounced introvert on top of all that – umm, yeah, that’s pretty much the definition of a personal daily hell.
It’s sort of a cobbler’s-kids-always-have-bad-shoes, or a mechanics-always-drive-broken-down-vehicles kind of thing. The former professional life I lived of going to work and helping other people promote THEIR work so they could raise the money they needed to accomplish their purposes was really easy. Simple even.
Raising money by telling compelling stories and inviting people to participate in making them come true, or helping them become better, is not a difficult arcane mystery – it’s just fun. I enjoyed it enough to get good at helping other people do it. It was also a really nice steady paycheck.
Self Loathing In Public
Doing that for myself, promoting my own work, is a loathsome task for a Five and one that I’ve mostly avoided. There’s probably a fortune in that fact for a therapist somewhere. Good look getting it. I haven’t found it yet.
I haven’t found the fortune yet because I would really rather talk about other people’s good work than my own. Of course, that means I don’t always get enough opportunities to do enough of the things I get paid to do.
My primary source of earned income is from coaching a small handful of (mostly) newish, young ministers, and a random collection of others who find their way to me. It is both the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done – and the best paying per hour with no driving – so, that’s nice. Let’s face it though, not a lot of people needed a coach to help them figure out a strategy for sitting through 2020 on their couch wondering what the ever loving hell was gonna happen next… So, that sucked.
The other significant source of income that helped me keep having things like electricity and tap water during a mostly WAY underemployed quarantine came through a Patreon page that supports the work of the farm and the podcast. What that really means is that it supports ME, so I can DO the work of the farm and the podcast…
It’s not a massive amount, but I wouldn’t’ve survived quarantine without it. Here’s the thing… As nice, and necessary, as it is to have income from Patreon supporters to help make all the projects work, I’d rather have more coaching clients.
On average, I earn more money from adding one coaching client to my roster, than I receive from adding 4 or 5 supporters on the farm/podcast Patreon page. I need both but, all things being equal, I’d rather have more clients.
Almost all of my clients currently find their way to me through contracts I have with this or that program at this or that university or organization. I don’t really advertise – at all. I get a small but steady stream of the clients they pair me with and keep flying under the radar into Solitude…
I could easily enough serve 2 or 3 time the number of clients I currently have – if I’d advertise. Of course, that gets us back to the loathsome tasks of self-promotion that I’ve mostly managed to avoid. I’ve also paid a tangible price for that avoidance.
I’m An Enneagram Five
Finding ways to thrive in isolation is one of my Superpowers.
Here we all are though – emerging from quarantine, having learned a few things about ourselves whether we meant to or not. Part of what I’ve learned listening to the Enneagram is that I need to do a more integrated job of “Fiving.” That means venturing out from solitude with a little more regularity to engage things that deserve to be engaged.
Here’s an excerpt from The Center for Action and Contemplation’s description of Fives from the links above:
“The essential core of the FIVE is the soul’s capacity to be illuminated and to illuminate, to make things clear. When you’re clear, the world becomes more transparent. You notice the littlest things. You’re more awake to everything. That illumination is exactly the same as what we call recognition. Whenever you have an “Ah ha” it’s not thinking, exactly; it’s a recognition of truth. It fills your whole body. We all experience that; if you’re a FIVE, you live for that. It’s your specialty.
The other side is what I call black light… If you’re present, there’s not only the illumination of the truth, but there’s the clearing away of the nonsense, the delusions, and our false beliefs and ideas.”
When Fives are being a better integrated version of ourselves we stop looking like Fives from the outside and start looking more like Eights – on occasion. We emerge from the isolation that we like to kid ourselves is some sort of Fortress of Productive Solitude and interact with the actual world around us that we’ve contemplating so relentlessly and engage it more consciously and consistently.
Let’s face it, that’s gonna happen in spurts. We Fives are never going to go at fighting the forces in the world that need fighting with the same from-the-second-their-feet-hit-the-floor-in-the-morning-until-their-last-dream-of-the-night kind of energy that Eights bring to the table when it comes to fighting fights that need fighting, but we’re usually gonna come out swinging when we do emerge.
