I am at a place in my life I have facetiously been calling “limbo.” I recently graduated from university, am engaged to be married in March, and living temporarily in Virginia with my soon-to-be wife in housing provided to us by the theatre company we each are working for in different capacities. Summed up, we are living in a generously sized closet, working long hours, not making much money, and being that we will be moving to California before the wedding, we lack the ability to make long term financial or life plans.
In order to save as much money as possible for our move to California, I recently started a second job at a luxury car dealership in Appalachian Tennessee where I take photos of inventory and put them online so potential customers can take a look. In my time of life limbo, where I don’t have much and my own car is slowly failing me, I have put myself in a position to constantly be around people who have so much money that they know not what else to do except invest in a Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, or BMW. Perhaps you may expect me to feel low status, or extra poor relative to those who I work for (both the customers and my employer). My former classmates and professors might see this “inequality” as something to resent. Why should people purchase something so lavishly over-the-top as a luxury vehicle? Especially while so many around this area struggle substantially?
Frankly, I don’t know the answer to these questions. While the vehicles I drive and photograph at work are insanely cool and comfortable, I don’t particularly understand the impulse to spend an outrageous amount of money on something that’s only job is to get me from point a to point b. Certainly there are cheaper, just as reliable ways to get around.
But the difference between someone like me, with a libertarian disposition, and people like many of my collegiate associates, with authoritarian leanings, is that I need not understand, or even approve of, the ways in which individuals spend their money.
It’s actually not quite accurate to say that the common person with an authoritarian mindset cares how one spends his or her money. When it comes to items like the cars I work with, opposition to their purchase comes not from a dedication to frugality and thinking people could be wiser monetarily, but rather it comes from a resentment that the authoritarians are not the ones in the position to ride in style. The envy of success that so many people in similar positions to my own comes not from liking Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez too much. It comes from a lack of pride in one’s own capacity to better their life. People better off financially than I am have oppressed me and are an obstacle to my own success, the familiar sentiment goes.
In fact, a person who has attained the means to purchase one of these items at hand has done just that. They’ve contributed to others’ lives in such a productive and useful manner, and have been so wise with their money over a long period of time that they are now capable of owning something luxurious as a reward for their ingenuity and discipline. In other words, by rejecting envy and embracing pride they have better their lives.
So, as I walk to the old showroom serving as my photo studio, and I see a married couple (much older than me) browsing Porsche Macan’s, how should I feel? Should I resent them for being in a position to buy one of these grand vehicles? Should I feel sorry for myself that if my car broke down right now (which is not too unlikely), I don’t know how I could manage that situation? I think the healthiest and most positive thing I can do is let them serve as inspiration. Assuming the pair are not in politics, they had to create goods or services for a vast number of people whose lives were enriched by their work. I should be happy that they are so successful. In a market economy, they became rich by providing others with valuable goods or services. In a market economy, I can do the same.
I won’t be working this job or living in this area very long. I am off to California (unfortunately one of the least market-oriented economies in the country) to pursue my aspirations as a filmmaker and as an activist (let’s make that state smaller and freer). I know finding success in the arts or entertainment is an uphill battle, one that will likely not end with me driving off into the sunset in my Porsche. But that’s okay. If I wanted to hunker down in my current place of residence, hold these jobs and work my way up, I could and would end up financially fine. That’s well and good for many people, and I applaud that. Every job is useful in a free society. I, however, want to live near the beach and work with cameras. I’m allowed to make that choice and if I work hard, take pride in myself, avoid resentment of those more successful than me, and instead, learn what lessons I can from them, my future wife and I will do just fine. We may drive a Honda and live modestly, but we can maintain our dignity and foster happiness along the way. And by the way, it’s worth noting that even then we will be in the top 1% of the world, not to mention our fortunes compared to even the richest people of the past.
Many people my age are also in limbo. Too many of us, however, lack pride and confidence. Success, in any field or in any capacity at all, is not to be found through resentment and anger. Nor is it to be found via political candidates. It is to be found in developing yourself more fully and looking for opportunities to improve your life. Find what you have to offer this world, specialize in it, and do it better than anyone else around. That’ll bring a Porsche, if you want one. But if you blame others, harbor resentment, and seek to take rather than create, that’ll only bring you sorrow.