a perspective from someone who has tutored economics 101
this discussion is fundamental, as it informs a great deal of one's interaction with this PMR and ethics
1) everything you see, feel, experience, consume on the planet, that is not raw nature, is there as a result of an individual forming the intent to produce it. Think about that. Individuals combine energy and imagination, and tools, to make and distribute stuff. Nothing exists above raw nature that an individual did not decide to produce.
2) there are two systems in an economy, the real sector, and the financial sector. Money is an artificial representation that mirrors the real sector. It is flexible and the level is determined by the intent of the Federal Reserve system, the leadership of which is appointed by Obama, to operate on an arms length basis to minimize political interference, and in order to keep the relative rate of change of the value of money, relative to goods, stable (low inflation). At the individual level, money represents the gap between production and consumption.
3) You have money when you produce something, and rather than consume it, you receive a promise to obtain stuff when you want to consume stuff, and that promise of future consumption is money. When you hold money, someone else took the actual stuff and consumed it as final consumption, or used it to build a tool or machine, which is capital. Your credit card debt is possible because someone else postponed consumption. Your car loan or mortgage, or apartment building, exists because someone decided to postpone consumption. Someone decided to design and build an apartment building for people to live in, rather than spend their money on fast cars and chasing skirts. (or at least for part of their day)
4) Economics is not a zero sum game where our consumption steals from others. An economy is a living organism, and at its core are individual humans forming intent, based on incentives. A few people incorporate the higher ruleset as part of their incentive matrix. Most focus on the self interest of their household, as most of us are not yet perfect and ready to be the monk with a cup begging on the side of a Thai alleyway. (though perhaps even this is not a TOEist ideal)
5) Giving stuff to others, or feeling guilt about not doing so, is part of the learning process, but with effectiveness we learn that that is rarely what people need, and a lack of stuff is not the actual limiting factor in Africa. When one delves into third world development on a serious basis, it turns out that the limiting factors are more along the lines of things that undermine incentives and the lack of mature political institutions and justice, rule of law. The legal inability for peasants to own their own land is likely the greatest cause of starvation on the planet.
6) When one wakes up to the reality that it is ethical to work hard and own and consume the fruits of our own labour, and that what the poor require is a fair shake, access to education and employment and global markets, and that the destitute who cannot help themselves require reliable social services and indeed a cheque, and that the real demanders on your intent are much more close at hand (look to your right and left under your own roof), this is very liberating...the shedding of socialistic malaise.
Indeed there are issues that need to be managed...where market failures emerge and political institutions need tweeking
- the influence of corporate and union money in politics
- pollution and unsustainability of some industrial practices, subject to real science rather than luddite hysteria
- reform the unnecessary disincentives to working and job creation in order to eliminate unemployment (though, anyone is free to create their own job if not for limited imagination and inhibition)
Apart from extreme models such as Mother Teresa and the monks of southeast asia, Ralph Nader is an interesting datapoint of an apparently selfless man, gifted, educated and energetic, living in relative poverty and working for the benefit of mankind. It is possible that he is of such low entropy, that this is where his "cheese is" (Who moved my cheese), and that he is merely selfish, in the bigger picture. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Nader
There is a growing field of 20 something internet millionaires/billionaires on the west coast who live like students. I think some care needs to be taken to entrain to our feedback, rather than the values of someone else, rather than pretending we are something we are not...so it becomes this process of testing lifestyles and tasting the pudding - detecting our internal tracktor beam and following it.