Money, Sex & Power

"Money, sex and power are the three-legged stool of modern culture. They are areas of human experience littered with land mines, quicksand and deep dark caverns of shame, fear and regret. We have to be careful when we march into these areas because we often unwittingly recreate within new practices, the very problems we intended to resolve.

So sacred sexuality, like cooperative economics and power sharing, can be revolutionary but they can also be repressive. We can use these progressive ideals to turn the world on its head, to build bridges and communities, and to personally grow and heal. But we can also use them to uphold, and maintain the status quo.

What we need is a richer vocabulary, respectful dialogue and safe places to truly share and evolve our understandings, experiences and interactions in the realms of money, sex and power."

Sacred Sexuality: Pathways to the Divine

This entry serves as a preface for a collection of writings on money, sex and power. Check back often, as I continue to add entries. Your comments, suggestions and opinions in general are welcome. Let me know what you think.

Katrina

Money

A collection of articles on money. This collection is part of the Money, Sex & Power eBook.

Money, Money, Money … Money!

Price Tag
 

Recently I had occasion to read Occult Psychology by Alta J. LaDage. A friend brought it to my attention because I am writing my own treatise on Magic & Psychology and LaDage covers some of the same material I plan to cover. LaDage focuses on the relationship and correspondence between Jungian psychology and the Qabalah, which is notable in and of it self. But buried within her discussion of life force was a short piece on money.

She is discussing the differences between Western and Eastern psychology, in terms of their respective symbolism associated with energy. She was deepening the discussion by illustrating how Jung had taken Freud’s limited concept of libido as simply sexual energy, and expanded it to become in the West the equivalent of Kundalini or life force in the East. After a few paragraphs illuminating how we in the West have a limited view of life force energy, she suddenly launched into a polemic on money.

Where psychology is concerned, however, Western man responds best to something he is paying for. That is one reason why modern psychology works best for him.

This statement is startling enough, in as much as she is saying that because of our Western predisposition, we respond best to psychological or occult teachings when we pay. But then she follows up with the most amazing confession.

I have been on both sides of this fence and as a result I am convinced that the teacher or psychologist who does not charge money for his services, serves best. When we have to take into consideration the patient’s ability to pay, we find ourselves in the position of a house divided against itself.

Okay. So for Western minds, paying for psychological help is what works best, but she refuses payment because it is too hard for her to navigate? Is it just me, or can anyone else smell “ISSUES” swimming around underneath this statement? I would have stopped right then and there, but she goes on to say some pretty profound statements about money in spite of, and some might say because of, her challenges in this area.

… in the West money is our magic talisman … Money is, in fact, libido crystallized ... That is, through working at a job, we transform some of our energy (physical, mental, emotional) into green paper, which we then trade for goods (the product of someone else’s energy).

She then launches into all the other ways a person can receive payment, such as barter, exchange, and, get this, payment of “pure love alone, which is what the good Hindu teacher prizes above all else.” She even calls the AA vow to give comparable service to another, i.e. the 12th step, as a form of payment. I do not disagree with any of these types of payments and I personally have accepted all of them at some point. But it is her next statement that throws me.

By refusing all of these other forms of payment, of dedication if you will, orthodox psychiatry has limited its clientele to one particular kind of patient: the person with money, and the person who values money-that is, who has a money psychology.

So Western psychological treatment works best if it is paid for, but anyone who only accepts patients or students who can pay with money is limiting their clientele to those with a “money psychology”. She doesn’t explain this type of psychology any further, and she then admits that limiting your patient/student in such a way is not a bad thing. Because even “Alcoholics Anonymous limits its clientele to those with alcohol problems.”

Okay. So according to LaDage, it is okay to require payment in cold hard cash, as long as I only intend to teach and/or treat those with a “money psychology”, whatever that is. We westerners apparently also have a money psychology when we pay for our food, housing, health care and education too. But then isn’t this similar to what she just said earlier about Western psychology in general? So is she saying that money psychology is the same as Western psychology? And if Western psychology is a money psychology, whom are we treating or teaching when we do not charge money? Hmmm? Do they cease to have a money psychology simply because they get it for free?

I know I am having a little fun at LaDage’s expense. Because while at the same time as she is incredibly insightful in this area, she continually contradicts herself. And to be fair, she is conflicted over money just like so many of us who are occult and spiritual practitioners here in the West. It is a difficult area to navigate on one’s own. She agrees with this point and provides some evidence of the madness.

“We are psychologically conditioned to believe that if it is for free it isn’t any good, and at the same time we are always looking for something for nothing! This schizoid -attitude toward money must be very confusing to an outsider looking at our culture. The trouble is that we have a long list of well-defined items which are either free or to be paid for. For example, it is not proper (in some locales not legal) to give a person a free ride. Rides must be paid for, in taxis or buses or trains. A hitchhiker (one who has the audacity to ask for a free ride) is a low form of life. But sex is supposed to be for free. A person who tries to charge for sex is a criminal. If a woman suggests to a man that he should pay first in case of fire, he is horrified; she should be "immoral" for nothing! It is all very confusing. The minister who comes to your house to comfort you after a death in the family is supposed to do this service freely, for love of God and you, but the psychiatrist, who provides the exact same comfort, must be paid. It makes no sense at all.”

And to this I say, bingo. Here she finally defines the Western psychology as a money psychology, and schizoid one at that. And I agree with her on all the points she raises. Interestingly enough, I have also read several Jungians who also note this issue, within our Western psyche and within psychology as a profession. But I will quote them at another time; we need to finish with our exploration of LaDage first.

But what has this to do with Western occult teachers, one may ask. An example could be the minister of a parish: he cannot serve his parishioners full time and still work eight hours a day to earn his own living. This exemplifies the position of any occult or Hindu teacher, too. And there is the matter of scholarship also. We understand why an attorney or a medical man may charge for what he has given many years and a great deal of money to learn. …

She starts off strong again, but she ends this statement with another contradiction.

… But beyond scholarship and time, servants of the spirit cannot be expected to serve well if they are concerned about payment. "Where your attention is, there will your heart be also."

It seems on the issue of money, LaDage gives with one hand what she of necessity must remove with the other. According to LaDage, we cannot be concerned with payments, though she accepts that it may be necessary for us to receive them. What?

So we have established that LaDage is herself a little schizoid about money, but then she delivers the piece de resistance that makes me forgive all her earlier ambiguity. She brings up the issue of money within a discussion of life force and now reveals why it is an important element of occult psychology. (The emphasis is mine.)

To try to resolve some of our attitudes toward money is to ferret out some of our feelings toward sex, spiritual values, and toward life in general. Money is the semen of the society, the symbol of its energy concentrated into a tangible object, the medium whereby energy is transmitted one to another and from generation to generation. … Money is therefore central in any discussion of Kundalini, representing as it does the root, the source of power. Our attitudes toward money are carried with us onto the path, and influence how we treat each other and ourselves.

Wow! Now this makes perfect sense to me. Money as crystallized life force does represent the Western libido in ways nothing else can. It is the way we suffuse our environment, our culture, even our spiritual path with meaning and value. And to struggle with money and what it represents would seem to be paramount to any seeker on the path within the Western world. So why do so many occult teachers avoid the struggle by opting out? Even LaDage is clear that this is an area we must all face on our path.

But, as mentioned before, at the same time that we are looking for something for nothing, we are convinced that anything that is for free isn’t any good. A wise teacher who hopes to be of real service to his pupils, must fit himself somewhere between these two stools. If he gives his time and the benefit of his scholarship without charge, neither his time nor his teachings will help the student. If he charges for his time and his scholarship, he will be classified with the commercial movements that serve spirituality in the West.

And so LaDage is issuing a challenge of sorts to all of us, to find a new synthesis within the “money psychology” of the Western world, to find a way out of the maddening cycle of wanting something for nothing while believing that if it is free it is no good.

And so after reading her book online for free, I went to Amazon and bought a copy. And in my own way, I hope I can face this challenge head on. I will be writing more about money, sex and power over the coming months. I hope to stimulate dialogue about the discomfort, confusion and frankly discordant messages circulating within our communities around these powerful yet mysterious subject areas.

Blessings to you and yours,
©2005 Katrina Messenger

What is Capitalism?

I often wonder if today’s left wing activist or neo-pagan actually knows the answer to the above question. What is Capitalism?
Coke Cola Capitalism

Capitalism has been defined in various ways. In common usage, it means an economic or socio-economic system in which the means of production are overwhelmingly privately owned and operated for profit, decisions regarding investment of capital are made privately, and where production, distribution, and the prices of goods, services, and labor are affected by the forces of supply and demand.

Wikipedia, "Capitalism"

It often seems as if folks are confusing money with the system of capitalism. Money predates capitalism. And we need to remember that capitalism represented, at its infancy, a revolutionary ideal in the face of its predecessors, feudal and caste based systems. But just as feudal systems became oppressive after initially providing protection and security for agricultural based economies, capitalism’s initial appeal also faded.

What is capitalism? As a former Marxist, I tend to focus on the concept of surplus value. Unlike margin or what we commonly call profit, surplus value is the value earned from the product of someone else’s labor. It is what produces the leisure class, the true bourgeoisie.

Marxists “…believe that private ownership of the means of production enriches capitalists (owners of capital) at the expense of workers ("the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer"). In brief, they argue that the owners of capital do not work and therefore steal from or exploit the workers.”