We don’t ever really get finished enough with our never ending quest to understand – everything – to be presumptuous enough to just go around starting fights all the time. I mean it happens along the way but it’s not our general MO. Starting fights really shouldn’t be anyone’s MO – any of the time. Clearly, not everyone is one the same page with that.
Every now and then, fights come along that you can’t stand by and watch happen while people who are backed into a corner keep taking punches. You’ve either got to jump in and take enough punches for your Neighbor to get back on their feet to stand up for themselves, or get to safety. Or, you’ve got to flat out stop whoever’s throwing the punches. Fives are never going to go out and just walk the block, so to speak, like the Eights do every day.
I’m telling you now though, don’t make us come outside…
Eights. Yeah, I love me some Eights. The Enneagram Institute describes them as The Challengers. The Center for Action and Contemplation describes Eights as living in the Need to be Strong. Most of the friends, close or distant, whose work and lives inspire, encourage, intrigue, and impress me the most are almost all Eights – and are good at it. They’re not going to let shit go down on the block on their watch. God, I love ’em. You know, from a distance. From contemplative solitude.
Solitude As A Base, Not A Hideout
Even Fives can’t do solitude forever though. As noted, when we live into the best versions of ourselves we relent from allocating ALL of our energy to the internal quest and re-allocate some of that energy to engage externally – more. We start looking like Eights when we emerge as Challengers.
It’s not that we ever actually complete the quest to understand everything, but we do reach a point where the futility of EVER completing the quest into solitude becomes overwhelming. There’s just nothing left but to start putting together the shards of understanding you’ve been able to gather so far and shape them into some mottled, stained mosaic of a focusing lens and try to shine some light through it. Not so much because you think it will illuminate what the world needs to see but, because it’s the best you’ve got to light your own path as you make your way to Neighbors who are taking punches.
I’ve “emerged” in various ways all along. Usually in seasonal bursts before being seduced back into solitude.
I farm to provide food to local groups with sharing strategies that respect the dignity and agency of the folk who end up eating the food.
I podcast to encourage others to do their own version of whatever might best help end hunger in their area.
I serve an occasional congregation as interim pastor to help discern their best next steps.
As mentioned above, I earn my primary income as a strategy coach with some of best people in the world who inspire me every time we talk.
There are other things that need doing though; other ways to engage. There are other conversations to listen to – and ask if the people having the conversations need any help, like moving tables and chairs. Notice I didn’t say anything about showing up and trying to be helpful by leading conversations in other people’s spaces – or trying to refocus them on the things I think are important?
(Seriously, do I have to spell it out…? LGBTQIA+ people don’t need cis-straight people showing up telling them how we’re going to help. Black and Brown folk, don’t need white folk showing up telling them how we’re going to help. Folk who are poor don’t need rich people to parade their bootstraps… If any of us cis-straight-white folk with pretty boots want to show up and be genuinely helpful in other people’s spaces we need to come in listening for instructions, guidance, and invitations. Trust me, the other way isn’t genuinely or effectively helpful and isn’t appreciated.)
Yeah, this is my blog though. So, I’ll be the one speaking. Whatever I have to reflect on here will be less about what I think anyone else needs to hear than about what I’ve heard as I’ve listened. As a Five that’s what I do any time I get a minute.
Listen. Ponder. Consider. Synthesize. Theorize. Ask questions. Scrap it all and listen…
This place will be a sort of front porch from which to walk out into the world from time to time. Or, a good place to have a visit with others who are out and about. A place to reflect on all the other conversations that resonate with my antennae.
Feel free to come sit on the porch for a visit (I mean, there are some rules. We’ll get to those…). Some of what’s here is professional, and some is personal. As the Welcome page says, no matter how we’re connected, you’re free to look around and see what else is going on. We may even go for a walk around the block and see what we see going down in the Neighborhood.
Somebody’s gotta back up the Eights. They do this really cool thing once they see the same futility inherent in constantly Challenging and fighting that Fives eventually experience in their beloved Solitude. The Eights start to look like Twos from the outside. They starting shifting some of their energy from ALWAYS fighting the people who are doing the punching to offering the most tender care and kindness to the people who are getting punched. Some start earlier and do more of it than others, but they all have their moments. It’s a beautiful thing to see happen.
But, they gotta know somebody is gonna help watch the block…