Monday, March 13, 2017
More Than Money
I'd been aware of this author for a while through his wonderful monthly column in Yankee magazine, in which he chronicles what I would call my dream life in snowy, verdant northern Vermont. I secretly doubt I would be hardy enough to do what Hewitt and his family are doing (he has a delightful blog, too), and welcomed the chance to test that theory when this book came my way.
In $aved, Hewitt uses his friend Erik's life choices as a jumping-off point for a variety of topics, all related to money and--more importantly--to the idea of wealth. Erik is a modern-day Thoreau of sorts, living on an income the rest of us would consider impoverished, yet enjoying a surfeit of time and friendship, a moderate amount of work that he loves and is well-suited for, nearly always sufficient bodily comfort, and a small collection of possessions that are truly meaningful to him.
While telling Erik's story and his own, Hewitt also explores industrialization, the monetary system, the commodification of nature, and a host of other money-related topics that could easily become deadly dull, were it not for the sometimes humorous, sometimes inspiring, sometimes shocking narrative of personal stories and events that frame the more cerebral topics.
This exploration of money's myriad variations leads to what Hewitt calls the Conscious Economy, in which one recognizes the ultimate truth that one's time is indeed one's life, and that bargaining one's life away to buy things one doesn't have time to enjoy is a poor trade--and then acts on that recognition. It's "more process than prescription," as Hewitt describes it, and that saves this book from being preachy and/or impractical.
If you're the least bit inclined to turn a skeptical eye to the seductions of modern materialism, this book is well worth the time you will spend savoring its ideas. They are rich reading indeed.
Excerpt (Erik builds his cabin with hardly any money):
Indeed, at every step of Erik's construction process, I saw how mutual trust, combined with no small amount of toil, had built his home. The owner of the property on which he'd built trusted that he would treat the land with respect; he trusts that she wouldn't send him packing or sell the land out from underneath him. Those who loaned him tools trusted that he would return them in good working order on an agreed-upon date. What labor was not the product of his own sweat had been given freely and without a specific expectation of reciprocity. But even this indicated the presence of trust, for there was confidence that Erik would not exploit this generosity and that . . . he would hold it like a currency, as if he were merely its temporary vessel, to be dispensed into the community as needs dictated.