Wikipedia, "Criticisms of capitalism"

For example, let’s say we purchase a pair of shoes at Payless. Say we spend $20. If fourteen people purchase shoes during a one-hour period at this same store for the same amount, the store earns about $280 during that hour. And let’s assume that the two store employees earn slightly more than minimum wage, $10 an hour, plus the cost of store rent, utilities, insurance, legal fees, sales tax, managerial salary and inventory costs – then maybe for that hour the actual costs hover at around $190. Then the store has produced a margin over cost, i.e. profit of $90 for that hour. And lets say that half that amount is re-invested into building the business, which leaves $45 left over. What happens to that $45?

Well if it is a normal American business, that money belongs to the owners. And the owners, who may never sell a shoe, stock a shelf, fill in any paperwork or do anything to make the store profitable, reap $45 for an hour of someone else’s labor. Now, this is not the case in most small businesses, the owner is right there, busting their tail right along side of their employees. And that extra $45 is payment for the risk they are taking. If their shop, restaurant, or gas station fails they may lose their home, unlike their employee who can in theory just find another job. But in most large multinational corporations, the owners or major shareholders do not lift a finger to earn their keep. Surplus value is one of the key features of capitalism. Generally, as workers, we produce far more value than what we are paid.

Another feature is the creation of a bourgeoisie class, the capitalist class of leisure. This class controls the vast majority of wealth and wealth creation mechanisms, which is another name for capital. Marx spoke of the “means of production”, but he referred primarily to factories and mills. Nowadays, the MoP is as nebulous as capital itself, no longer describing simply land, gold, labor, and machines. Venture capitalists create artificial business cycles of both boom and bust, while making money during the collapse of economies. The Internet boom and bust caused many to lose everything, but the real capitalists made a killing off of it. Think about it, where do you think all that money came from in the first place, and where do you think it went?

In all the complaining about SUVs and suburban sprawl, it seems we are focusing on the upper middle class – more accurately the higher paid working class – as if they were the source of the system’s power. When in reality, it is the seemingly invisible international capitalist class and their imperialist systems that are the real source of our western culture’s oppressive status quo.

It seems to me that we are wasting way too much time and energy fighting paper tigers and squabbling over pennies, while the real rich, not only get richer, but they also are consolidating power at a maddening rate.

First off, most folks have no idea who the capitalists are. Capitalists do not tend to be CEO’s, run for office, or act in film, on stage or on TV. Although there are exceptions, most real capitalists or bourgeoisie are never seen on TV period. Every once in a while, we can catch a glimpse into the machinations of the invisible hand, like when Al Gore abdicated for example. But for the most part, what we focus on is what is called the managerial class or strata, part of what is called the petty bourgeoisie class. Cheney and Bush are members of the managerial strata for example. The Saudi royal family are a more accurate example of the capitalist class.

The other key feature of capitalism is that the capitalist class is not a monolith. They operate in many areas as a united front, but there are bitter rivalries amongst them that can be exploited. For example, there is a politically left wing amongst the ultra rich. I am not saying that there are radical tree huggers in this class by any means, but some are genuinely concerned about the environment. Others have nationalistic leanings that can be harnessed for positive means, although they will tend to support many totalitarian regimes around the world if not courted properly by progressive forces. Others are interested in new technologies, which can be used to get support for alternative energy sources for example. And still others operate out of a since of noblesse oblige and contribute millions toward progressive causes. The key here is to understand their class allegiance, and not to confuse their interest as a sincere attempt to smash the system. In other words, do make yourself dependent on grants or the largess of large donors – that is capitalist money by and large. Use it where it makes sense, but do not make it your sole source of funding. Most capitalists, when it comes down to the wire, will not willingly commit class suicide. In the end, their class allegiance will frequently out strip all other motives.

Also for the most part, most small business owners are not truly capitalist. They are what we call, petty bourgeoisie. They existed as a class prior to capitalism; they are in fact descendants of the old merchant class of the feudal systems. The merchant class later became a major portion of the capitalist class, but being a merchant does not automatically make you a capitalist IMNSHO. Many Marxists may understandably disagree with me on this point.

If we are truly honest, the capitalist class includes not only merchants, but also members of the formally feudal class, plus the descendants of ancient monarchies. It also includes the descendants of pirates, bandits and other criminal lineages. Plus, of course, the capitalist class includes wealthy religious institutions and authorities such as the Vatican. And it is these distinctions that can be exploited.

Also capitalism is not necessarily democratic; it can co-exist with almost any political system including fascism, a monarchy, and religious fundamentalisms of all kinds. It is important to keep this in mind when discussing, for example, alternate forms of government.

Also, I am no longer convinced that the answer to capitalism is a planned economy, or a dictatorship of any kind. I think we need new solutions to the problems of capitalism that take in account the corporate globalization we now face. But before we can effectively change a system, it behooves us to first understand what we are up against.

It is not just money folks, it is an economic system built upon slavery, territorial conquest and a twisted ideal of freedom – market freedom. To confuse the two can be deadly to a movement seeking to build a sustainable economy.

©2006 Katrina Messenger

My Primer: Economics 101

This article is part of a larger discussion of money, sex and power. In an earlier installment in this series, I discussed the Money Psychology of the western world. In this article I want to discuss a few issues associated with survivability and sustainability. We will return to the issue of money and the western psyche in a future article.

Hopscotch PicAs part of my upbringing, I was taught certain economic principles. From these principles, handed down generation upon generation, it was felt that any of us could build a life for ourselves that was survivable. Survival was the mantra of our ancestral legacies. We had survived the Middle Passage, the Trail of Tears and the Potato Famine, and so our economic strategy was all about survivability.

I thought I should at least share the economic principles that shaped my life as part and parcel of my general treatise on sex, money and power. Because any strategy that purports to bring about economic sustainability, should at the very least be built on sound strategies for survival. And in many ways, individual strategies for survival may be exactly the techniques we should study in developing new strategies that support the survival of local economies.

In this article, I discuss four economic principles that were handed down to me by my family and community. An upcoming article will focus on some of the issues surrounding the living wage movement. In future articles, I hope to discuss other ideas that may be helpful in building economic sustainability within our communities and within ourselves.

Housing & Transportation
The first principle of economic survival handed down to me was that housing and transportation to work were more important than food. This meant that in a situation where money was scarce, we were to pay our rent or mortgage first. Secondly, make sure you always had a way to get to work. That meant we put aside bus fare, gas money and ride share fees. Then and only then, if anything was left over, that was used to buy food. The underlying message was always preserve your home and a way to earn money. The view was that you could always get food in an emergency from family, neighbors and even the church. (Jobs were also our source of health insurance.)

As a child, there were many times we went without electricity, water and even at times food. But we never lost our home. And my parents always could find a way to get to work even if it meant begging for bones to make soup or standing in lines to get government cheese. Even when their jobs were an hour away, they and their co-workers set up a ride share system so everyone could at least get to work.

Food & Meals
The second principle was to never buy food already prepared if you can make yourself. And no we did not make everything ourselves at home in some kind of stoic fashion. In the fifties and sixties, this rule simply meant that we did not buy ready made french fries, hamburger patties or packaged rice mixes. We cut our own potatoes, formed our own patties and mixed flavorings into our plain rice. And yes when times were flush, we bought instant oatmeal and cake mixes in a box. But for the most part, if we knew how to make it, we made it ourselves. The second principle was not as stringent as the first, but the reality of how it was applied allowed the adults to teach their children how to cook, how to plan meals and how to buy in bulk.

Budgeting
The third principle was lifted somewhat from the world around us. In the sixties and seventies the general guideline was that housing costs, rent or mortgage, should be no more than a weeks pay. If you earned $250 a week, then you should pay no more than $250 for housing a month. And every week you set aside one quarter of that amount. Using our example, we would need to put aside $62.50 weekly. This methodology was then naturally expanded to include all of your expenses. So budgeting consisted of adding together monthly housing and transportation costs as well as food, utilities, and phone service and dividing by four to produce the amount set aside each payday. The third principle was that you included yourself in that weekly figure. So if you routinely had money left each week after accounting for all your set asides, a portion of that money went into savings.

My first union job, for example, paid me $140 a week, and I routinely put $10 into savings each week. As my income rose, so did my contribution. The third principle was intended to produce long-term savings that would be available in an emergency. The goal was to save at least a month, preferably three months, of expenses. This was especially helpful in case you were out on strike or were laid off – occurrences that happened often in my personal work history.

Service & Charity
Growing up, my family was usually the recipient of charity more than contributors. But as we moved from subsistence living, we came up against community standards for both service and charity. The community standard I inherited was that you contributed the equivalent of 40 hours toward service and charity annually. It could be a week’s pay or 40 hours of service, or some equivalent combination. And these were the minimum standards. There were also maximum standards; I think it was no more than a four times that amount, which is roughly equivalent to a month’s pay.

My parents gave primarily to the United Way through the combined federal campaign. I gave money directly to groups who shared my values or who were working in areas I felt strongly about politically. And I gave substantial contributions to my UU church. I also gave of my time toward political, spiritual and community priorities. All in all I gave far more than a month’s equivalent of pay and/or hours. I aligned my money and my time with those areas that represented my priorities. However, this is a fourth principle area. I did all of this without sacrificing my home, transportation, food, or my savings. Whatever your priorities, interests or political leanings – they essentially came after satisfying the first three principles.

