Bill Bonner – Bill Bonner’s Diary (United States) –
BALTIMORE – “Don’t be absurd…”
The distaff part of the family has a contrary opinion.
It concerns the drift of our Diary last week. In short, she thinks we are talking nonsense.
Long-term Diary sufferers know we often talk nonsense.
Out motto is, “Sometimes right. Sometimes wrong. Always in doubt.”
Last week, we weren’t sure which.
We try on new ideas the way some people try on new clothes – confident we can return them after the wedding. The idea we had last week was from British art critic Clive Bell: that idle hands are essential to civilization.
He says a civilized society needs an elite, people who have the time to “think and feel”… to develop the knowledge, judgment, and taste necessary to appreciate the finer things.
Busy hands, by contrast, are those of boors, buffoons, captains of industry, and presidents of the U.S.A.
That is why bitcoin is such a marvel. It appears to be giving us a new aristocracy – people who made their fortunes while they were still young, without toil or sweat to distract them from the “thought and feeling” Mr. Bell argued was necessary for a life well lived.
Universal Basic Income
It also fits in with growing calls for a “universal basic income” that the government would give to all citizens, whether they worked or not.
In theory, robots will put most people out of work; a universal income will keep them alive… and the free time will allow them to develop their hobbies, their artistic sides… their charitable natures… and the “thoughts and feelings” necessary to lift them above the gutter rats.
We say this with great humility and even a little self-mockery. For we’ve worked with the rats for the last 45 years: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., five days a week. We had no time to read the classics… or pay attention to fashions… or even keep up with friends and family.
We don’t know a Richter from a Basquiat. We recognize Chopin when we hear him, but Mahler could be Mozart for all we know. Achilles? Hector? Were they cousins? As for our children, our youngest son was born sometime in the ’90s… he must be about 23 now… or maybe 24.
Yes, dear reader, we’ve had our eye on the ball. But now, reaching retirement age, the ball is getting away from us.
The young have no idea or appreciation of the work that goes into making money. And the old know a deeper truth: It scarcely matters.
“How did you sleep last night?” they ask one another. No one asks how your money slept. No one cares.
And where does that leave us? Have we become nothing but a “coat on a stick” – pretending our wealth and advanced age entitle us to status?
Paragons of Civilization?
That is the idea… How does it look on us?
“Ridiculous,” counters the better half.
“Building a business is problem solving. Problems don’t cease just because you’re not active in your business. A family still faces problems. You still face problems. Every has problems. Even in retirement, you bring your problem-solving skills to help solve them.
“Besides, getting money without working for it is probably more often a detriment than a boon to civilized behavior.
“Just look in the park in front of our house. Just look at Baltimore. Look at all those people who’ve grown up on welfare or disability… in public housing… or on the public payroll.
“They didn’t work. Are they paragons of civilization? Do they spend their time sitting on park benches reading Plato and listening to Mahler? Do they know the difference between Apollonian and Athenian… between the Rights of Man and a right turn?
“Do you think they have witty, charming, and provocative conversations with each other… probing the foundations of truth, beauty, and justice?
“It is one thing for Clive Bell to think the educated, entitled British upper classes might be able to lead civilized lives. He was part of the Bloomsbury Set along with John Maynard Keynes and Virginia Woolf.
“They were educated at Cambridge. They read the classics. They had a sense of responsibility to not waste their lives, but to use them fully.”
“And that is what we owe so much of our civilization to,” she continued. “They studied birds… and trees… and economies.
“Where did we get the ideas behind the Declaration of Independence? And the Constitution? It was from these British thinkers – Locke, Hume, Smith – who had the educational foundations and the leisure time to be able to explore ideas and understand them.
“But Bell is completely mistaken if he thinks that free money alone, handed out to the mob, will bring a more enlightened, more literate, and more sophisticated society.
“Instead, it will make us poorer in every way – economically and socially. And culturally. It will be a disaster.
“And it will be a disaster for our children if they make so much money on bitcoin that they don’t have to work.
“It’s work, challenges, and struggles that give meaning to our lives, not money. That’s why all Greek drama has a hero… and a confrontation of some sort. He has something to fight against… even if it is Fate… or the gods… or his own character flaws. That’s what makes drama meaningful. It makes life meaningful, too.”