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July 28, 2008


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That Mercedes helped keep hundreds if not thousands of people employed. That 6000 square foot house took at least a hundred people to build: construction workers, architect(s), city officials, inspectors, real estate agents, etc. It probably keeps hundreds of people employed too as there is a property tax appraiser, landscapers (I doubt they mow their own lawn), etc.

The property taxes from the home help pay for schools and keep teachers employed.

Unfortunately, most people don't "see" this activity because it's all transparent but they do see the bum on the street corner and the guy driving the Mercedes next to him.

We also don't know the bum's story. Is he a drug addict? Alcoholic? Suffering from depression? Just plain lazy?

I recall a journalist asking who did more to create a better society, Bill Gates or Mother Theresa?

Bill Gates helped create hundreds and hundreds of new millionaires. Think about all those high paying IT jobs all around the world. Now think about what Mother Theresa did, she went around feeding poor people. It's a great and noble act but it didn't have too much of a positive economic impact on anybody.

A person fed today will not be hungry, they'll just be hungry tomorrow. An ambitious person might be hungry today, but they'll work towards never being hungry again.

Charity doesn't help these people, it hurts them. Think about that next time you write a check.

Trask: I understand where you are coming from about creating jobs and that having a strong economic effect on society.

But we don't know the homeless person's situation. I have met plenty of homeless people who were hard working Americans until a bad accident or layoff sent them on a downward spiral. Yes, it true that some homeless people are there becuase of bad choices, but we can't assume that for all of them.

Mother Teresa did more than feed people, she took care of MILLIONS of the forgotten people living in the slums, many of who were on the verge of death. She and her order provided the love to these people who would have otherwise just died and gotten eaten by maggots. She washed the feet of the elderly, comforted children who had unmeasured damage done to them, and showed love that most of us can't even fathom. I don't think comparing Bill Gates and Mother Teresa is a fair, both changed the world significantly. If you are wondering if she provided economic stimulus, she sold every humanitarian award to she got and used all donations to get supplies, that definitely kept a number of merchants afloat.

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

My mother in law is a drug addict who lives going from hotel to hotel. She's always asking for money and a place to stay but quits her job when her boss gets mad at her for being 30 minutes late. She said she couldn't handle her last job because she couldn't be expected to get up for work everyday at 9am!

I work at a church where we are asked for handouts all of the time. Whenever we tell them that they can do some work or cleaning around the church in exchange for us paying their rent, they usually say no. I think in the last year, we only had 1 person that actually was willing to work for some money. Now he is an active member of society.

My cousin once saw a guy with a "Stranded, need gas" sign on the side of the road. He offered to fill up his gas tank to help him on his way. The man's response was "Actually, I don't have a car, I just want some money." My cousin left him there without a dime.

I'm willing to help those who are willing to help themselves, but I don't give money to people begging on the street anymore. We are just enabling them to stay the way they are.

That's my thoughts anyways.

I agree completely with Trask. It goes back to the simple saying "give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime." Charity is beneficial to those who CANNOT help themselves ie. too sick, injured, old... Not people who are doing drugs, are too lazy, are looking for handouts. We should work to create more jobs. Keep your large home and employ people to help maintain it rather than giving money away. Charity is good, but not the best way to help people.

I don't like the notion that just because someone is successful, that they should automatically feel guilty because there are poor people in existence. That's just feeding the rampant class warfare/hate those that are richer than you mindset that helps no one and hurts everyone.

Granted, if you have more, I firmly believe you should give more. But not knowing either the homeless man or the Mercedes driver's situations, you can't really pass judgment on either.

North Point church in Atlanta had a sermon series called "How to be Rich." The point was not about feeling guilty that you're rich (most of us have more than we need), but that you should use it well (give it to ministries, charities etc) and that will loosen its grip on you. You can download the sermons for pretty cheap. We used it in a Bible study. Maybe it's free online somewhere.

Sam --

I listened to that series. VERY good.

This is a great question that has crossed my mind as well. I have always been a person who has been happy with the necessities, plus a few extras. Over the years, certain family members have criticized me to no end as to why I don't have this car or this house or these clothes. sigh... Interestingly, these same family members are now proclaiming the feeling of "too much stuff becoming a burden," and a feeling that their lives are cluttered. Now, some are downsizing their homes or giving things away. I think with most things in life, too much of a good thing can be overwhelming, while striking a nice balance brings peace and contentment. Also, the benefits of investing in people goes way beyond the fleeting gratification of things. Isn't it something that many of us in America even grapple with the "problem" of things, while some spend their days just getting enough food. Enjoying the fruits of our labor is certainly okay...even the bible speaks of this. It also says, "to whom much is given, much is required." This seems to be a good guideline, which personally has helped me strike that balance. Great topic!