Beyond Surviving
These four economic principles, if followed in the correct order, would ensure the economic survival of an individual or a single family. Sustainability requires that we look beyond ourselves and into the realm of interdependence, viewing economic survivability at a community or bioregion level.

Sustainability requires looking at the economics of not just what we pay out to institutions such the bank, grocery store, subway system or public utilities. We also need to look at how our money pays into the local economy, i.e. local merchants and local service providers – in short, how we pay our neighbors.

Sustainability also needs to provide guidance on how our fourth principle priorities reflect our values and vision. And finally, principles of sustainability ought to help us build for the future, not some vague, namby-pamby, rose colored, patchouli scented version, but help us plan for the down to earth, nuts and bolts of building a new economy.

What principles do you use to assure survivability? What are some principles that might help us in building a sustainable economy? In my next article, I will discuss one such principle, living wages.

At Your Service

Waiter IconWhen we encounter payment for services of any kind we often come up against triggers surrounding our own sense of self worth and self-validation. It is so much easier to pay for things. And so much of our advertising is filled with symbols and metaphors for services that sound like things. We used to get a phone with our phone service, which led many to mistakenly believe that a phone company was in the business of selling phones. But Ma Bell sold service, not things. It is the same with the wireless telephone companies. They will give you a phone, because what they sell is the service. Some things used to be marketed as services. Gas was provided at a service station for example. Sometimes you are paying for both a thing and a service, as in many upscale stores.

But the nanny, the maid, the waitress, the plumber and the teacher may handle your things, may move things around for you and even bring you things – but what they offer is service. The US economy has become a service economy with the resultant lowering of wages and benefits. It seems as if no one appreciates service anymore.

Think about how easy it is to not tip a waiter, or a bagger at the grocery store or the hotel maid. Service jobs are routinely at the mercy of the consumer. Jobs that produce things are also vulnerable, but if the thing is produced they will almost always get paid for it. If you are a producer, you have a fundamentally higher status within the US economy – and if it was mass-produced, your job was more likely to be unionized. I say “was”, because manufacturing, the production of things, is no longer the mainstay of the US economy. And even the higher pay service jobs are beginning to be sent over seas.

So we are becoming a nation of service people at the lower rungs of the opportunity ladder. And so it is within this reality that we come face to face with the other side of the US money psychology - self worth and self-validation.

We discussed in my first installment in this series the issue of the Western psychology being a money psychology. That we strive continually to get something for nothing, while at the same time devaluing anything we get for free. And we discussed how our struggle with this schizoid element of our psyche is essential for a Western spiritual seeker on the path. But there is more to this issue than just our inability to imbue value and meaning without commerce.

We are also, as a country, suffering from an inferiority complex. This complex causes us to treat anyone perceived as lower on the opportunity ladder as somehow less deserving of respect, and/or we project our anger over our own perceived lower status onto anyone who exhibits a modicum of healthy self esteem and self-validation.

Consider how Europeans handle tips. It is built into the system and not up to the patrons to decide whether to tip or how much is appropriate. In the US, we balk at tips being automatic, as when restaurants include a tip for large parties. Some folks who would have left a larger tip will suddenly become belligerent and pay what is exactly on the bill and nothing more – punishing the waitress for the restaurant policy. And why does the establishment have this policy in the first place? Because a waitress with a large party is often unable to work other tables enough to earn an income – so they need some compensation to insure the very group that impeded her income generating ability does not stiff them. And finally because in the US, it is legal to not pay hourly wages to a waitress which makes them solely dependent on tips to earn a living.

And every day in America, some idiot is making a waitress’s life a living hell . . . because he can.

Domestic workers are also among the most vulnerable in our service economy, along with migrant workers and all undocumented workers. Many an independent contractor or craftsman has tales of not being paid for their work. While small shopkeepers everywhere have signs up about not accepting checks. We abuse these service workers too, because we can.

Anyone perceived as being lower on the opportunity ladder are often expected to accept ill treatment as part of the package deal within his or her respective industry. And service workers are universally viewed as lowest on the ladder.

But what exactly is a service worker? And do we recognize them as such?

Many of the service workers in our day-to-day life are invisible to us. For example, most professionals are service workers. Lawyers, doctors, dentists, mental health professionals, plumbers, carpenters and electricians provide a service. Teachers, secretaries, receptionists, store clerks and post office employees are also service workers. In fact, very few of us encounter product workers in our daily life. Maybe we meet them selling produce at farmers’ markets or displaying their artwork in a gallery. We attend concerts to hear them play their music or we listen to them talk about their books. But we are far more likely to meet service workers week in and week out.

And if a great deal of money is charged for a service or we have to make an appointment to receive the service, then it is a scarce resource, and it is by definition valuable. But if the service is generally available or it is low cost, then it is not as valuable.

So a doctor or lawyer can charge a pretty penny or two, and make you wait for an open slot on their schedule. While plumbers and electricians can charge a lot; but you get angry if they make you wait. And wait staff and store clerks better not make you wait at all.

And though you can file complaints against lawyers and doctors, folks seldom yell at them or speak to them with disrespect or condescension. Plumbers and electricians get their fair share of verbal abuse, but culturally we reserve our most stinging abuse for wait staff and store clerks.

Which produces a dizzying array of standards of behavior from and toward service workers at each level of this hierarchy of value. And whenever we as consumers have control of how much any of these service workers are paid, we exert that control like a jackhammer. We stiff wait staff for tips, and we write bad checks to crafts people. We keep our childcare help waiting for us to return home. And we expect folks who are “with us” to accept even less, i.e. folks who engage in spiritual or political activism.

This dichotomy produced some of the most awkward moments in my experience as an activist. We routinely underpaid the staff working within union, church, charity and advocacy offices while fighting for economic parity for minorities, women and immigrants. While sitting on a ministerial committee at an activist church, I had to fight to get the minister a fair salary & benefit package. Spiritual and magical teachers and elders are routinely abused for “daring” to charge nominal fees for their classes and workshops. All of these people were and are service workers. And judging how they are routinely mistreated, they seem to fall somewhere in the chasm near or below wait staff or domestic help in the value service hierarchy.

And the question remains, is this system sustainable? No, it is not. Just because we are a service economy does not mean we are somehow lesser. What it means is that the majority of the world’s producers are creating products for us instead of the other way around. Will this lead to a trade deficit, yes. But we also have an opportunity to affect how the majority of the world’s producers behave. We can use our buying power to demand safe working conditions, living wages and environmentally sound manufacturing practices for the world’s producers. We can also start using our money to support local producers over artificially low prices at the big box stores.

And we can get rid of this inferiority complex that causes us to mistreat our neighbors whether they wait on tables, watch out kids, bag our groceries, staff our fundraisers, repair our plumbing, or conduct our rites of passage.

Because it is not just the things we produce that will ultimately sustain us, it is also the connections we make with real live people.

Sustainability & The Living Wage

Living Wage posterIn My Primer: Economics 101, I shared several economic principles taught to me by my family and our surrounding community. I ended with the question, “What are some principles that might help us in building a sustainable economy?” Well the first principle I want to discuss is something called the living wage.

“Living wage refers to the minimum hourly wage necessary for a person to achieve a basic standard of living. In the context of developed countries such as the United Kingdom or Switzerland, this standard is generally considered to require that a person working forty hours a week, with no additional income, should be able to afford housing, food, utilities, transport, health care and a certain amount of recreation.”

Source: Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_wage

What is the case for the Living Wage?
What are the costs?

The Case for the Living Wage

The living wage movement is working to change the way we Americans think about the minimum wage. The concept of living wage is not new, according to a January 2006, NY Times Magazine article titled, “What Is a Living Wage?”

“It was a popular workers' refrain in the late 19th century and was the title of a 1906 book by John Ryan, a Roman Catholic priest.”

Source: New York Times Magazine
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/15/magazine/15wage.html

There are several ways to compute a living wage. One way is to compute the living wage by multiplying the cost of housing by some factor to compute a monthly wage. The folks at Universal Living Wage use federal standards for fair market rents within each metropolitan statistical area or MSA.

“The concept is simple. It is based on the premise that if a person works 40 hours a week, then he/she should be able to afford basic housing. We use two existing Federal guidelines to determine what the Universal Living Wage should be. The first guideline … dictates that no more than 30% of a person's gross monthly income should be spent on housing. The second guideline, the Fair Market Rents (FMRs) [is] established by HUD throughout the country for each municipality and all other areas. Therefore, the Universal Living Wage will vary per area in accordance with the FMR. FMRs are based on gross rent estimates [that] include shelter, rent and the cost of utilities except telephone service.

Source: Universal Living Wage
http://www.universallivingwage.org/

This method of computing a living wage produces substantially higher wages than other formulas. The living wage for the Washington metro area using this method starts at $17.60 per hour.

The folks at the Economic Policy Institute use a formula based on federal poverty levels.

“The level of the living wage is usually determined by consulting the federal poverty guidelines for a specific family size. Often, living wage levels are equal to what a full-year, full-time worker would need to earn to support a family of four at the poverty line ($17,690 a year, or $8.20 an hour, in 2000). Some living wage rates are set equal to 130% of the poverty line, which is the maximum income a family can have and still be eligible for food stamps. The rationale behind some living wage proposals is that these jobs should pay enough so that these families do not need government assistance. … Cities and counties with a higher cost of living tend to have higher living wage levels. The wage rates specified by living wage ordinances range from a low of $6.25 in Milwaukee to a high of $10.75 in San Jose.”

