The Kindness of Capitalism
We live, and then we die.
That’s a reality we all must grapple with each minute. The fact that life is finite has implications for everything we do. And no matter what your beliefs are about the existence of an afterlife, there is no doubt that life on earth, as we experience it, is going to come to an end for us all.
This admittedly morbid, yet eminently liberating, realization is at the spine of nearly all our decisions, even though many times we fail to realize it. Think about the actions you take each day.
You wake up after a night of sleep because your body requires sleep. You consume food because your body requires energy. Then, for most of us, we engage in some form of productive activity that nets us financial compensation so that we can attain the capital required to fund our existence.
If we’re lucky, we have family and friends whom we love that we can share our lives with, and that allow us to both provide and receive mutual support.
The requirements of a finite life also have a profound effect on your decisions about what to do with your money, how to spend that money, how to invest it and how to plan for a time when you may not be able to, or may no longer want to, work. Then, there’s your family, and the work involved in making the right decisions to provide for them when you’re no longer here to do so.
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Now, much of my newsletter advisory services are aimed at the nuts and bolts of how to put your money to work in the financial markets so that you can maximize this critical aspect of your life. Yet, as you likely know, in The Deep Woods, I like to peel back the layers of the onion skin so that we can access the principles at the root of the issue.
And when you think about it, what is at the essence of our quest to make sure we are financially secure enough to take care of ourselves and the ones we love?
To me, the answer is simple: It’s a desire to be kind.
Indeed, the desire to be kind, i.e., the quality of being caring, attentive, considerate and otherwise thoughtful of others, is something that we all should strive to be motivated by. I know for me, the actions I take out of kindness not only feel good, but they’re always in my rational self-interest to do so.
Acts of kindness don’t mean self-sacrifice. Rather, it means acting and interacting with others so that both parties receive maximum benefit from the interaction.
Extended out to the political realm, the desire for kindness is why I am a passionate advocate for laissez-faire capitalism. You see, capitalism is the only social system where people are free to interact with each other based on the principle of exchanged values.
For example, this morning, I went to my local Starbucks and paid $4.95 for a latte. I wanted the latte more than I wanted the $4.95, and Starbucks wanted the $4.95 more than it wanted the latte. I didn’t exercise physical force to extort the latte from my barista, and she didn’t wrestle me into the store from the street to confiscate my money.
Instead, we engaged in a mutually kind exchange of values that also was mutually beneficial. This kindness is the essence of capitalism, and it’s the opposite of the Marxist idea that capitalism exploits the proletariat.
In my view, the prescription for increasing societal happiness is to increase kindness. Not only in terms of our daily human interactions, but also in the wider sense of people interacting with each other via the kindest of all principles — the principle of free exchange.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a powerful quote from philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris regarding kindness.
As Sam writes: “Consider it: every person you have ever met, every person will suffer the loss of his friends and family. All are going to lose everything they love in this world. Why would one want to be anything but kind to them in the meantime?”
If you want to make yourself and the world a better place, try to be more kind.
We Dream of Money
“We must never forget that we are human, and as humans we dream, and when we dream, we dream of money.”
Last week, I presented a provocative and touching quote from Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio” that celebrates life’s beauty and brevity. That quote prompted one reader (thank you, Mike G.) to write in and ask me if I would provide more film quotes in this section of The Deep Woods. So, just for you, Mike, this week’s quote comes from the fascinating film, “The Spanish Prisoner,” written and directed by the sublime David Mamet.
The film is a mystery of sorts featuring an elaborate con game, corporate secrets, murder, lust and of course, the human need to acquire a lot of money. The role of the suave and wealthy con man is played brilliantly by Steve Martin, an actor you might not think would fit the role, but that does so perfectly. If you want a great film-watching experience, one replete with intelligence, suspense, action and the trademark witty and thoughtful dialogue of the kind only Mamet can deliver, then you simply must watch “The Spanish Prisoner.”
Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote that you’d like me to share with your fellow readers, send it to me, along with any comments, questions and suggestions you have about my newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.
In the name of the best within us,