THE $50,000 MANIFESTO

A Radical Story with a Challenge
(in 8 parts)

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  1. *THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN*
    This is a story/challenge in 8 parts. 

  • Two notes before we get into this:

A. I will never name names or give enough detail for any person or business to be identified; and

B. This will not go where you think it’s going to go, and I welcome any & all feedback.

  • The system is broken. Follow me to the end on this.
     

2. *WHAT DOES $50,000 MEAN TO YOU?*
What does $50,000 mean to you? How you respond to that number says a lot about who you are, what your financial situation is, and how you relate to the world.

  • I talked with a friend recently about their job. They described a successful business run by an out-of-touch boss, for whom they were doing work above & beyond their position just to keep things going. One glaring deficiency was in money management. The boss has unpaid bills months old, despite having plenty of money to cover them. In fact, my friend said the boss has upwards of $50,000 sitting in various accounts, and doesn’t even know or care that it’s there.

  • How does this make you feel? That’s a sum that could drastically change some people’s lives. For others, a five-figure sum is like a hundred-dollar bill. Nice to have, but won't make a huge impact on your financial health. For still others, it’s like a penny. Have it or not, you don’t miss it and wouldn’t care if it was gone. Which group are you in? (And if you're in that last group, call me!)

  • I say again, the system is broken. And we are the system. So we’re broken too.

3. *WHERE DO YOU GO WHEN YOU NEED MONEY?*

   At some point in almost everyone’s life, they need financial help. It might be to pay a bar tab, or       for rent, or for unexpected bills (car, house, medical, etc.). We all do our best to take care of         ourselves, but it’s reassuring to know that when times are tough, some person or entity is there to       help.

  • I’m a creative freelancer. Which almost by definition means at some point I’ve been on unemployment. I’m grateful it’s there, even as I look for work that makes it unnecessary. I’ve also borrowed money from friends & family, or asked them to invest in me. These are people who might be marginally better off at that moment, but aren’t so rich that the money is insignificant.

  • And like so many of us in the modern world, I’ve done the Kickstarters and GoFundMes. Which is just another way of asking for money from those very same people. It all seems reasonable. We help each other and end of story, right?

  • Wrong. Last month I was chosen by a recording studio to develop, record & promote my next album. My hope was that their part in the process would be to raise money from people who have it & want to fund the arts. Instead, I was tasked to solicit money from all my “contacts” – i.e. friends & family. People who have supported me in one way or another for years & years. As if they haven't given enough. As if they have it to burn.

  • I’m sure the studio & the people are wonderful. I declined the offer. The system is broken. 

4. *WHERE SHOULD WE REALLY GO WHEN WE NEED MONEY?*

   We’ve been conditioned to “stay in our lane”. When we need money, and let’s say we’ve exhausted all       public/government options, we look for loans or amass major credit debt. When those fail, we               immediately go to people in our peer group. Again, these are people for whom this amount of money         really matters. 

  • Why? Why do we ask for money from people in relatively similar life situations? Partly it’s because those are the people we have access to. But mostly it’s because, like with just about every industry & business, the people with real money have way more than they will ever need, and have no interest in doing anything life-changing with it if it doesn’t involve them, their circle, their business, or at least some hope of ROI. Yet these are the people we should be getting money from

  • Power is hungry. It will take whatever it can. It also shifts. Time was when club owners booking a music act would by default pay that act, then promote that act to get in as many patrons as possible. The musicians' job would be to bring some fans & play great music. Then things shifted. Clubs stopped guaranteeing more than a free beer for pay. They stopped promoting beyond a post or two. They started expecting musicians to do ALL the heavy lifting, to expect next to nothing in return, and to be grateful for the opportunity. As if the joy of doing what you love is pay enough.

  • The system is broken. But we can change it. We can shift it again.

5. *WHY IS YOUR LIFE VALUABLE & WHAT DO YOU DESERVE?*
   We’ve been conditioned to believe that our primary day-to-week-to-year value comes from the work we do     & the money we earn. Which is why so many people look down on the underemployed or homeless. They         don’t deserve a good life because they haven’t EARNED IT.