Source: Economic Policy Institute FAQ
http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/issueguides_livingwage_livingwage

The living wage ordinance that was passed in 2000 within Arlington, VA, based on the EPI methodology, was $10.21 per hour.

Even some business and investor groups are challenging the minimum wage, calling instead for living wages. The folks at Responsible Wealth encourage businesses and investors to sign a Living Wage Covenant.

“The population of America’s working poor has grown because the wage floor has failed to keep pace with the cost of living over the last three decades. The federal minimum wage, which in 1968 stood at 86% of the wage necessary to lift a worker and his or her family to the official poverty line for a family of four, today represents less than 64% of that "living wage." The federal minimum wage, presently $5.15 an hour, would need to be raised to $8.20 an hour simply to meet the federal poverty level. In many higher-cost regions, a true living wage is substantially higher (up to $18 per hour).”

Source: Responsible Wealth
http://www.responsiblewealth.org/living_wage/index.html

Even corporate “bad-guy” Wal-Mart has signed on in support of substantially raising the federal minimum wage. From the same NYT article referenced above,

“Our current average hourly wage for workers is $9.68," Lee Culpepper, a Wal-Mart spokesman, told me. "So I would think raising the wage would have minimal impact on our workers. But we think it would have a beneficial effect on our customers.”

Source: New York Times Magazine

Even the Catholic Church has weighed in on the issue.

“… the moral justification for a living wage [can be traced] back to the encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI and John Paul II, in which the pontiffs warned against the excesses of capitalism.”

Source: New York Times Magazine

Studies of minimum wage increases and living wage ordinances have surprised economists. Studies have shown, that instead of gloom and doom predicted by most economic theories.

“… that a modest increase in wages did not appear to cause any significant harm to employment; in some cases, a rise in the minimum wage even resulted in a slight increase in employment.”

Source: New York Times Magazine

Which all sounds pretty much good and dandy to most if not all of my readers. What is there not to like? Raising the floor of wages can help working people to get out of poverty. As one campaign puts it, “if a person works 40 hours a week, then he/she should be able to afford basic housing.”

Yea, team!

But what are the costs?

The Costs of the Living Wage

The cost of strategies such as living wage campaigns are born primarily by small to medium sized businesses. And guess which businesses are more likely to be locally owned? And although most large business absorb the increases by raising prices or accepting lower profit levels, some small business, especially those with under a 100 employees are forced to replace high-skilled workers. So although the employment levels looked good overal in areas where living wage ordinances were passedl, and in some cases employment levels even improved, it was also true that some high skilled jobs were lost. Most ordinances, however, do exempt employers below a certain size, in Santa Fe business with fewer than 25 employees were exempted. In this way some protection was offered for the smaller family owned shops. However, we need to remember that local ordinances that ensure living wages primarily affect local merchants.

Even given these concerns, it still makes economic sense overall to raise minimum wages. We just need to do more than just raise wages. As several business groups have rightly pointed out, the real problem is not wages so much as escalating housing and healthcare costs. Larger businesses absorb the cost of living wage ordinances, primarily, because they can either simply make up for the loss in other locations or spread the price increases over a larger base. Small and medium sized businesses do not have the ability to absorb costs as readily, and many are already vulnerable to the low price strategies of big box stores such as Wal-Mart. Conversely, housing subsidies and universal healthcare are strategies whose costs are born by all taxpayers. Modest increases in minimum wages in concert with housing subsidies and universal health care would go along way toward actually changing the economic landscape for poor families without over burdening already struggling local businesses.

So what role does living wage play in developing survivable communities? Well as we saw above, it can adversely affects local businesses and merchants, our neighbors. So we need to be cognizant of how they will bear the brunt of any change in minimum wage levels; and we, as a result, need to commit to spending more of our money with those local businesses. Fair enough, right?

But no discussion of living wage is truly complete if we overlook our individual role as employers and contracting agents. We need to also pay, at a minimum, the living wage level, to all domestic help. Raising the wages of domestic workers targets the most economically vulnerable portion of the workforce. Similarly in our organizations and community groups, as well as within non-profits, we need to make a commitment to supporting a living wage for all staff positions. Again, we need to support our neighbors.

And finally we need to make a commitment to pay all artisans, musicians and clergy, at a minimum, at a level commiserate with living wage levels. This means we try to purchase software, music, books, and art instead of just copying it or downloading it from the Internet for free. This means we pay people for the services they provide instead of forcing them into a form of intellectual servitude.

It is a different mind set, but given how most of us can see how clearly a living wage is essential for people to lift themselves out of poverty, it is sometimes daunting to see how we as individuals can also affect people lives in much the same way, one on one. How much do you pay your baby-sitter, your maid, or the man who cuts your grass? How much do you pay to hear a local band perform, or contribute to your local church to pay the minister’s salary? How much are you willing to pay to hear a local writer speak or take class from a noted printmaker?

It is the same issue as the various living wage campaigns. And it is the same answer. A living wage is one that allows a person to pay for housing, healthcare, food, and transportation, and at the same time helps them to do more than merely survive. And what are we willing to do, individually or collectively, to make that vision a reality?

It is hypocritical to campaign for increases in the minimum wage if we are simultaneously unwilling to pay the higher wages ourselves. Consider this the next time you are face to face with an artist, nanny or day laborer. They too deserve to be able to afford decent housing and healthcare.

Living wages, no matter how they are computed, are part of a larger push for raising the standard of living for those amongst us who are the most vulnerable. And as such, it is one of the principles I feel is essential to building real economic sustainability.

Debt, Gratification, & The Seduction of the Now

Debt PicIn a recent live journal entry, I asked, “How much money would be freed up if you were not in debt? . . . And what could you do with that money instead?” The key point was that you could save that money or invest it.

And thus we approach the age-old dilemma: savings versus debt.

In earlier entries in this series on money, sex, and power, we looked at the western money psychology, the dynamics of capitalism, the economic rules of survival, the service economy, and the living wage. And now we turn our gaze to debt.

Consider this: what if instead of purchasing debt (which is what you do when you use your credit card), you instead purchased interest (which is what you do when you save money)? With debt, you are constantly purchasing more debt with each payment that does not pay it off. With savings, you are constantly purchasing more interest each time you do not spend it.

Gratification

Juicy AppleI earlier gave an example of someone walking through a carnival with only a quarter in her pocket, when some slick guy makes her a deal:

"This apple costs $2. If you want to purchase it, you can pay me a quarter now and every month afterwards for 2 years. OR you can put the quarter in your pocket and I will give you a dime for every month you don't take it out."

A reader pointed that, “Yeah, you save money [if you keep your quarter in your pocket], but ultimately you do not get the apple.” And I responded, “No, you do not get the apple immediately.”

So when you’re offered the above deal, here are your choices: you either pay $6 for a $2 apple, or...

... You wait a year and a half to purchase it for $2 using the money (interest) that the slick guy gives to you, or …

... You add a quarter to your pocket each month for 7 months and pay $2 using your own money and keep the dimes (interest) that you’ve accumulated, or …

… Any other combo that keeps the cost of the apple at or below $2!

What you do not get in any of the final three options is instant gratification.

And that is the real issue here -- instant, as opposed to deferred, gratification. Because, if you were not in debt, all the money used to pay debt could be saved. And if you had savings, you could pay for many emergencies from your savings instead of having to use a credit card. And, get this: you could save up for the items you want to purchase, instead of purchasing debt in order to have them immediately. Additionally, because you’d earn interest on your savings, you would get paid in order to defer your gratification.

Back in the ancient history of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, stores were set up this way. Most department, furniture and clothing stores offered layaway services. You could purchase all kinds of things this way without incurring increasing debt. You paid a simple one-time fee and promised to pay every two weeks or once a month till you paid it off. Some stores allowed you to take the items home after you had paid a portion off. It was a good way to establish a credit history. Layaway helped many working class families (mine included) afford furniture, appliances and large ticket purchases such as back-to-school clothing and winter coats. Also most department and furniture stores offered the service along side store specific credit cards. For many small merchants however, lay-a-way was the only option besides outright purchase. Also, even with the fee, it was still cheaper than long-term credit card debt.

However compared to simply putting the money in a savings account until you had enough to buy the item, layaway compared poorly. You didn't earn interest and instead the store earned interest on your money. Plus, you lost the use of the money in case of an emergency. Thus, if you'd committed to put $50 in law-a-way every month for a $250 item and had done so for 4 months ($200 if my math is right) and then your car broke down and needed a $200 repair, you didn't have the choice to take the money out to fix your car so you could get to work. A better option even then was to rely on passbook savings accounts. Additionally most banks and credit unions advertised “savings plans or Christmas funds” in order to encourage folks to save money in order to make purchases.

For Sale: Debt

Sale StickerBut now it seems as if almost everyone is in the debt-selling business. Everywhere you look someone is offering a branded credit card with a cute picture most often from the big two in debt selling, MasterCard and Visa. It is a booming business. And it is a business that makes money twice on every purchase. First it takes a cut from the sale, so the merchant takes a hit. Then it makes money by selling you debt, tempting you with ridiculous minimum payments (albeit coupled with double-digit annual interest).

