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My Son Is Richer Than America

Popularity 8Viewed 11095 times 2013-7-22 07:41 |System category:Life| Son, Richer, Than, America

My Son Is Richer Than America..


The year was 2008. We sat on the steps leading down to the lawn in the backyard of the house, eating ice-cream on a warm summer evening. The boy was ten years old and the girl aged six. They were bright-eyed, happy, and innocent children who thought, talked straight, and looked you in the eye. They, like most kids that age, were trusting, confident that the adults knew more about the world and that they would always do the right thing. It seemed obvious to them, especially seeing that the adults always were on their case to‘do the right thing’! They were full of curiosity to know more about the world. They were my kids.


I was proud to note that my son was starting to take notice of the news headlines from the TV that I watched. He wanted to know about the Global Financial Crisis that was being talked about a lot. He wanted to know what it was all about. What would happen? The little girl still was more interested in the commercials, advertisements, jingles and cartoons.


“Dad, how many hundreds are in a billion? And how many in a million?” the son asked.


I could see the boy trying to feel grown up and important by taking an interest in grown-up worldly affairs. Also, he was trying to get a grasp of the numbers he kept hearing – millions, billions and even trillions. He wanted to relate and compare those to‘squillions’ and ‘gazillions’ that he and his friends had used for a long time since their prep days and which his sister still used. His question on that perked up her interest as well. I explained to the best of my knowledge what a hundred, a thousand, a million or a billion of something would look like and let them decide how much a ‘bazillion’ might be..


“I heard America owes trillions. How much is a trillion?” the son asked.


“Yes, the American government alone owes about 14 trillion dollars to others. And a trillion is a million times a million. They owe at least 14 such trillions.” I explained and gave an idea of how high a stack of dollar bills amounting to a trillion might be.. They realised it was going to be a pile that would be impressively high. I also told them how much on the average, every man, woman and child in the USA owed due to the government debt, in addition to their own personal debt. It was a lot of money.


“What happens if you cannot repay the money you owe?” the boy asked.


“Well, people used to go to prison long ago, or someone would come and collect things that they have of value. But most households do not have enough things of value to make up for their debt.” I explained.


“If the country cannot repay the money, will they put everyone in prison?” the girl wanted to know.


“No dear. That will not happen, though many would like to see certain people, who deserve it, be locked up.” I said.


As it often happened, the kids would ask me a question that might seem random, but it usually related to something that was niggling them. I loved these talks, with them leading me with the questions.


“Dad, will the banks and the government run out of money? Will we all become poor then? What do they mean in the news, about crisis?” my son asked in a calm, almost adult manner.


“Dad, are we rich? Will we be okay?” asked the girl looking directly into my eyes with those irresistible eyes of hers, sounding worried.


“Well, you could say so - you could think of us as rich because we have enough to buy more than what we really need, but not really if you think about it over many years. We will have enough for our needs, if we are careful and things don’t become too expensive. We are rich compared to a lot of people in this world, but not when compared to others.” I tried to explain.


I asked them what their concept of being rich was and realized that they had it down simple, straight and fairly accurately – if you could buy a lot of stuff you were rich. If you could not, you were poor. This, coming from kids who thought money just came out from machines or tellers in banks and that all adults could go and get some whenever they wanted. They knew that parents and grown-ups worked and had a vague idea that was somehow related to how much money they could get. They seemed to believe that if you did a ‘cool’job or were famous, the banks gave out more money to you and you would be rich. If you did a boring, dull job and did not look good, you were not given much money and remained poor, or if you happened to be in countries that did not have this many banks, you could not get money and hence remained poor.


I tried to get it down to basic simple math. They understood and articulated it really well.


“Do you think most of us‘need’ just about the same amount of food, clothing and shelter?” I asked.


“Yes, what about toys?” the daughter asked promptly.


“Let’s say everyone needs a few toys. Will 5 toys each do?” I asked.


“I need at least 10 to play with, even my friend has more than 47 toys,” she said, making sure I noted her understanding of large numbers like 47. Her brother smiled, feeling older and wiser to see the humour. She got upset at his smiling in a superior manner at her statement. Fortunately, I checked my own smile that would have broken out. I decided to defuse the situation by turning to a question.


