Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
On page 27 of the best-selling book “Money: Master the Game,” Tony Robbins writes that “As I was writing this book, Congress slashed $8.7 billion from the food stamp budget. I witnessed firsthand the devastating impact this had on the volunteers and nonprofit organizations that work in the fight against hunger. That’s why I put up 50 million meals, and I’m using my influence to get matching funds so that we can provide 100 million meals to feed the hungry.”
Then on page 35 he writes, “… let’s not forget about our good old friend the tax man. Oh, the tax man. He’ll take up to 50% (or more!), thank you very much—-on everything you earn. If you thought hidden fees were the only drag on accumulating wealth, you’ve missed the biggest culprit of all. We all know the drag of taxes, to some degree, but few realize just how big a bite taxes take from our ability to achieve financial freedom… Just how destructive can taxes be when compounded over time?”
I love Tony Robbins’ TED Talk and he seems both smart and well-intentioned so I hope he is willing to publicly respond to some deliberately provocative, consciousness-raising questions:
1. Tony, how many times have your houses been bombed by foreign sovereign entities?
2. How many times have your children been shipped off to concentration camps?
3. Have you ever seen those shiny red trucks drive by on their way to put out fires?
4. Before you were wealthy did you ever use one of those things called a “library?”
5. Has anyone you ever met had to rely on the public healthcare system or attended a public school?
6. Have you ever driven on roads or over bridges? Have you ever walked on a sidewalk?
7. Have you ever driven on a road or walked on a sidewalk that was lighted at night?
8. So Congress slashed $8.7 billion from the food stamp budget… where did the rest of the money for food stamps come from?
It is astonishing that someone so bright and well-intentioned does not see the hypocrisy in calling taxes a “drag,” “destructive” and “the culprit” and then complaining that money was “slashed” from an entitlement program.
Do tax revenues (plus the $16.3 trillion dollars that our government has borrowed) not pay for our safety—safe water, safe food, safe transportation, rescue from natural disasters, prevention of war, the ongoing wars we are fighting, policemen, firemen—the space program, libraries, schools plus all of the entitlements such as food stamps and welfare that many Republicans are trying to eliminate?
It is apparent that no matter how much we as individuals enjoy the privileges of not being bombed, driving on roads and walking on sidewalks, and having policemen and firemen protect us, that we expect someone else to fund our safety and freedom—hence the $16.3 trillion we have borrowed to finance our lifestyle.
Maybe if well-intentioned 1-percenters such as Tony Robbins put their brains and money into turning our oligarchy back into a democracy, creating a progressive tax system and a balanced budget including robust public education and healthcare systems, then we wouldn’t need private heroes providing band-aid solutions such as 50 million meals? Although providing 50 million or 100 million meals is admirable and awesome, we all agree that those millions of people would be better off in the long run if they had been taught in school how to fish.
The section in “Money: Master the Game” on Chuck Feeney who ANONYMOUSLY gave away the $7.5 billion dollars that he earned is extremely moving and praises a noblesse long lost. It is only our society’s warped perspective that allows people to think that publicly signing large checks is now a noble gesture. Personally I’m more impressed by my local kindergarten teachers than I am by another billionaire’s 501(c)(3).
Voting by chads in gerrymandered districts is a joke. Hundred million dollar election campaigns financed by corporations is insanely wasteful. We have the technology to vote by our telephones and eliminate the stagnant two-party system and all Political Action Committees in one fell swoop. Why aren’t we using it?
It is interesting to witness Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” get shredded by critics while Tony Robbins’ “Investment Guide for People Who Can’t Afford Their Rent” remains unscathed by the press and untouched by economists. On one level these books are saying the same thing: work is a sucker’s bet—you’ll never attain the “financial freedom” that Mister Robbins extolls by just laboring – you need what Piketty refers to as capital in order to win that “game.”
To his credit, Mister Robbins’ does offer helpful investing tips that anyone who reads The New York Times has known for 25 years: that fees eat away most investment profits and that over 90% of professional stock pickers underperform the broad markets; similarly it is admirable that Mister Robbins accurately recounts that true happiness correlates more strongly with giving away one’s wealth than accumulating it. These are great themes to develop—just as it is wonderful to inform people that playing the lottery is foolish.
But until influential people are willing to attack the systemic problems, it appears that best-selling books will provide only selfish short-term solutions. Imagine if everyone who read Mister Robbins’ book took his advice and that in fifty years the wealthiest 1% of our population was enlarged to 2%. Obviously this would mean that the middle class would be further eroded and inequality exacerbated; whereas if we had a government that we trusted and did what it was supposed to do we wouldn’t have such inequality in the first place and wouldn’t need hand-outs and charities.
So instead of seeing the systemic inequality, discrimination (cf. Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”) and exploitation that is destroying this great nation as a “game” that some people win and most lose, maybe it is time to fix our corrupt government, inefficient tax system, and subpar educational system, and bring pride back to “work“?