I MARVEL at how many brilliant Jewish finance minds have significantly contributed to the meltdown and resurrection of the US economy.
While the Boeskys, Milkens, Madoffs, Frankels, Bear Stearns, Kolberg Kravitzs and Goldman Sachs speculated and crashed, the Summers, Bernankes, Geitners and Krugmans advised and manipulated money supplies and structures to, ironically, set the stage for more worldwide financial speculation, manipulation and crashes.
Nearly all of these restlessly competitive players made fabulous fortunes. Yet, none apparently felt what they gained was ever quite enough. Far from understanding the chasidic proverb, While we pursue happiness, we flee from contentment, they appear to operate by F. G. Bonfils philosophy: There is no hope for the satisfied man.
So as holiday season, 2010, arrives, with its expectations of gifting, food, bonuses and more, lets ask ourselves a first level of questions: How much is enough? and What makes us content?
The answer to the latter can provide the answer to the former, and can change as we develop and mature.
Both questions are harder to answer as weve improved technology and built our wealth to a point where we can now distract and divert ourselves 24/7.
The 19th-century chasidic movement renewed the ideals of being happy with the minimum (mistapeik be-muat) and with our lot in life (sameach be-helko).
How can we do that in our aspirational, consumer-driven society?
Start by turning off all cellphones, computers and electronics when you light Chanukah candles this year (choose beeswax, not paraffin, to reduce indoor air pollution and carbon output). Be present, and just watch the tiny flames.
THE good things about restlessness and competitiveness are that they drive us to inquire, discover and innovate.
The bad things: they feed greed and hunger for power, which tend to undermine economic and social equity and degrade environmental health.
The root of our current economic meltdown was in separating the making of goods and services from the making of money. When we can make money on money, in effect, out of thin air, we must re-evaluate money itself: either we spin it off into its own game, so speculating with it wont harm our welfare; or we rein it in, and directly connect it to our productivity, so it can effectively serve our greater good.
That brings us to our second level of questions: How do we protect ourselves from another meltdown? How do we rebuild our economy?
These two questions have a single answer, too: concentrate our spending in our local and regional economies.
The American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) reports that every dollar spent in a local economy recirculates there, creating a multiplier effect.
On average, every $100 spent at locally owned businesses generates $45 of secondary local spending, compared to $13 of secondary local spending generated by $100 spent at nationally owned, local chain stores.
Dollars spent at local, independent businesses generate at least three times more direct local economic benefit than dollars spent at absentee-owned chains. Add that to the influence of local employers job creation, salaries, benefits, tax payments, purchases, charitable giving and volunteerism and youve got a recipe for a strong local economy.
Cooperation holds society together. Even in this era of privatization, libertarianism and free enterprise, more business is done and more people are served worldwide by cooperatives than by any other form of enterprise.
Theyre the anti-multi-nationals, doing the worlds un-too-big-to-fail business, led by community-oriented, rather than bonus-focused executives.
Jewish leaders often provide the brains to help power their triple bottom line activities. Alicia Gravitz, for example, co-founded and is executive director of Green America, the nations largest sustainable business, social and environmental justice co-operative.
Green economy maven and author Joel Makower, and Adam Werbach, once the Sierra Clubs youngest national president, both advise Fortune 500 companies on greening their products and creating environment-friendly strategies.
FEEL inspired? This Chanukah, buy presents, books, furniture, clothing and beeswax Chanukah candles from local purveyors. Get your home, car and school loans from a credit union or community bank, buy groceries at a co-op supermarket. Ideally, get your water and power from publicly owned utilities.
You can get your Internet and cellphone service through local or co-op providers and meet your broader needs, e.g., for outdoor equipment or bulk items, by joining co-op enterprises.
You cant expect your locality to provide everything that residents need. But the more you can support your local businesses and tap local resources, the more your locality can stand against external economic forces, weather future storms and, perhaps, find contentment in its very own home towns.
Copyright © 2010 by the Intermountain Jewish News