Mort Mather Author Writer Organic Farmer Philosopher Thinker Restauranteur

How to improve your life and save the world.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pity the Poor Rich

When my son was born we were living below the poverty level. I’m bragging because it was more or less intentional. I grew up lower middle-class (After my father left when I was 13 my mother went back to work as a teacher and raised me with no child support.) Currently my wife and I are middle to upper middle-class. When she wants to buy something that before our changed circumstances would have given me grief which I would pass on to her I now say, “No problem, we’re rich.” which she hates to hear me say.
Am I happier “rich” than poor? Not at all, in fact, I believe the years we lived below the poverty level were the happiest of my life. I believe the reason was that I was doing meaningful things: raising food for my family, cutting, splitting and carrying wood to keep us warm, making do on a shoe-string, fixing things that broke. I had occasional part-time jobs during that period but as a bartender, for example, making a good drink or making a customer laugh or getting a big tip did not provide much satisfaction. Earning enough money to pay for utilities, insurance and the like was necessary but didn’t have the same instant payback in satisfaction over an accomplishment as work around the farm had. Getting through a very busy shift in which I was so busy the time went by in a blur was satisfying, doing a good job perhaps better than most others could have done it, felt good; but so much of the job was, well, just a job, whereas fixing a leaking water pipe, rebuilding the mower carburetor, raising, slaughtering, and butchering the beef that would feed the family for a year, growing, harvesting, canning, pickling, freezing and otherwise storing enough vegetables and fruit to feed the family for a year; ahh, nothing I did before or have done since provided that kind of satisfaction.
The difference now? Someone comes and picks up my riding mower to perform annual maintenance and to fix anything that breaks. There is no pride in that. I tell myself I am providing work for others; my financial good fortune is trickling down and that’s a good thing, isn’t it? It’s good for the economy, right? Plumbing was my least favorite home maintenance job but I did it and though I hated squirming around in the crawl spaces under our house and hated it even more when I turned on the water and found that one of the joints I had soldered had a leak and I would have to drain the water and dry the pipe before I could try again; but when the joints were good I came close to doing cartwheels. Now we call a plumber.
I was healthier when we heated with wood. It was our only source of heat for 20 years. Carrying half a dozen armloads of wood in every day in the winter kept me fit during the time of year when there wasn’t a lot of exercise. We still have the stoves and a woodshed full of wood but we also have an oil burner. I don’t have to carry in wood all winter so I hardly do it at all. Burning oil doesn’t make me feel good but, what the hell, I’m rich. Do you think that is an excuse for lazy?
Perhaps my years below the poverty level helped me avoid ethical problems studies have found with the rich. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012


The pundits say Greg Smith who left Goldman Sax in a very public way will have trouble getting another job on Wall Street. If I were in a position to hire him for a Wall Street firm, I'd be offering him a job right now. Following is part of the op-ed appearing in the New York Times.
"It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief."

He is the kind of person Wall Street needs.