“If you earn or have a hundred dollars to spend a day and it cost only fifty to buy all the things you really need, you could say you have 50 dollars to spare. Now if someone else had two hundred dollars and also needed fifty dollars to buy all they need, they would have 150 dollars to spare, right? Now who do you think is richer? You? Or them?” I posed.


“Of course, they would be richer,” both the little ones chimed in, looking a bit quizzically at me. It seemed so easy. Sure enough, it is that easy.


“Now, if someone else also needed 50 dollars to live every day, but had only 20 dollars..” I continued.


“They would be poor!!” both shouted out even before the question was asked.


“Dad, I see on TV that a lot of people in Africa and India are poor. Do they owe a lot of money to others?” the son asked.


“No, most of them do not have enough to look after themselves, but they do not owe any great amount to anyone else.” I explained.


“Good, now you know what it means to be rich and poor.” I said, smiling, “Let us see if you can tell me who is richer or poorer with this next question.”


I continued, “Imagine you earned just 50 dollars a day to meet your needs, and had no more money left to spend on things you like. Your friend earned 75 dollars a day, spent 50 dollars to live but owed 100 dollars every day, to someone else, who do you think is richer?”


With just a couple seconds to think it over, both the kids came up with the answer, “I would be richer and my friend poorer, even though he earns more.”


“Wonderful! You got that right,” I said proudly.


“Dad, does that also mean that the poor people in Africa and India are really richer than America?” the son pressed on.


I knew this would come up. In the simple, straightforward and logical mind of a child and in a simple, straightforward, logical world, it would be true that those that owed less to others would be richer and should have more.


I was just wrestling with the thought of how to explain, to my two innocent kids, the real world where those that were technically poorer had much more than those that owed nothing to others but lived within their means. It seemed a sign of fate and God’s will that my children were not yet ready to be taught the odd ways of this world. The interruption came from the children themselves.


We finished the ice-cream and were about to head inside, when my son proudly proclaimed excitedly, “Dad, even though I get only 2 dollars of pocket money every week, I don’t owe anyone any money. That means, I am richer than the whole of America!! Right?”


“Yes, you are my son. I am proud of you and I hope you remain so.” I said, thankful for the way out.


“Hey! I am richer than America, and you are too,” shouted my son to his sister.


Both of them ran inside the house, excitedly to share with their mother their proud realisation of their economic status in this world.




Within a day or two, both the children were back to being children, telling me how much they ‘needed’ the latest toys, video games and new fancy shoes and clothing.. The flash of reason lasts only for a few moments before the irresistible pull of messages and lures of consumerism sucks them in. It is too ubiquitous and hard to beat.


However, I am thankful that my kids had once figured things out. They will perhaps do it again when they grow up, and if it is not too late and they are not already too entrenched in it, it might actually be of some use to them. Who knows what fate holds for them and all the kids like them?


(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




Shake hands


Friends who just made a statement (5 Person)

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Comment Comment (5 comments)

Reply Report elzach 2013-7-22 12:36
Good post.

But, consumerism is fast catching up in the developing countries also. Conspicuous consumption actually I might add. Ask any Chinese under 35 y.o. what they are saving each month. Next, ask them what they are spending at Starbucks (not to mention house, car, gifts legal or otherwise).
Reply Report gooddog 2013-7-22 13:19
With little help, your young kids quick understood the USA financial debit crisis. My regards to them.
The Congress doesn’t even know what the real numbers are,” said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tennessee. “The real national debt isn’t $16 trillion. I wish it were that low. The real national debt is closer to $60 or $80 trillion.” Best luck to our new generations and to our retirement( if any).
Reply Report Boilermaker21 2013-7-22 13:40
Great post! Very well articulated! I think as a parent who grew up with very little means, I hope that my children will have a great appreciation for not just what they have, but for what they can do for others! Thanks for sharing!
Reply Report voice_cd 2013-7-22 15:31
This has been recommended to the front page. Thanks for writing.
Reply Report snowipine 2013-7-28 00:04
Good article inspires people give more rethink about life and it's meaning for a better life.

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