Work and Wealth
    I could write a book about work, and it would be a long one; but my experience with wealth has been limited and secondhand. I am using the term work to refer to livelihood, or a person's general daily occupation. Work doesn't necessarily get repaid in dollars. The famous naturalist Louis Agassiz is reported to have stated "I cannot afford to waste my time making money." Of course, in our complex commercial society, most people equate their job with work. In this situation, after retirement a person's job is nominally finished, and he or she can do anything without worrying about wage income. Some people choose to continue working at their customary jobs even though they don't need the money; some do so even as volunteers. The common stereotype of work as "a necessary evil" is unfortunate; work is often the most meaningful part of a person's life. Work has many issues, and this, my final essay, will address those I am opinionated about.
    Our common cultural pattern is for children to be schooled, and adults to work. In a sense we think of schooling as work. Hence the words schoolwork and homework. Adults require that children attend school, but allow other adults to work or play as they choose -- so long as their legal and social obligations are met. Some jobs held by adults are so pleasurable as to recall children's play. For example, a professional athlete may receive millions of dollars to engage in sports that children do for play. And an entertainer who is paid for telling jokes or performing stunts is not so far removed from teenage pastimes. In sharp contrast, consider the work done by a laborer, paid to dig ditches by hand. He is in a very strenuous occupation, that no one would envy.
    There is general agreement that work is good for both individuals and society. It gives individuals something regular to occupy their time and talent, and helps keep society organized and well provided with goods and services. Since we have such a complex society, and it is based substantially on free enterprise and economic exchange, we find mere barter too awkward for general use. Therefore, our means of exchange is money. According to supply and demand, and fluctuating value judgements, our work is "worth" more or less money from time to time and place to place. I wince when reading or hearing the question "how much do you earn?" because what a person is paid or makes on a job, may or may not reflect the true social value of the work -- some people are exploited and paid slave-level wages; some are grossly overpaid. But money is not per se a bad thing. I do wish our culture focused less on how much money a person has, and more on how much good a person does for society. The equating of personal wealth as a sign of a successful life is unfortunate.
    Immanuel Kant, the renowned German philosopher, said in his categorical imperative that a person could get a good angle to consider a vexing question by asking: "Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature." In other words, imagine to yourself that if everyone else were to also do what you're thinking of doing, then how would the world be? This sort of thought process can help us. Suppose you're wondering whether to use your company's surplus cash to hire another employee, or to donate to a non-profit organization. Using Kant's exercise you might find yourself trying to decide whether the world would be better off by having many more private sector jobs, or by having many more people working for social nonprofit causes. How should you put your money to work?
    If every North American consumer decided to buy only products or services of one kind or another, imagine the power to effect positive change! Suppose we all resolved to spend no money on disposable plastic spoons, forks and knives. Well, then more reusable spoons, forks and knives would take up the slack. By spending deliberately, we vote with dollars every time we spend money. On a personal level, I favor small businesses over multinational chains, all else being equal. I also favor locally grown produce or locally made goods over imports. I appreciate the work documented in Consumer Reports.
    Nonprofit organizations are growing dramatically in number and clout. In Washington State alone more than 31,000 nonprofit organizations exist, with assets of 7.6 billion or more dollars. Oddly, nonprofits are not necessarily all that different from private companies. Sometimes the work done is practically identical. But if a person in this land of opportunity wants to acquire wealth, especially much wealth in short order, he or she will be much more likely to do so in the private or commercial sector.

    My own work is a blend, both profit and nonprofit, all directed to share what I know about plants and nature. I do this through writing, teaching, consulting, managing and gardening. My motive is above all because I love it. Financially I could earn much more money doing work that I don't love, but for which I am otherwise suited. I prefer to donate some 15 hours weekly to nonprofit causes I believe in, rather than sell those hours to the highest bidder. I value freedom of choice, and am grateful to live in a land where people can support nearly any kind of cause, mercenary or philanthropic. My intent in working is fourfold: 1) to do non-exploitive work; 2) to do work I love; 3) to do work which otherwise might not get done; 4) to earn an adequate livelihood. I have no desire to become rich, in the common conception of the word.
    My choice of work, then, is all I have insisted on so far. However, I do desire and intend to earn more money, so I can buy the house and afford to raise children, as well as give more to needy people and social causes. But I won't engage in work that doesn't fit my fourfold criteria. Hence my working goal as just framed is to increase my income without compromising my ethical standards. Luckily, my patience is high, and I like challenges.
    I feel my options are limited wholly by my own choices. Therefore I could maintain an office outside of my home, and commute to it daily. I could become an apprentice, or take one on, or form a partnership, or hire employees. For now at least I prefer to maintain a low-key sole proprietorship, working out of my residence. This choice keeps my stress level low, and allows me to do impressive quantities of work, while minimizing costs. The indirect cost and drawback is that I have remained weak financially -- without savings, investments, or even a reliable cash-flow. But each year this drawback is being diminished as my accomplishments or the smiling face of Fortune bring about new opportunities. I accumulate more experience, tools, contacts, and credibility or reputation.
    If the originality of my work falters, and I grow complacent, jaded or in need of a substantial change, I can try something new. Given a range of possible work opportunities, I'd choose the one that serves society best, is most comfortable, or -- all else being equal -- the one that pays best. An excellent exercise which I often suggest to people, is to pretend you'd be given $50,000 yearly, so no need exists to work for an income. Then what would you choose to do daily? What work would you do for love of it? People may responding jokingly "Oh, I'd lounge on the beach all day!" But in reality that would get boring very fast for any of us with active minds and social consciences. If I was to receive such an unearned income, I would not fundamentally alter my present work. That is something I am proud of.
    To end this essay I want to quote a passage attributed to Socrates by Plato. It embodies my feelings, as well as reflects that much of my own thinking derives from my having read and reflected upon the opinions of others.

    "The good man, because he is just and temperate, enjoys good fortune and is happy, no matter whether he is big and strong, or small and weak, or rich, or poor. And even if a man is richer than Midas or Cinyrus yet has not justice, then he is a wretch, and lives a life of misery.
    For the proper basis of rank of values is: spiritual goods at the top, bodily goods and advantages second, and third those said to be provided by property and wealth.
    When a man values beauty above virtue, the disrespect he shows his soul is total and fundamental, because he would argue that the body is to be more honored than the soul. It's pretty well inevitable that virtue and happiness should come hand in hand, but virtue and great wealth are quite incompatible.
    Go for self-control, wisdom, courage and health. Don't let the soul be mastered by anger, fear, pleasure, pain, envy or desire.
    By preferring to have justice in your soul rather than money in your pocket, you get -- treasure for treasure -- the better bargain."