Recently Facebook’s Founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, spoke at Harvard’s commencement ceremony and mentioned one of the more ludicrous things I’ve heard in quite some time. He commented that “everyone should have a cushion (financial) to try new ideas.” And that having a form of “universal basic income” is a way to accomplish that.
He goes on to state that because he knew he had a financial safety net, that is why he was able to try new things, like Facebook.
He doesn’t mention that he is a genius and in top 1/1,000th percent of intelligent people in the computer coding world. He also doesn’t mention the hours and days and weeks and months of hard work and planning that went into creating, developing and refining his product. I believe that those factors may have had something to do with Facebook’s successes.
Well, let me agree with him to some extent. I agree that having a financial safety net is an awesome stress reliever. However, I think that everyone is capable of creating their own financial safety net.
Work hard, make money, spend less, save the difference = financial safety net.
The real stress-relief and cushion that a financial safety net provides is proof that given the opportunity you were able to make wise financial decisions. If someone just gives you a financial cushion, that doesn’t provide you any stress relief from financial struggles because you didn’t create the financial safety net with your own behaviors!
Or worse, if someone is forced to take their own money and give it to someone else–no matter what that person’s financial behaviors are–no one is better off. The person who had saved money and established good behaviors is now disincentivized to continue to do so because his money was just stolen from him.
I think when words like “equality” are used in the world of personal finance, people try to skew that message to mean equality of OUTCOME. That is silly. That would be akin to me saying that I want to play shortstop for the Minnesota Twins and therefore I should play shortstop for them, no matter if I have those abilities or am willing to put in the necessary hard work. The outcome cannot be equal for me and Derek Jeter if the goal is being a Major League shortstop. I am okay admitting that Jeter deserves that position more than I do.
However, nothing stops the equality of opportunity that Jeter and I share in becoming a Major League shortstop. No one can stop me from working out, practicing and trying to make it. No one can stop him either. At some point, our behaviors and abilities will win the day, no matter what.
A similar illustration can be drawn in personal finance. Nothing stops people from the opportunity to work hard, earn money, spend less, save the difference…etc. Of course people’s outcomes will be different because some people have the ability to earn a substantially higher income, some people have no self-control and spend way beyond their means, some people mismanage debt their entire lives, some people invest sooner than others, and some people invent billion-dollar technology companies like Facebook.
I also want everyone to have a financial safety net. But, more importantly, I want people to establish the long-lasting, wise financial behaviors that will ensure they can create their own financial safety nets, based on their own individual financial situations.
Those behaviors can (and I pray will) change a culture and transform a nation.