Public Citizen - Larry Barnett


The business of America

Those with wealth and power are terribly confused. Having become Lords of Materialism, seduced by the lure of money and the influence it can buy, they naturally assume all others share their values. Accordingly, as the recent national election illustrates, advocates for the view that “the business of America is business” don’t properly understand the nature of being fully human.

Jobs and income are important to people, but for most people the job they do is not who they are, and it is this distinction that is often lost on the powerful. Most people work to pay the bills and provide for themselves and their families, but most often such employment is not what brings true meaning to life. Surely, being responsible and meeting obligations is meaningful, but work is generally a means to an end, not an end unto itself.

There are those who do define themselves through their occupations, and their work occupies a central place in life. Teachers, first responders, nurses, social workers and the like may enjoy the pleasure of making no distinction between earning a living and doing what they love, and such people are blessed by such a unified life. However, for the great mass of workers, earning a paycheck is simply labor and moving from job to job just an effort to improve one’s weekly income. Such workers have no pretensions to great wealth or power, little in savings, no estates to inherit, employees to pay or pensions to collect; they labor paycheck to paycheck, hoping to stay ahead of their bills. For them, life’s true meaning is to be found outside of work.

People find meaning not in making money, but in caring for others. It’s found in playing catch with their kids, helping them with homework and teaching them the lessons of life and love. It’s found in supporting their spouse, providing comfort in sickness and happiness in health. It’s found in giving time to their community, volunteering to clean a creek or slice turkey for the homeless at Thanksgiving.

The wealthy know this to be intrinsically true; in their personal lives meaning is found in comparable ways, but in their public lives they adhere to the conventional view that people are greedy and that greed is good for society. It is precisely the false dichotomy of personal good and public policy which accounts for the foolish bobble-headed opinions of some talking heads like Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh. If they have children, they probably love them, and I hope they love their spouses. If they want to make better predictions about elections, however, they’ll need to focus more on such authentic feelings and far less on justifying greed.

Money is not intrinsically evil nor intrinsically good. Money becomes dangerous when single-minded pursuit of wealth for wealth’s sake becomes life’s meaning. In such situations, being a Lord of Materialism clouds judgment, breeds cynicism, objectifies others and degrades society. Nowadays, it also loses elections.

The business of America is not business. The business of America is goodness. Goodness means connecting with the positive thread in human history which is continuously at play within our lives and is only found in supportive relationships. It can be a relationship based on caring for a tree or a dog or grandchild; the essential ingredient to a good life is genuinely caring for something outside of oneself.

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