Money Taxi

On the way to the airport in Bangkok recently, I managed to hail the most interesting taxi.  The entire front half of the interior was decorated with coins and currency, almost all of it Thai and most of it commemorative or collectible.


The driver, who has been working on this collection for more than a dozen years, started collecting both out of interest, but also for the “good luck” brought by having the auspicious images of Thai kings posted in his taxi.


This one-baht note comes from early in the present king’s reign.  His Majesty has been the monarch for more than 60 years and these days a baht (current exchange rate, about 30 baht to the US dollar) is just a coin used for change.


These early one-baht coins feature the three-headed elephant known as Erawan, borrowed from the Brahmanist traditions associated with the royal court.


Even more unusual is this 50-satang note.  A satang is 1/100th of a baht.  These days we have 25- and 50-satang coins and you only receive those as the result of rounding because of tax.  There isn’t anything in Bangkok you could buy for 25 satang.


Talking about small amounts, these extremely old coins, with holes in them, are one-satang coins (1/100th of a baht).  They were introduced in 1908, near the end of the reign of King Chulalongkorn, known as Rama V.  The current king is Rama IX.  One satang!?  I wonder what that bought back in the day?

While it is common to see taxi drivers decorate their dash boards, particularly with items they think will bring them good luck, I don’t recall ever seeing so extensive and interesting a collection. 

Changes in Income Force Re-evaluation

What makes me happy?  Certainly it is not the material things in life that make me happy, although there is some comfort that comes from having them.  On the whole, my life is pretty much free of a consumerist bent.  But there are certain things I want in life that come with a price tag, especially the ability to travel to visit friends and family now that I live an ocean away from them.


It was with interest that I read this recent New York Times article about consumers finding ways to spend less and still find happiness, a topic that has long fascinated me.

Amid weak job and housing markets, consumers are saving more and spending less than they have in decades, and industry professionals expect that trend to continue. … On the bright side, the practices that consumers have adopted in response to the economic crisis ultimately could — as a raft of new research suggests — make them happier. New studies of consumption and happiness show, for instance, that people are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material objects, when they relish what they plan to buy long before they buy it, and when they stop trying to outdo the Joneses

That rings true, especially the part about experiences being more fulfilling than simple objects.  There are plenty of things I’ve bought in life that I later realize I don’t use often, I don’t appreciate very much, or that I wouldn’t miss if I didn’t have them.  But there are few trips I’ve taken, nice meals I’ve eaten, film festivals I’ve attended, and books I’ve read that haven’t left at least some impression on me, some residual amount of enjoyment that I get to relive each time I think of them.  Of course, the Times’ article goes on to note that the possible exception to this finding is that purchases of clothing are more likely to continue to thrill the purchaser each time they are pulled form the closet, a finding with which Tawn might all too eagerly agree!

These questions about happiness, spending, and the relationship between the two arise at this point in my life because in the past two months, Tawn has made a change from full-time work to part-time, seeking a new sense of direction and an opportunity to create some balance in his life, including the time for more yoga practice and spending more time with his parents.

That reduction in our household income has already been felt and likely will be felt more in the months to come as we learn what the full impact is of losing a good chunk of the income we were used to.  That reduction in salary was one of the reasons that I traveled solo back to the family reunion in Kansas City last month, in fact.

We’re speaking regularly about this transition and its effects on us, sharing our feelings and concerns and regularly reviewing our financial situation to avoid undue stress caused by unexpected bills.  This is a good thing and I’m confident that we’ll be able to survive fine with less income and will hopefully find that the free time is beneficial and brings happiness in ways that money and things cannot. 

Still, every so often I worry a bit.  Will this mean I can’t do the travel I want to?  Will that mean fewer of the experiences that I enjoy?  Is that something I’m willing to give up? 

In reflection on all these questions, I recall a chapter from the Chinese philosophical treatise, the Tao Te Ching.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 44
Translation by Stephen Mitchell

Fame or integrity: which is more important? 
Money or happiness: which is more valuable? 
Success or failure: which is more destructive? 

If you look to others for fulfillment, 
you will never truly be fulfilled. 
If your happiness depends on money, 
you will never be happy with yourself. 

Be content with what you have
rejoice in the way things are. 
When you realize there is nothing lacking, 
the whole world belongs to you.

Let’s see if I can keep focused on this message in the months to come, to remember that there is nothing lacking and the whole world already belongs to me.


DC Awash in Cash, Our Interests Washed Down the Drain

lobbyist_money Corporations are not people.  They do not have the same inalienable rights of people.  These are two core beliefs I hold.  The individual people who are owners of corporations have their individual rights but the corporation itself, a legal contract between those owners, does not have the same rights as if it were a human being, too.  Contracts are pieces of paper, not living, breathing human beings.

Sadly, five members of the United States Supreme Court disagree with me and decided today that corporations are in fact people and have the same rights to free political speech as individuals do.

Why does that matter?  Already, the degree of influence of corporate money through lobbyists, direct donations and other political actions has reached startling proportions.  One look at the messy legislative process in creating the competing health care reform bills and you can see the dirty handprints of corporate money all over the place.  One deal cut after another until all the “reform” has been removed from the final product with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel but with far uglier consequences.

But at least there were some attempts at limits to corporate influence such as the McCain-Feingold Act.

It matters because we as individuals, even if we all became actively involved in politics, still don’t have the financial resources of corporations.  We can’t afford to hire lobbyists, produce attack ads and smear campaigns and let millions of people know what we think.  As individuals (true human beings) we will have a limited influence on friends, family and community – and that’s only if we get involved.  Most people don’t.  The corporations will inevitably have outsized influence on the democratic process because they have deeper pockets and the infrastructure to pay attention and get involved.

You see, I’m not anti-corporate.  I don’t bemoan the spread of Starbucks or McDonald’s.  Corporations that are successful are a great example of capitalism at work – a system that I believe in.  But democratic capitalism has to respect the needs of the individual citizens as much as (if not more so) than the needs of the shareholders and consumers.  This is an important balance discussed by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich in his book Supercapitalism.

But as we sit here bemoaning why our legislators can’t seem to step up to any of the real challenges we face, make the tough decisions, etc. we need to realize that they can’t do those things because it costs a lot of money to run for election and in order to win (and win again and again) they are beholden to the coffers of big business.

Republican or Democrat, Libertarian or Socialists, your political views don’t matter here.  The question is whether you believe that corporations and their billions (yes, billions) of dollars should be allowed equal footing with you in the arena of political ideas.  I like a sumo wrestling match as much as the next guy, but only if both opponents are sumo-sized.  In this case, it is more like an ant fighting a sumo wrestler.  And I’m afraid to tell you, we’re the ant!