Just think, how come consumer credit rates didn’t go down when regular interest rates (i.e., the debt-sellers’ costs) dropped? The answer of course is: why should they? It is a seller’s market. So a few companies will offer you rates in the low teens -- big deal! We have been in single-digit interest rates for most other consumer offerings for a while. Mortgage rates, which are now inching back up, were at an all-time low, yet credit card rates barely moved at all.

The credit card business is too hot; you can make way too much money catering to instant gratification. Which brings us to another facet of our western money psychology, the belief that tomorrow may never come. We will always pay off our debts -- tomorrow, next month, when the tax refund comes in, when we get a raise, when the lotto hits, anytime that’s sufficiently far off into the future.

How else do you explain the increasing reliance on credit for “everyday” purchases? We “know” logically that we shouldn’t buy that movie ticket with a credit card, but our shadow steps in and insists that it’s “worth” it, nonetheless. Not because we “needed” to see a movie when we were short of cash, but because we “needed” to avoid facing some issue that our desire to see a movie we couldn’t afford would have brought up.

And, once you’re in debt, the monthly payments, even minimum monthly payments, can make it impossible to pay cash for things that are essentials, for those things like food and medicine that we really do need right now.

I kid you not; but you can now use a credit card to purchase bus fare. What madness is this?

The Seduction

It is not madness; it is seduction. We are being seduced by the primacy of the now. We are like toddlers running through the candy store. I want it all and I want it NOW! What the hell is that about? Really? I suspect it is a combination of several factors.

Migrant Mother PicOne factor has to be that modern western culture is an offspring of widespread hunger -- both literal and spiritual. You cannot get more primal and now-focused than hunger. The parents that reared most baby-boomers were themselves raised during the Great Depression and came to maturation during a war economy. Similarly, in Europe, the widespread wartime and post-war hunger also marked an entire generation. To what extent are we buying more than we need in order to “feed” the shadow hunger passed on to us by our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents? At the same time, ancient spiritual traditions that once fed our spiritual hungers have died out and only consumerism has stepped in to replace them. Are we buying “stuff” in an effort to alleviate a spiritual hunger that goes unfilled in our collective lives?

We are also inheritors of post-war economic policies that insisted that the surest way to build national economic security was to consume and spend. A nation looking for a good price is very different from one looking for a good job.

. Which brings us to the last factor I plan to discuss – Marketing.

“Marketing is . . . is the process of moving people closer to making a decision to purchase, use, follow, refer, upload, download, obey, reject, conform, become complacent to another person's, society's or organization's value. Simply, if it doesn't facilitate a ‘sale’ then it's not marketing.”

Source: Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marketing

Everywhere we look, someone is trying to sell us something. They’ll use sex; they’ll use Paris Hilton; they’ll use humor; they’ll use special effects; and, Goddess knows, they’ll use repetition. Sports stadia are now named “Enron Field,” until Enron dissolves in corporate disgrace and a new “sponsor” must be found. You can reliably get to a movie ten minutes late and miss nothing but the same commercials that you would see on TV. Sit in an airport waiting-lounge and you’re assaulted by “news” and ads broadcast on ubiquitous TV screens. And, speaking of TV, even PBS stations now air 60-second spots on behalf of corporate contributors. Spam ads for Viagra fill our e-mail boxes. Some of my favorite web sites are becoming almost unreadable with all the Google ads, banners, and advertising eye candy. Advertisers are looking at ways to send ads to your cell phone. To think that a generation or two ago, all we had to complain about were billboards!

Marketing also exploits our shadows. How often has an ad made you feel inferior? Not sexy enough, not thin enough, not rich enough, not having nearly as much fun as those shiny, happy people in the ad? And the solution is so obvious! Just buy this pill, this beer, this off-road SUV, this cigarette and it will all be better -- immediately!

Marketing, in its varied forms, is designed to create hunger -- to make you want something you’d never even heard of before. More and more of our economy is based on creating a hunger, then making money by fulfilling it. Hunger is immediate; hunger cannot wait. We no longer dream of acquiring, we hunger for it. We salivate for the apple before we taste it. We crave the car before we touch it. We can almost taste the clothing before we wear it.

Hunger is what creates the seduction of immediate gratification. And it is the primary reason why we purchase debt. Buy it today; sleep on it tonight. Today only! One day sale! Gotta have it! Must own it! Now, now, now!

We have become a nation of addicts. And the drug is consumerism. And credit card companies are the biggest pushers on the block. We think we are purchasing a blouse when in fact we are buying debt. We think we are buying a DVD player when we are purchasing debt. Every time we make a purchase, if we use a credit card, the item purchased is debt, debt, debt, etc.

How can we get off this drug? What are concrete strategies to eliminate debt and to keep us out of debt in the first place? And finally, what are the spiritual dimensions of debt, especially in how it relates to our western money psychology? We will cover these issues and more in part 2 of this article.

©2006 Katrina Messenger and Hecate

The High Cost of Low Prices

Living Wage posterI am trying to wrap my mind around something that continually escapes me. Many, many of my colleagues, friends and students are staunch defenders of living wage movements. These movements call for wages that are sufficient enough for a person to not merely survive but thrive. But many of these same proponents seem to balk at the idea of paying a person a living wage when the money comes out of their own pockets.

Add to this the current view that we Americans do not pay enough for the scarce resources we consume and we come up against our own collusion with the global corporate misbehavior we all deplore.

Two maxims: (1) Americans need to pay more not less for gas, food, clothing, automobiles, homes, land and all forms of energy. (2) Our inability to grasp this fact is the primary reason we sabotage all our good-faith efforts to stem global warming, slave labor, corporate malfeasance, poverty, hunger, pollution and terrorism/war.

With our demand for cheap food, we are driving the small farmers out of business since they cannot compete with the large agribusinesses. Our demand for cheap clothing closes down small manufacturers in the US and ships overseas the very jobs that would lift many out of poverty and unemployment. The overseas factories are the only ones who can produce clothing cheap enough to satisfy the US market. But it is at the cost of fair working conditions and pay. And our trade policies contribute to poverty, hunger and disease in many of the producer countries because we warp their entire economy to meet our needs instead of their own. Our demand for cheap gas is a huge incentive for a foreign policy of war and aggressive tactics to feed America’s oil addiction. We keep plowing under the open green spaces to build cheaper homes instead of rebuilding and revitalizing American cities. We cannot even begin to discuss a universal health care until we get over our obsession with low taxes.

We as a country and the western world as a whole will never make headway into solving the grave issues before us until we admit that it is our addictions that are causing most of the worlds problems. We are addicted to paying almost nothing for everything and then we complain when our deadly habits cost us our jobs, our environment and our health care. We are such hypocrites. Immigrants, legal or otherwise, are not the cause of the problems we face in this country. Our problems are caused by our insatiable hunger for immediate gratification on the cheap.

“ …modern western culture is an offspring of widespread hunger -- both literal and spiritual. You cannot get more primal and now-focused than hunger.”

From Debt, Gratification & the Seduction of the Now

Walmart logoThis addiction produces some startling conflicts. I recently was invited to speak at a suburban congregation about the process of radical change. In that sermon I used the language of myth to get people thinking about new ways to approach some of the changes they wanted to bring about in themselves, their communities and the world. During the talkback after my sermon, we used my technique to brainstorm a few ideas to use in their existing activist campaigns. And it was working like a champ until we got to the issue of Walmart. The technique we used meant we had to first come up with our personal reasons for enacting the change we wanted in our everyday lives. So I asked, “Why would you be willing to pay a higher price for goods?” I was hoping folks would respond with ideas like, “because I was buying from my neighbors” or “because the money stays in the local economy.” But all I received was blank stares. And then it hit me; they were actually unwilling to pay higher prices. And that is exactly why Walmart is so successful.

One of the arguments that Walmart successfully uses is that their low prices make their merchandise affordable for low-income customers. Now this is an interesting argument. It is an argument many small producers such as artists, musicians, craft workers and writers hear all the time. But this argument masks a reality that most Americans are unwilling to acknowledge, much less address. If only it were true that low prices benefited poor people. In reality, low prices benefit no one. The truth is that poor Americans often pay more not less for most of the goods and services they receive. Truth be told, cheap prices actually warps our economy.

It is a reality I came face to face with in the mid seventies, as a student at Howard University working toward a minor in economics. As my professor explained, stores in poor urban areas typically charge higher prices for goods and services because these stores are more likely to serve customers without cars. While at the same store in a more affluent area will charge lower prices, because their customers can always drive to another establishment with lower prices. Wherever a community becomes a captive audience, they are forced to pay higher prices.

Poorer communities are better served by a variety of choices rather then simply lower prices. They will at least have an opportunity to pay the same prices as everyone else. It is also short sighted to suggest that poor communities need the cheaper products, when in order to sell the low price items, the store will be forced to pay lower wages as well. And who do you think works for those lower wages?

Anti Walmart Film Poster2And this is where both the Walmart and the low price argument in general falls apart. What are the invisible costs of low prices? And who pays for them? The low prices in Walmart are paid for by small businesses and their employees, foreign workers and ecosystems and ultimately the entire US and global economy.

I am not suggesting that prices should be so high as to become a barrier or burden, but they should reflect the cost of paying a living wage. And as consumers, if we have a commitment to sustainability and economic justice, we should be willing to pay prices that reflect this cost.

