Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What Would You Do for Money?

I once worked at a job that paid $.35 an hour. I quit it to go to work for $.75 at another job across town. We ate a lot of potatoes in those days but then we were young and in love and willing to sacrifice in order to go to college. But remembering makes me think about my employers in those days. The one who owned the first business took special pains to tell me that he had a friend who lived across the way who watched us work so "we'd better not pocket anything that wasn't ours or we'd be sent packing." This small business owner drove a new car and lived outside of town in an upscale neighborhood. The job I moved to was at a pizza restaurant run by a man from St. Louis who hired his brother and all of his fraternity friends to work out front, while he staffed his kitchen with students hired from the athletic program. He drove a cadillac. $.75 seemed like quite a bit when I'd been working for $.35 for months. The thing is that both of those businesses were landslide successes. The owner's were raking in the bucks and living off the fact that in a town of 10,000 student bodies we workers were imminently replaceable parts. I found this out when I started my second year at the Pizza Cellar by asking my boss for a $.25 raise. My next job was with the City of Norman landscaping department. I was now making $1.00 an hour to mow lawns, weed flower beds and drive very slowly at the end of the day so that we didn't have to start anything new before we clocked out. What did I learn from this experience? Well, nothing immediately. As I said, I was young. But as I look back on these and other similar employment experiences I can see that I did in fact learn what I would do for money. I, also, formed an opinion about what other people would do for their money. I was reminded of this while I was watching a TV show the other night and a car commercial came on that featured a poet reading his work, Hope Springs . . ., and being interrupted by a white VW and its driver yelling out its window about how valuable to the world this new car would be. The thing is that I recognized the poet from Russell Simmons's Def Poets show. And I thought, there's something that someone would do for money. Sell their art. Or rather an ad agency will buy the rights to some one's art (Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, et al) so that they can use it to make money for their clients most often by contorting the meaning of the original beyond irony. I wonder if they even realize how much it hurts to hear the songs and poems that inspired us to greatness used to sell the very things that the songs and poets supposedly opposed. Even as I write this, the internet community is trying on its own version of this dilemma as it attempts to figure out its response to the recent news that YouTube film makers are being paid by advertisers to imbed products in their works.

What would you do for money becomes what should you do for the money? It is a really hard line to define. Would you hire on as a mercenary or enlist? Would you invest or divest in Darfur? Are affiliate/associate/blog articles about making money or about selling something you believe in?

What does this all have to do with Personal Finance? At what point does the salesman lose his/her soul? I think its at the heart of the matter.


Ryan said...

Great post.

Being a youngin', there are a lot of artists who've always been a part of the commercialized landscape of America. It wasn't until later and a thoughtful appreciation for and love of the art and artist that I realized such a tragedy. Why do I get a nauseated feeling every time I hear "Like a Rock"? It should be a decent song, but instead it's just a product.

At the same time, in my 20s, I find myself in burgeoning financial independence, my answer is that there is too much I would do for money that I don't agree with. I guess our decisions, sacrifices, purchases, investments, etc could always use a closer look.

Thanks for the post.

R said...

The thing about context is that it is always changing. I can see where my sensitivity to this topic might be different than yours but I appreciate that as your independence has increased so has your awareness. This isn't a plug but I have been reading a magazine called AdBusters lately that really attacks this problem from a modern perspective. Its off the hook style reminds me of back when. And thanks for the response.