  • But what if we don’t need to earn it? What if just the act of existing and doing our best to be good people is enough? What if work was not measured by how much you make but by how much you love it, and/or what you contribute (tangibly or not) to the betterment of the world? And what if money was just there for you to use – to eat & pay rent & yes even enjoy some finer things.

  • The “work ethic” is bullshit. Examine 1000 people, and you’ll find that the amount of work they do almost never corresponds to the amount of money they make. In fact, the richest people need to do next to nothing to make money, compared to the mass of us who work hard to barely make ends meet – or more often, not. And since the “American dream” is based largely on the work ethic – i.e. social mobility: work hard & you’ll move up in the world, that means that the ”American dream” is bullshit too. 

  • America is not the Land of Equality in any way but aspirational. It runs on a class system. The mass of us is compelled to stay in our lane, to soak our peers – the people who can afford it the least, and leave the upper classes alone to run the world. We deserve better. We deserve our base needs met regardless of the work we do. And we deserve to be paid for doing what we love, and not just be satisfied with the joy. Anyone who tells you that “just loving your job is enough” wants you to overlook how divergent your compensation is from the amount of effort you put in. The idea of work as “family” is another way of de-emphasizing what you get for that work. It’s all designed to keep us complacent, to stop us from asking questions, to convince us that if our work isn’t directly and financially benefiting some person/entity with money/power, then it’s not worth getting paid for it. 

  • It’s all bullshit. The system is broken.

6.    *CAN THE SYSTEM BE FIXED?*
   No. Not anytime soon. But we CAN change it – from within and without. The last two installments will       go over both approaches.

7.    *SO WHAT CAN WE DO THEN?*
   Change doesn’t usually come from people who don’t need it. The people & entities with money & power       have no reason to want anything to change, other than pure altruism. Which is why most of their           efforts at progress tend to fall flat or get compromised away or take way longer than they should.         Sometimes we get lucky and these powers push forward progress. Usually when this happens it’s because     either A. The issue on the table no longer has an impact on their power/money; or B. They’ve               determined that pushing forward the issue will actually be more profitable and/or more beneficial to       their reputation than blocking or stalling it.

  • So what can we do? We can activate. We can compel progressives with money to support change. I was recently contacted by a well-known activist group to donate money to a very worthy cause. I’ve done this countless times. This time I didn’t. Instead, I wrote them a response saying we need to stop siphoning money from the working class & get progressive billionaires to match or exceed the funds conservatives spend to influence politics & policy with billions of dollars. 

  • We need to demand more accountability, progress and accurate representation from our leaders. I don’t believe in abandoning something of value that doesn’t work. It’s why I can’t stand cynics who say, “both parties are corrupt”. Of course they are. But both parties (and every other ignored party in this two-party system) also have people fighting for what they believe in. Just be careful. While no approach is perfect, and results usually fall below expectations, many people in power are using your anger, disillusionment & disenfranchisement to convince you that they’re fighting for you, when they’re really just fighting for themselves & using you to get what they want. This is not a treatise on tax policy, corporate deregulation, or “fiscal conservatism”, but it’s worth contemplating how all three have shifted the balance of power to the top, even though they were sold as ways to make our lives better. They didn’t, and they never will. 

  • What else can we do? Well, they say change starts local or whatever. So let’s think small. Let’s upend the system by subverting it. Many of us are already doing this. We’re refusing to take jobs that don’t pay us enough, or don’t offer healthcare or sick leave. We’re looking for work that fits our lives & our interests, rather than taking the first thing that comes along just to “make a living”. We ARE LIVING, regardless of what we do, so we shouldn’t have to be forced to “make” it. We’re not dropping out entirely, just long enough and in enough numbers to shift some that power back into our hands, even if slowly & slightly.

  • But there’s an even more radical way. Stay tuned for the final punch(line) next week.