And if we are unwilling to pay a living wage, why should Walmart or anyone else pay them?

Fast Track & Super Size Me

The first comment I received in response to my High Cost of Low Prices article was that someone does in fact benefit from low prices -- large corporations.

A nagging question: Do the mega corporations truly benefit from low prices? Or is the mega corporation the only structure that can survive low prices? I think we consumers are the ones who force the creation of mega corporations. Our demand for convenience and low prices is the necessary precondition. For example, who do you think is responsible for the commercialization of the web? And who is responsible for the demise of local bookstores, pet shops, toy stores, etc?

Open For Your Convenience PicMore selections, lower prices, more convenience, longer hours, you name it and poof! We have created the kind of demands on merchants that can only be met via super sizing. How do we solve this problem? Do we shut down the net, burn down the mega stores and storm the corporate headquarters worldwide in order to revive our local economies? No. But we need to stop deluding ourselves as to who is responsible for the mess we are in.

Despite the impact on local economies, the net has allowed small providers worldwide to find new customers. But for this global marketplace to survive, we need a global Internet backbone, global delivery services and local support services. The stove I bought from Sears.com, for example, was delivered and installed by local contractors.

Some entities need to be global and some need to be local. And though I would love to see Powell’s clean Amazon’s clock, Amazon just does too many things right. So a local bookseller has to offer so much more than books. It needs to offer connections; something that is best delivered locally. Many local DC bookshops, for example, feature authors, book clubs, coffee shops and one, Kramers, even fronts a kick-ass restaurant.

And we need to get real about the Internet too. As long as it costs almost nothing to send spam, while costing real money for the ISPs to block it – the system will need to find a way to recapture the costs somewhere. I for one have no problem with outgoing mail limits or a tiered Internet.

The way it is supposed to work is that users like you and I, along with super users like Google and Yahoo, pay for a certain amount of guaranteed bandwidth. End users like you and I either pay for a dial-up sized pipe into the cloud or a DSL or cable modem sized pipe. Google and Yahoo pay for pipes the size of the Chunnel into the same cloud. But either way, we currently have a tiered system at the entry ramps into the net. But once inside the cloud, “parts is parts” as the saying goes – this is the essence of what folks are referring to as “net neutrality”.

The Internet Cloud PicBut there is a problem with net neutrality. The Internet was built and all the protocols were designed with a singular premise. The premise is that everyone who sends data into the cloud really wants it to be delivered. No one imagined that a time would come when someone would inject data and not care if it was delivered or not.

So the entire net is tuned to find an optimum way to deliver everyone’s data no matter what. So if more data arrives than can be delivered through a pipe, the system just slows down the delivery of all the data so everyone gets something, albeit at a slower pace.

And this seems fair if the singular premise was true. But what happens when a denial of service attack happens to a web site? All of the traffic in the pipes that serve this site gets slowed down to efficiently deliver … the attack.

What if a spammer finds an opening into the defenses of an ISP and floods the system? The system will again slow down to efficiently deliver … the spam.

Something has to give.

The current infrastructure was also set up to automatically reroute real-time transmissions such as voice and video through a separately tuned series of high-speed pipes. However the technology and the marketplace changed so rapidly that most backbone providers did not need to use those capabilities as first envisioned.

I use to sit on the various committees and task forces that were charged with modernizing the net. And I can just envision them brainstorming ways to get back all the investments they have made to implement this technology. And I understand why they want to offer a higher tier of service. It makes good business sense.

Just consider FedEx. We have a tiered service that can be used to compare the possible fall out over removing net neutrality. Not to long ago, we had a choice between using the US Postal Service or the United Parcel Service. And depending on the size of the package, after a certain weight class – UPS was our only choice. Oh sure there were local delivery services. Many department stores employed their own fleet of delivery trucks. And local courier services handled the needs of local businesses. But almost no one offered overnight service ubiquitously.

Enter FedEx, and now everyone is in the overnight delivery business. Now of course USPS and UPS has always offered tiered services, but the high end market, the prime levels of service, did not explode until someone offered that service almost exclusively.

As both a residential user and the owner of several web sites, I might be willing to pay more to ensure that my data rides the VIP lanes within the cloud. But I will switch ISPs in a second if they block access to sites.

For example, I am considering upping the security of my registration and hosting transactions to https. If I could tie the gold level of service to secure transactions, while leaving all the http traffic to the silver lanes, I would be a happy camper – And I would be willing to pay for it. And I would not mind that my email was delivered over the regular Internet.

Now of course, I have no idea how the ISPs and backbone providers were planning to set up the tier levels. But if I can think of a way to split it up to my satisfaction, I am equally sure there are any number of ways to make it worth my while as an Internet merchant.

And just like the Post Office, my regular mail did not slow down because they got into the overnight business. ISPs will still have to compete with each other over acceptable service levels.

My point is this. We either pay more for the services we need, or quit complaining as all the small players such as small ISPs and small online and local merchants get gobbled up in order to survive.

Why I Charge Money for Magickal & Spiritual Training

This essay is kind of buried within the Reflections Mystery School web site. Since it is part of my extended rant on money, I thought it might be helpful if I published it here for completion. It will also provide some background for my next post.

Enjoy,
K

Why Charge Money? Money Exchange Pic

We charge for our classes because, first and foremost, it provides income for our teachers. Secondly, it insures that the exchange that is made between teacher and student is as clean as possible given the nature of spiritual instruction and training.

Money is a token of life force energy. A student receives life force energy from their teacher or mentor. If a student does not pay or provide for the instructor there is an imbalance in the energy exchange. This imbalance can create an energy debt that cannot be repaid fully, which over time can build up into a form of resentment. This kind of indebtedness can also later cause problems within the communication between teacher and student and inhibit further training. Students who pay for their instruction, are relived of this energy imbalance. This provides space for true indebtedness, the debt that should not be repaid, only honored and remembered. We become free to acknowledge the debt we owe to all our elders, teachers and ancestors.

We also charge for our classes because we do not buy into the notion that one should not charge for magical trainings. The notion of free training reflects the reality of another era and one that frankly has a cultural and class bias.

Early teachers in the wiccan revival, especially in England, discouraged witches from accepting money due to the restrictions against witchcraft within British law. However over the years, this early restriction came to be interpreted as a moral stance instead of as a response to a legal reality.

Many of the early British practitioners were also members of a privileged class. One of the ways to inhibit those of working class origins from taking on leadership roles in the nascent movement was to make participation at those levels contingent on not needing to supplement or earn an income from the work. Thus the moralist stance became embedded due to this class-based perspective.

This moralist stance has caused many elders in the craft, who over the years literally gave away all their time, talent and energy, to find themselves living at or below the poverty level in fairly destitute conditions in their old age. The only way to counter this dangerous trend is to re-examine the assumptions that caused it.

Many ministers, shamans, mullahs and rabbis are allowed to earn an income as spiritual leaders and clergy to support themselves and their families. Additionally, the legal restrictions against receiving monetary compensation for occult and Wiccan training no longer exist. All that is left is the false moralism that inhibits pagan teachers and elders from receiving adequate financial support. Maybe in days of old, the village routinely provided for the care and feeding of its wise women and men, but in today’s realities bartering can not assist our teachers in paying their rent, utilities, and healthcare costs or plan for their eventual retirement.

The Bottom Line For Me

This article concerns what for many is a sore subject. I offer my thoughts and perspective as an attempt to both answer some specific criticisms and to hopefully set some standards on how to discuss these topics in a respectful, thoughtful and measured way.

I recognize that people of good faith can disagree and, at the same time, we can continue to respectfully interact within our various overlapping communities. We can still grow and evolve toward being respectful colleagues and even ultimately close friends.

And further, I appreciate the single person who bothered to speak directly to me about this subject instead of simply complaining in forums where I do not participate. And so Marcos, I applaud you for respectfully taking me to task directly – this article is dedicated to you. Thank you. I appreciate and welcome your honesty and integrity.

It has taken me a long time to publish this article although I wrote most of it many months ago. I had to first finish my series on money so that this article was set upon a firm foundation. I needed to set a few standards for the discussion of money within the magical, political and spiritual realms. And so this article concludes, for the moment, the money portion of my larger discussion of money, sex and power.

In my recent article on the true cost of low prices, I discussed the double standard many of us have in wanting businesses to pay living wages, while simultaneously being unwilling to pay the cost associated with living wages. This double standard is clearly illustrated in what we, as consumers, are willing to pay to small producers such as authors, artists, musicians, artisans, small merchants and yes, spiritual teachers.

Exchange ArrowsWhen I personally could afford to pay more, I made it a habit to pay top of the scale for what I received from small merchants and service providers. For example, I forced several local artists to raise the prices of the art I purchased from them. And I even made my maid service charge me more -- $12.50 per hour instead of the $6 she requested.

Recently I was taken to task for charging $250 for a weekend workshop that included about 18 to 20 hours of instruction and ritual. The concern was not just about the price charged but also the methodology it was assumed that I had used to compute the price. Several methodologies were suggested to lower the price or to provide for lower income students to have access to the classes and trainings I offer overall. And finally I was asked to consider my prices in light of the Reclaiming Principles of Unity, especially when offering the Reclaiming tradition’s core courses.

