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98 Why hold wealth for somebody else


I started at The University of Chicago shortly after the tenure of Robert Maynard Hutchins. His era was called “the old college.” It was marked by dropping the football program that had been built up by Amos Alonzo Stagg. In a tongue in cheek moment, President Hutchins had written that the bachelor’s degree should be granted at birth so that universities could get down to the serious business of learning. He was criticizing the attitude that colleges merely prepare people to earn money.

As a beginning, education is important to an income stream. This country was greatly admired for its groundbreaking emphasis on free public education (article 26). The established generation puts the rising generation on a good foundation, and the educated workforce raises the standard of living for everybody.

Beyond job training, liberally dispensed education supports the social development that helps democracy flourish. Well prepared citizens are precious assets. Hutchins was recognizing the importance of the education that goes beyond job skills.

After my wife and I had five children, I slowly realized that a piano tuner, a pieceworker, of my strength cannot afford five children. Fortunately, mine have done better than I did. They have helped me extensively to pay for their education, both in earning and in qualifying for the necessary scholarships.


There is a companion discussion in the health field. The joke about bachelor’s degree at birth corresponds to asking whether a child should grow up and pay for the obstetrician who delivered zer. Traditionally family has been a foundation that spares the young from indebtedness.

Now the plot thickens. Education can be maintained and upgraded to keep pace with the job market. Health problems do not cooperate so well. While everybody is at risk for something at any time, calamities occur unplanned and unscheduled. Healthy lifestyle is a less certain guarantee than is qualification for employment. We cannot prepare ourselves out of a medical risk.

Comparable to the “degree at birth” joke is the thought that we must grant every infant enough funds for a heart transplant. I have heard of an acquaintance who needed a heart transplant as a teenager, but most of us simply do not face that requirement.

The analogy

Dr. Hutchins did not seriously mean that we grant infants the college degree. I do not seriously mean that we establish the infant’s medical account. In both cases, there is a better approach to survival.

First, we realize that self-sufficiency is unattainable. I have not educated myself, and I do not have preservation power over my own body. Everybody has had some help with something along the way.

Second, we regard humanity as our family. I received the university degree; some people receive heart transplants. These events are part of a social order, not spontaneous creations of my imagination. Nevertheless, I see no end to the array of people who have educated me—some more directly than others, but all having had some influence. Likewise, everybody in my environment has impact on my health. Keeping the social body whole requires various inputs from everybody in the maximized family.

The special cases are blips on a screen, not universal shared experiences. Commerce is the sharing and exchange of needs and abilities that enables our individual threads to constitute the social fabric. To be aware only of personal selfish desires is to overlook the very essence of life experience. Dozens of articles here have referred to meaning that transcends specific events or circumstances. Life itself is not an occasional happening like a major degree or major surgery. It is a steady state of interrelating everything. We share ups and downs, willing or not.


I have watched nature movies about wolves and lions that kill the offspring of a rival pack or pride. This may relate to distribution and consumption of scarce resources. My model of human society renders this behavior unnecessary. Thinking humans have the miraculous availability of contraception for keeping population within sustainable limits. We do not have to kill off excess people.

To me, family obviously means a fair distribution system, not a disconnected unit for protection from others of the same species. My family does not exist for outperforming other families. My family assures mutual survival and sharing of resources. As soon as the word “family” distinguishes and separates me from others, it has morphed into an antisocial construct.

Therefore, it is obviously senseless to apportion every infant sufficient money to cover a lifetime of medical possibilities. That is silly artificial earmarking of resources. By all engaging in a healthy level of production, we assure meeting all our needs. When the supply is viewed as a global family asset, every person has access to sufficiency. Biology always contains outliers. There will always be people with extraordinary needs. In my model, that is an assumed feature which we always accommodate. Being human even allows us to think through our preparations.


This blog repeatedly separates macro (all of us) from micro (me) perspective. Infantile happiness looks like micro level, “my needs are satisfied.” However, attachment to mother and later to other humans necessarily expands the level from birth on. Even personal pleasure is closely tied to the macro level—for example, when my team wins or my country sends someone to the moon. As an individual, I can experience group happiness.

Today’s article is yet another demonstration that the macro level is inescapable. My individual survival is intimately connected to macro well-being. Protection from medical calamity is beyond individual control, yet it is naturally assumed in the macro viewpoint of nature. By using the word family, I eliminate the need to separate and discard the less fit humans. I urge us to find where every one of us fits (word play intended).

For years I have been contemplating an idea I heard long ago about sharing. For this story, let’s take the starting salary of a rookie cop in Chicago, perhaps $60,000 per year, as a baseline or average salary. A philosopher suggested that any household income I might receive more than that constitutes value I am holding for somebody else. Feel free to reread the ending sections of articles 90, 96, and 97 to see how I lead into this concept. A much lower number would apply to me, but it is a warming thought about what I can do if I get above zero net worth in this lifetime.

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