Is an interesting question to be sure. While we try not to be greedy and we do give to causes we support, there is always that thought in the back of my mind that something may happen to me and my family may need that money. I don't know if there is a balance to be achieved between giving yet keeping enough to be sure your own family is taken care of.

Lisa - I love that quote by the way. I've actually heard another version - "to whom much is give, much is expected" - similar I guess, but I kinda like the word "expected" as if it is the person's responsibility not to let God, society, whoever, down.

Moral of the story: Never carry $70,000 in cash on you, or some mean guy will beat you up, take your money, buy a Mercedes, and leave you homeless!


I go not North Point and it was a great series.


I have the same thoughts as you. I want to support more and more organizations, but as a husband and father (of children), I seek that balance to make sure that I am able to support my family and am prepared for unforseen events, such as job loss or medical issues.

It sounds like many commenters are thinking only of direct gifts. You also have the option of lending through microloan programs that help small business owners build their businesses. This not only helps people help themselves but can also create jobs as the businesses grow. I lend a portion of my income through; there are many other routes as well.

Well said, Trask.


EXACTLY!!! There's an underlying assumption to this "cute" little story that there's something selfish and greedy about the guy driving the Mercedes. Did Hannah and her Dad consider the possibilities of where he may have come from? How hard he may have worked to get the Mercedes?

Nah, easier to blame him for the homeless problem.


Brilliant. Beautifully said. You rock.

Gee, it's as if we had a Messiah presidential candidate who (with his wife) is a bona fide, self-made millionaire, and wants to preach a gospel of hopelessness to America. It's sort of like that.....

Interesting turn the comments have taken. The post refers to a homeless man and a girls reaction to him and there is an assumption that charities only enable homelessness and drug use. I don't think the debate is where to donate money but how much to donate. Find a cause that you think will actually help people, not enable them. I feel that there are plenty of charities that remove road blocks to wealth and help support a healthy economy.

The Salwen family choose to take extreme measures to make a difference. The large house that they are strying to sell will still stand, someone else will have the yard taken care of, etc. The idea is not to give up your comfort, but to make a personal change.

In our family, we add a little bit more every year. We try to increase our percentage every year. This type of spending is the biggest enjoyment we get from money, even before our own comfort. We choose to take it slow so if it gets to be too much we can stop it at any time.

Good luck with your decision!


Actually, I agree with you, and I have NO problem with charity. I absolutely abhor the "blame the rich" undercurrent of the original story, and the "blame the rich" mentality that seems to be sweeping America right now.

But you are absolutely right - MANY charities perform much needed service, and those who HAVE, almost always DO give. The assumption that there's a connection between a Mercedes and a homeless man is absurd.


I agree. I think that people who donate without thinking run the risk of throwing away money. But individuals who choose to invest their money in ways that benefit their community--ways that provide jobs, housing, and education--can create lasting change. Individuals who take the next step and become personally involved (visiting projects, meeting the people their money is affecting) are able to make an even greater impact.

Besides, when is money fun if you have no one to share it with? I'd rather use mine to change lives, even one.

My question is, how much is NOT enough? It is not clear to me. How much is required to consider your family's needs met? It seems the demands of our American society keep increasing. "Luxuries" of the past are considered necessities today. My family was once criticized by a social worker for not having two cars.(With student loan debt and only one income, a second car was just not reasonable.) Has debt and excess become necessary to meet the basic standards of American society? Maybe the homeless man WAS working, but paying the debt on his car left him no money for rent.

I work as a debt counselor at a small credit union. We attempt to assit people with their financial problems. As time has passed most are, unfortunately repeat offenders. We have now developed a "hand up" vs a "hand out" approach. Can whatever we do for them fundamentally change their situation and impact them positively or are we just enabling poor decision making.
Banking, charity, and alot of other jobs creation and assistance/lending, needs the oversight of the givers/lenders. I admire a few groups that support the needy in their own community (church groups, habitat for humanity etc). If a receiver of help has to face their helpers every week or month, there may be more encouragment to make and keep their committments to better personal and financial behavior, as opposed to anonymous charity with little oversight or followup.
I also agree with the commentor that suggested microloans, with the payback being used to "payforward" and enable someone else to get a loan for a better life. Maybe we could tap the retired business community or just the retired to help the less fortunate. Make a mentoring program that helps fundamentally with all aspect of developing a successful life. Perhaps that is what the extended family model of past generations was for. Comments?

It's surprising to me that this has turned into a discussion on the merits of capitalism (which I support, BTW) versus the original question: is there a point where you feel you have enough and would give the rest away to help others? (FYI, you could ALSO help them by still working at your business, providing jobs, etc., so don't claim the two are mutually exclusive.)