What was amazing to me was that the prices that were suggested as being more reasonable were often lower than what I would have charged for a two-day class without an evening ritual. And for this event, I had to also cover airfare for the teacher. With 20 hours of instruction and ritual, $250 becomes an hourly rate of $12.50 per hour. At last check that is at the lower end of the living wage range computed by various methods for the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

When I mention this fact, I have had folks look at me with confusion. Why? Because more often than not they are computing not what they should pay but what the receiver should earn. And their estimate, always lacking in information, like how many people will attend, the cost of airfare or site location, etc always seems to justify them paying less than living wage.

So in an effort to add some transparency to this discussion, I have decided to share the methodology I use to determine prices for my public classes and workshops. The prices I charge for my Reflections classes are based on a living wage rate of $12.50 per hour using the following scale.

Type Duration Rate
One Day 6 to 8 hours $75 (6 * $12.50)
Two Day 12 to 16 hours $150 (12 * $12.50
Two Day & Evening 16 to 20 hours $200 (16 * $12.50)
Six Week Class 15 to 18 hours $175 (14 * $12.50)



Additional charges include a surcharge to cover airfare if a teacher is coming from out of town and, depending on the event, there may be fixed costs such as lodging and meals. I recently raised the rate for my six week Reclaiming classes because I realized that $150 was substantially below the living wage rate set for the school. So the workshop price in question was based on a price of $200 for 16 to 20 hours with a surcharge of $50 to cover airfare.

The second major complaint I received was that I did not offer sliding scale rates, or at least not publicly. I accept this complaint, and I understand the frustration behind it. However I am no longer sure sliding scale works the way it was intended.

I use to offer sliding scale prices for most of my classes. And many of the folks who used it would not have been able to attend without it. Some of those people are in my school currently. However, there were also many folks who paid at the lower end of the sliding scale not because they could not afford to pay higher, but because they were unwilling to pay at the higher levels if a lower rate was available. In other words, they were doing the equivalent of outlet shopping, looking for a good deal or a sale.

If I were to offer a sliding scale again, the lower rate would be substantially higher than what I charged in the past. For example, I would probably have the lower end match the price Reflections students pay for public classes.

Work-study was another option I experimented with in years past. I found that the work-study students were more than willing to set up, clean up before and after classes. Some of my current full-time students use work-study to cover their annual tuition. Work-study slots are limited, and are currently only offered to Reflections students. Why? Because it is difficult to develop appropriate work assignments for students who may or may not be committed to spiritual transformation. Too often, work-study assignments became opportunities for free one-on-one instruction or counseling. I prefer that such opportunities be reserved for my full time students.

If people need financial assistance in order to attend a Reflections class, all they have to do is ask. I offer payment plans and sometimes, depending on the class, I have discounted slots available. The only time anyone has asked me for a lower price however was when I was offering a residential workshop that had substantial site costs. In fact, the low rate of $300 for my Descent workshop was the discounted rate AND it was advertised as such. And yet folks asked if they could pay less than $300 for a three-day workshop with two nights lodging and eight meals! Oddly enough, due to the generosity of an attendee, two 50% scholarships became available in the last few weeks before the workshop and were offered to everyone who had requested assistance.

And finally I have made a commitment to myself and to all the teachers who bless Reflections with their time, talent and experience. I will not have them give up their time, prepare their material and lend their name to the work of this school and then pay then unfairly.

Most teachers are paid a per student rate. If more students attend, they get paid more. I also pay myself via Amber Eyes for web development, event management and site logistics for each class. I also budget teacher meals, class snacks and beverages as well as for paper products such as cups, trash bags, etc. Additionally, I set aside funds in case I have to rent a site due to class size. All of this should make sense to anyone who has put on an event. The primary variable in all of this is teacher pay. All other costs are substantially the same for each class. Teacher pay as I noted above is linked directly to class size.

So then we come up against all the assumptions concerning class size. Most classes I teach have a class size of 5 or less. Occasionally, especially with some of the Reclaiming core classes, we have had class sizes of eight or more. The two largest classes were both for the Story, Dreams & Trance class, where we had more than ten students. But to hear some folks you would think we routinely had classes of twenty or more!

The problem is when this false multiplier is used to qualify what a teacher should be paid. I refuse to play this game. I will not charge less because of the occasional larger classes and make it economically more difficult to offer smaller classes. It makes no sense to me, and it is not sustainable.

I also find that it is often disingenuous and distracting to engage in debates concerning a presumed “holier than thou” barter-based economics or the so-called “money-free” economy of the future/past. And I am frankly sick of the endless debates on what does or does not uphold the Reclaiming Principles of Unity. None of these debates actually address the real issue in my experience. The real issue is that for so many, money is considered the root of all evil. While at the same time, money is also the primary source of power within our current social-political system.

But money is not evil. Money is energy, and it can be used to alleviate much of the world’s suffering and reward sustainable and ethical economic behavior. As Alta J. LaDage says so eloquently in Occult Psychology, “Money is the semen of the society, the symbol of its energy concentrated into a tangible object, the medium whereby energy is transmitted one to another and from generation to generation.” And to my mind where we spend that energy should reflect our innermost values and priorities. And if we refuse to wield this energy, we are exempting ourselves from changing the power dynamics of world’s economy.

And nowhere is this truer than how we treat members of our community, especially those whose work is solely for the benefit of the community. I value the work of my own spiritual and magical teachers just as much as I value the work of my engineering, mathematics, physics and chemistry teachers. I also value the mentoring and training I received as a priestess and shaman. Part of the reason I teach at all is because of the gratitude I feel for all I have received. I paid my teachers for what I received. I paid them with my time, my respect and my talent yes, but I also paid them with money. I expect my students to do the same.

I expect my students to recognize that the sacrifice they make toward their own spiritual development is because it is a priority within their life. It is not a pastime or a hobby. I expect them to have to make choices within their lives to free up energy to invest in their spiritual education and training. I want them to feel the pressure of deciding to put their training first.

And for that reason, I charge money AND I price my classes at a rate that reflects the true costs involved. Does this make my classes difficult to afford? Yes. Does that mean that not everyone can attend? Yes.

And for the record, I truly comprehend and acknowledge that the economic realities of today is making it more difficult for the average person to earn enough to satisfy many necessities such as food, shelter and health insurance. But I also know that far too many are willing to mortgage away their futures on electronics, eating out and other leisure activities. If you are choosing between eating and spiritual training, you should definitely contact me. But for most of us, the choices are not so dire or painful.

The bottom line for me is this. If you are committed to this path, you will save the money or find a way to earn enough money to make this work a priority within your life. And if that doesn’t work and this path is important enough to you, you will take the time to at least talk to me about ways to make it happen.

Because if this path is not a priority to you or you are unwilling to invest your time and energy, I am not willing to teach you.

Sincerely,
Katrina Messenger

Sex

A collection of articles on sex. This collection is part of the Money, Sex & Power eBook.

Sacred Sexuality: Pathways to the Divine

This sermon, delivered in 2005, captures some of my current thinking in regards to sacred sexuality. As I begin a new thread, one that will focus on sex, this article serves as my preamble.

Katrina



Thank you; I am honored to be here today. Sacred sexuality is one of my favorite topics. I would like to start out with some definitions, and then on into the subject at hand – sacred sexuality, pathways to the divine.

Etymology:

Some of the following are from the Merriam-Webster dictionary on my PDA, the rest however are the output of my own fevered imagination.

Sacred:
Dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity, e.g. a tree sacred to the gods; worthy of veneration, i.e. holy; entitled to reverence and respect – not secular or profane; and lastly highly valued and important.
Sex:
Noun - Male/Female; biological designation;
Verb – consensual exchange of life force energy. (My words)
Gender:
Behavioral, cultural & psychological traits associated with one sex, Man/Woman/Transgender.
Sexual:
Associated with sex (sex as a verb) or with the sexes (sex as a noun).
Sexuality:
State of being sexual; condition of having sex or sexual activity.

What Is Sacred Sexuality:

Tantric Couple PicWell to look at the above, we could say that sacred sexuality is sexual activity that is dedicated to a deity, that is holy, that is entitled to reverence and respect and is highly valued and important.

Dr. Loraine Hutchins, a dear friend of mine who happens to also be a national expert on the subject, defines sacred sex as “a set of beliefs and practices which seek to heal the split between mind and body, the erotic and the religious, and to bring them together, through daily practices and ritual.” (from Sacred Sex Divinities)

I define sacred sexuality as sexual acts, rites and practices that seek pleasure, healing and spiritual growth.

Why Is Sacred Sexuality Important?

Although definitions are helpful, we also need to comprehend why sacred sex is important, why it matters in a world like ours that has seemingly gone mad.

For most of us, what we experience as sexual energy is more accurately life force energy. We modern humans spend a great deal of our time blocking, suppressing and repressing our life force energy. And it turns out that sex is one of the few areas where we may allow our life force to flow unimpeded.

And if we could find a way to remove these blocks and obstacles, we could harness our life force in ways that could potentially change not only our lives but also the entire course of human history.

A small illustration of this potential is the practice of muscle testing. Muscle testing involves measuring the change in a body’s energy field in the presence of a potential allergen. My acupuncturist used muscle testing to determine my body’s reaction to wheat or pollen. I would hold out my right arm as my as I held the wheat in my left hand. The relative muscle strength of my arm was compared to when I held nothing at all. If I was weaker, bingo, I was allergic to the substance. Although not widely used, it provides a quick answer and can be used in grocery store aisles as well as medical offices.

