One lesson about money that our parents' generation may not have thought it important to emphasize is that no period of stability or growth is permanent.
In the second half of the twentieth century, the Western world got quite accustomed to ascendancy. Prospering economies were interrupted only by short recessions, and a social safety net guarded against the worst problems of wealth inequality.
We perhaps became a bit complacent about all this.
The prosperity had more to do with the after-effects of the colonial era than we realized. The increasing sophistication of players in the financial markets in no way guarantees increasing economic stability, as we have seen (quite the opposite, in fact).
Although we are not back in the Great Depression yet, we are starting to see some serious discontent around the growing distance between rich and poor, which is shaking our comfortable illusion of a classless society. Strong forces are working to undermine the foundations which provide us with equal opportunities for all.
In the 20's, fury at the behavior of plutocrats was manifest, and the progressive movement had put decades of thought into the reforms they longed to see.
In the US, this empowered Franklin D Roosevelt and Frances Perkins to implement social justice legislation that Americans now take for granted. However, in recent years, it is the conservative movement and think tanks such as ALEC that have been preparing legislative reforms that dismantle this welfare infrastructure, while progressives have been in relative disarray. There has been a systematic effort to destroy progressive taxation, social security, labor unions, unemployment benefits, public education, and other achievements of the New Deal era that many Americans have forgotten about (precisely because the social safety net has freed up their minds to worry about higher things… or in sadly many cases, rather more trivial things).
Aside from the tragedy and clear immorality of all this (which I do not believe one needs a Bible to interpret), there are important implications as to how we manage our money. While we must fight to save and restore our public life, we can no longer assume that wealth is an optional lifestyle choice. It becomes much riskier to pursue a career in academic science, to become an artist or poet, or to go to university simply to expand one's horizons. We must be hard-headed and recognize that we live in an increasingly selfish world.
This does not mean, I hope, that we must become selfish ourselves - in fact the moral imperative is quite the opposite: to become more generous. However, our children cannot assume that they will receive adequate state pensions or medical care. They cannot assume that the world they inherit will be as fair as the one we live in. They cannot assume that housing is automatically a sound investment, or that 2012's good school district will still be functional in 2040. They must assume that they will have to take care of themselves, more than we had to, and more than our parents had to. Perhaps even our grandparents.
We can hope that this leads to good outcomes as well as miserable ones.
Perhaps our children's generation will be less obsessed than ours has been with trivial materialistic consumerism, and less apathetic or cynical about politics. Perhaps middle America will finally realize that there is little Christian virtue in clamoring for lower taxes ("Let Caesar take what is Caesar's!") and that the emerging economies of the BRIC countries cannot be condescended to. We can only hope. What is clear, however, is that money is neither about bling and status (as we heard in pop songs of the 80's and 90's), nor an irrelevant distraction (as we heard in echoes across the decades from the 60's), but the key to survival.
Ian Homes is Associate Professor @ Bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley.What we fail to teach our kids about money
by Andy Golding and The Crowd is published by Searching Finance.
Dr Holmes is a standout member of 'The Crowd'. He clearly represents every single person living in California and EVERY member of the science community in the entire world (past and present).