Everyone loves the Frank Capra movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” According to Wikipedia, it’s “one of the most loved films in American cinema.” Generally viewed during the holiday season, I’m a sucker for the movie at any time of year and lately I’ve been thinking about the scene where young George Bailey goes into old man Gower’s store and makes a wish while pressing on the cigar lighter.
I wish I had a million dollars.
I think about money a lot. In spite of the many provocative things Jesus Christ taught about money, I still get twisted around the axle, worrying about it. There must be more money, money, money. Not a miserly worry, like I’m old man Potter stacking up silver coins in a windowless room somewhere, but just a general worry of whether there will be enough money for today, what I should do with the money I have, and what I could do with any excess there might be. I struggle with the things Jesus said about “worry” too.
Worried about taxes, I went to a meeting here in town the other night. The town “fathers” and “mothers” want to build a new track and the estimated cost is $350,000. (They would also like to build a new gymnasium, but the cost of that project is outside the scope of my “million dollar pillow talk” project.) I started thinking about George Bailey and his cigar lighter wish and I thought “if I had a million dollars, I could build the track for the town.” Not only is there an apparent potential for world-class running events to be held at this new track, its promoters say it will benefit the whole community. Yep, everyone in town will be going to the track.
Would it be called “The Julie-Ann Baumer All Weather Running Track?”
I don’t know if I’ve ever blogged about it, but I lettered in track and field for four years and was co-captain of the team my senior year. I wasn’t a runner. I did field events, mostly the shot put and the discus and the best part of it all was being outside in the sun, waiting for the school year to end. It didn’t change my life and I didn’t do anything with it after high school. But if I had a million dollars, I might consider spending less than half of it on a new track for the community.
I wonder why no passionate philanthropist has come forward to take on the project? Surely, someone somewhere must have a million dollars.
What would you do if you had a million dollars?
There used to be things like PTAs that held bake sales, raffles, ran concessions at Moxie Fest (or Frontier Days), and built up money for things like that Yeah, it takes more than a few years, but if there’s real demand for the track others will come forward. One contractor will do the grading, another the sodding, and so forth.
Go further back in history, and no one expected the town to do anything. Who built the schoolhouse out on the Ridge? Back when Americans weren’t governed, but governed themselves, if they needed a new road, a bridge, a schoolhouse, they got together in associations and founded corporations (yes, they used to be local and lasted only until the job got done, and they weren’t persons, either) to put together the means to acheive their goal.
When things are done like that, you didn’t need Potter’s millions, or to be a debt slave in Potterville. Maybe Lisbon could try it.
We’ve talked about the idea of corporations being assembled for such projects before and I think it’s a great idea. When I’ve talked to other people about it, it seems alien to them. Perhaps we’ve all been overly conditioned to expect Uncle Sugar to sweeten our lives. Time to kick the habit.
The history of how Rangeley Health and Wellness came together to address healthcare needs in a rural community is an example of how a town rallies around a need and a project. Yes, the health center is one of Maine’s Federally Qualified Health Centers (all in rural parts of the state), but the work to bring the center, incorporate services specific to the community, and provide additional support is driven from within the Rangeley Lakes Region.
As we’ve talked about, towns are going to have to find their own solutions moving forward. This might not be a bad thing. As LP intimates, we’re talking, “back to the future.”
A question I’ll toss out there is this; where are today’s Peter Baileys (George’s father in “It’s a Wonderful LIfe)? Peter Bailey casts his lot with the working people of Bedford Falls and with the “broken down building and loan,” rather than opting to be like “old man Potter stacking up silver coins in a windowless room somewhere.” George follows suit and that’s what makes “It’s a Wonderful Life” such a lasting story.
Where are today’s Peter Baileys? Ah, there’s the rub. It was Peter, a man who would have been born around the Civil War or shortly after, who taught George that the modern system of credit which Potter embodifies was wrong and enslaved people. It’s worth stressing this: The Building and Loan lent money, too. They just lent real money, the deposits of the shareholders in the Building and Loan. Potter’s lending funds come from somewhere else far away (say, the Federal Reserve), and is that kind of phony money that doesn’t exist until a bank “lends” it into existence. Though Potter lives in the town in the movie, in reality Potter lives in Palm Springs or the Hamptons and the money he derives from his rents leaves the town and never comes back.
The same thing happens when the town issues bonds to build running tracks, just the town works for Potter. It collects money in the form of taxes (“Oh, what are you complaining about, it’s just a few mils… “and we’ll slap a lien on your property if you don’t pay it.”), gives it to an intermediary bank (Potter) that cuts its share off the top and sends it to the Hamptons, and in the end a local contractor may or may not get the contract to build the now overpriced track that locals used to build themselves, keeping their money and the rewards of it in their own town.
If you want to see how far this can go, research the Woergl experiment (usually spelled with an umlaut, but I can’t do it that way).
An idea: Invest in a couple of copies of the Worrier’s Guide to the Bible. Let’s do a study together, then perhaps we’ll both be a bit closer to getting into The City of God 🙂
People have to have a little left over above and beyond the everyday living expenses and the cost of doing business to be able to invest it in other projects, that’s why is shouldn’t be considered a sin to make a profit.