So now, let’s expand the concept. What if we each had the ability to check in with the flow of our own life force energy? What if we could do the equivalent of muscle testing on everything that we encountered in our lives? What if we could determine that this option increases the flow, while this one dampens the flow of energy? And what about whether this job or this home, or this freeway design or this person or this food or this political candidate increases or decreases my energy flow.

Expanding it further, what if you became sexually aroused whenever you were engaged in your true life’s work or whenever you engaged in habits that contributed to your growth and evolution? What if you had an orgasm when you met your soul mate or simply acted in accordance with your deeply held values? Maybe that is bit too much, but what if we were guided by the flow of life within us and not by our fears, not by our prejudices and not by our projections? What if every one was guided that way?

Man, what a concept, and the sad thing is that it is almost unimaginable.

So how do we heal and grow towards that ideal?

Well one path is through sacred sexuality practices. Sacred sex practices can literally be a tool of evolution, healing and ultimately global change. If it were only that easy; As with everything, the reality is much more complex.

The Great Rite:

Most traditional sacred sexuality practices in wide use today are based on some of the same principles as a traditional Wiccan ritual called the great rite. The great rite involves the ritualized sexual joining of a man and a woman either physically or symbolically using a blade and a chalice. In the symbolic great rite, the woman holds the blade, while the man holds the chalice, but that is pretty much as risqué as it gets for the most part. In many Wiccan traditions, the link with ancient fertility rites is unmistakable. It is one of the reasons that in some circles, Wicca is referred to as a fertility cult

Similarly, today most sacred sex practices are popularized via images of what Dr Hutchins calls the romantic tantric-couple embracing on a New Age greeting card motif. And many sacred sex groups embrace this image just as feverishly as many traditional witches hold on to the great rite. They both espouse the man/woman dyad as the singular model of sacred sex.

However to restrict sacred sexuality to such trite images and limited applicability does nothing to truly heal the mind-body split, nor challenge limiting beliefs such as white supremacy, patriarchy, economic exploitation, and the global concentration of wealth and resources. We have to better comprehend the larger role sex plays within modern culture. We need to grasp the potential pitfalls that exist when we try to go up against the prevailing wisdom of any of the big three.

What are the big three?

Money, Sex, and Power

Money, sex and power are the three-legged stool of modern culture. They are areas of human experience littered with land mines, quicksand and deep dark caverns of shame, fear and regret. We have to be careful when we march into these areas because we often unwittingly recreate within new practices, the very problems we intended to resolve.

So sacred sexuality, like cooperative economics and power sharing, can be revolutionary but they can also be repressive. We can use these progressive ideals to turn the world on its head, to build bridges and communities, and to personally grow and heal. But we can also use them to uphold, and maintain the status quo.

What we need is a richer vocabulary, respectful dialogue and safe places to truly share and evolve our understandings, experiences and interactions in the realms of money, sex and power.
Ultimately, studying the sacred sexual practices handed down to us is not enough. We must also bring our critical consciousness; we must bring our discernment. We must recall that money, sex and power are all political.

So we need to approach sacred sexuality with our eyes, along with whatever other orifices we prefer, open and alert.

Sacred sexuality has traditionally been based on a heterosexual dyad, employing gender and sex polarities to symbolize the eternal dance of the universe. Few, if any, even considered same sex lovers. And usually the practices targeted at same sex couples embraced polarities that resembled hetero role-playing. So the reigning model was, pretty much, heterosexual couplings.
Most of these practices were also not about self-love or masturbation. Even solitary eastern practices, which employ techniques to delay or eliminate ejaculation, often frown upon any direct physical stimulation as if the body itself was somehow profane.

Even given these limitations, many seekers have found these ancient practices and principles both enriching and healing. But for some seekers, the seeming lack of diversity can often be experienced as daunting, non-inclusive even unsettling.

Thankfully, modern practices have been developed that embrace the realities of a far more diverse spectrum of sexual variations, orientations and preferences. Many of the most exciting of the modern practices are being developed within queer and women only spaces. Many began with a critical analysis of traditional practices and then quickly evolved into creating what is called oppositional communities – places where people can heal from the ravages of oppression. They are a long way from the ideal, but it is in these communities that some of the most revolutionary practices are emerging; practices that offer the promise of integrating the erotic into the overall healing of our diverse communities.

Yes, money, sex and power are all political. But each of them can also be transformative, healing and spiritual, even sacred.

Pathways to the Divine:

There is a saying we quote frequently in the craft, “All paths are one.” It is our way of acknowledging the validity of all the world’s religions and faiths, including atheism and humanism. We are obviously not the only ones who feel this way, but because it is one of our central precepts, we are able, for the most part, to cherish the diversity that exists amongst Wiccan practitioners. This is not to say that we do not suffer from fundamentalism and forms of orthodoxy, it just means we have the ability to invoke this principle quite readily into most debates within our path.

So the question remains of why do I call sacred sexuality, a pathway to the divine? Besides acknowledging it as a legitimate spiritual path, it is also an invocation of one of Wicca’s most sacred principles – that the earth itself is sacred.

So what does the sacredness of the earth have to do with sexuality? We witches generally honor the ancient elements as sacred – Air, Fire, Water And Earth. It is our inclusion of earth that defines us as an earth-based religion. This is in contrast to the earth as inert view, which carries with it a concept of the body as corrupt or somehow lower or lesser than mind or spirit.

This is important, because we do not just honor the elements universally; we also honor them in a very personal way as breath, passion, tears and flesh. To name the earth as sacred means our bodies are also sacred.

This ultimately leads us to honor and appreciate our physical bodies, and this includes our sexual needs, urges and hungers. Sacred sexuality is one of the ways we honor and celebrate our flesh. We do not see our physical bodies as simply shells that we cast away at death so we can ascend into the sacred summer land. We declare where we stand as sacred and embrace life as a gift in and of itself.

We also recognize and honor the eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth – so the body is also not held above spirit. We seek to heal the split between mind, body and spirit. One area where the mind/body/spirit split can be healed is within human sexuality.

Sexual orgasm is literally the closest we get as living beings to glimpse the eternity of creation, to gaze into the eyes of the nameless one and reconnect with source.

The practices of sacred sexuality allow us to walk the edge of this sacred blade, and to remember, heal, grow and evolve as a result of that connection. We do not have to die to experience the summer land; we only have to die a little.

As we climb the steps into the temple of love, we need to realize that to be human, to be alive at all, is the Goddess’ greatest gift. And to be sexual is to approach the magical doorway into the realm of the gods.

Thank you.
©2005 Katrina Messenger

Power

A collection of articles on power. This collection is part of the Money, Sex & Power eBook.

A Minor Leadership Rant

Concentric CirclesWithin Reclaiming circles, I keep reading about leaders and hierarchy as if they were the source of the problems we face within western industrial society. That is news to me since I always thought it was the concentration of wealth, power, resources and information into the hands of a few. If concentration is the problem then the solution is increased accessibility to money, power, resources and information. But if we name the problem as simply hierarchy and leaders, then the solution can lead to the denigration of experience, skill and age.

Because without an acknowledgment of elders and mastery, we create a sort of mob rule which leads to an elevation of the mediocre.

I am intrigued and heartened by a definition of leadership from the I Ching, as the one(s) "closest to center."

IMNSHO, leadership can be contextual as when it arises spontaneously, it can be situational as in only a finite number of people can stand directly in front of the stove at any one point to stir the soup, or it can be structural as in we all agree that this person will facilitate the meeting. It can also be shifting as in the rotational chair model of meeting facilitation where the person speaking is the chair and is responsible for recognizing the next speaker/chair. And it can be knowledge based as in whoever has traveled to a location before is the one to give directions to the driver. Leadership can be as simple as announcing that dinner is ready, as complex as handling the bookkeeping for a group or as clever as the one who supplies the costumes for witch camp. In my view a leader is one who exhibits leadership.

What I have often found objectionable however is the notion that anarchism is somehow contrary to this concept of leadership. Or for that matter that anarchism is contrary to structure or accountability or the recognition of experience, knowledge and skill.

I freely admit that my background is more marxist than anarchist, but marxists share a great deal of our history with anarchists and even where we clash there tends to be general agreement around an analysis of power, esp in terms of class. Add to it the contributions from social justice movements such as a feminist analysis of gender, a black nationalist analysis of race, a queer analysis of sexual expression and the many contributions from the environmental movements; and the marxists and anarchists within Reclaiming, for example, often pretty much see eye to eye on most things.

So as a "former" marxist, I find it amusing when some folks in Reclaiming defend their lack of accountability, structure, and denigration of leadership as due to Reclaiming anarchism. Because in my heart of hearts, I know that often systems are left vague, obscure and demeaning as a way of ensuring power concentration and information restriction -- which is definitely not anarchism.

No it is not anarchism that creates these unwieldy strucures and unhealthy organizational dynamics, it is white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. Because such structures and dynamics within this society can only serve the status quo. The appreciation of youth and age, plus all the stages in between, strikes at the heart of the concentration of power, wealth and information. It is a system of domination that calls for us to become interchangeable cogs in the machine. It is indeed revolutionary to appreciate both genius and mastery, while at the same time nurturing and guiding growth and change.

My 2 cents, for what its worth.

Katrina, a leader since age 3 when I convinced my playmates to each take a turn bouncing the ball . . .