Let me say before I continue that I abhor the forced-giving many of us have to do through taxes. In my opinion, it's about the most wasteful way of helping those less fortunate. I also dislike the sentiment that the rich are to blame for many of the country's problems -- and that they should pay the majority of the bill for everyone else in the country. If you read some of my posts on taxes, you'll see this to be the case over and over again as I rant against taxes and how the government spends them.

Personally, I'd prefer the government do nothing to help the poor and that charities would step up to take over the task. That, of course, would require individuals to give to charities of their own free will so that charities had the money to do the work.

But some of the comments above show me why the government has to force people to "give" through taxes -- because many people wouldn't give on their own. They'd rather ignore the fact that there are legitimately poor, hurting people, and justify their non-actions by claiming they are helping in other ways (like creating jobs.) I'm sure this makes them feel better about not giving to help others. But the fact is that they could do both -- they could run successful businesses, fully functioning and funded and yet maintain a modest PERSONAL lifestyle so that more proceeds could go to charity. I'm not talking about depriving yourself of the basics or even many "extras" in life. But does anyone really need a 6,500 square foot house or a Mercedes? Isn't that a bit excessive? Maybe not -- if these are their only extravagances. But I'm sure they aren't.

All I was asking was "is there a point where you have enough?" Consider Bill Gates. He certainly has enough. He's kept a good portion of it. But he's given a good portion too. For everyday people like you and me, is there a point where we have enough (far less than Bill Gates, of course) where the rest can go to help others in whatever form that takes?

Any way, I've rambled on long enough. Here are a few comments to those above directly:

Trask -- If that line of thinking makes you feel better, then I guess it works for you. But on the cold, hard screen of text, it makes you looks heartless. No one ever said you need to give up everything, give money directly (FYI, you can give money to a charity that teaches people to "fish"), and so on. I think your argument is a straw man and that you simply don't want to give. If that's the case, that's fine -- it's your money. Why don't you just say that and save us the round-about arguments?

Wise --

1. You could give to a charity that helps teach people to "fish." Giving doesn't have to be a handout.

2. One example of a crooked person asking for money doesn't mean that all needy people are dishonest. I assume you realize that.

Aaron --

See the comments above.

Justin --

Who said anything about feeling guilty? And what about feeling compassion for those in need?

Kevin --

Yes, you'll certainly want to plan to take care of your family via life insurance, savings, etc. The issue here is more of what to do with the surplus once you have that covered.

Artdogs --

Who actually is blaming the rich? The post talks about one family's move toward what they feel will help others. Why is it now turned into the rich being blamed? How did that happen? I don't see it.


Who is blaming the rich?

Quoting the story you yourself quoted:

>>"One day while driving with her father, Hannah Salwen noticed a Mercedes stopped next to a homeless man sitting on the curb. "I said to my dad, 'If that guy didn't have such a nice car, then that guy could have a nice meal,' " the 15-year-old from Atlanta, Georgia, recalled."

It sure walks like a duck, FMF

I think that people should not be ashamed of what they have as long as they worked hard for it. A nice house and a great car is wonderful. I wish I had either one.
Where we live the rich people became rich by working their farms, putting up canned goods, helping their neighbors and being a friend to those in need.
I don't live in a beautiful house, my house is only 900 sqft and I drive a car that is 14 years old and I still owe another 18 payments on it. I have no insurance, my husband is a self employed house painter and I have a craft business out of my house. I fell over 2 months age and tore something in my knee and in constant pain. I work all summer long putting away food for the winter. There is no work where I'm from in Virginia. Wal-mart closed all of the little stores in our town and people lost the only income they had. Wal-mart does not pay well and only employes a about 100 people in the intire county.
So guys if you feel you want to share some of your weath, share your weath. Just don't be ashamed about what you have worked for. I wish the opportunities where there when I was younger to have more money but it wasn't. Oh I do have wealth it just isn't money and things. It is the love my family has for each other and I share all that have with all who need it. A helping hand to a sick neighbor, looking after the old people who have to decide between food or heat. All the food I put up I share in the winter with others who need a little help when their husbands can't find work. I am not ashamed of what I have, I am ashamed I don't have more to give.
Just my thoughts on the subject.

Artdogs --

1. It's a 15-year-old girl. Do you really feel threatened by her?

2. She's saying:

"If that guy had a bit lesss, that needy guy could have more." To me, that's a valid assertion/question.

She's not saying:

"That dirty rich guy. He probably made his money illegally. And I think he's likely a filthy man too. All rich people are evil anyway -- and they are the cause of why so many others are poor. Yes, they are to blame for all poverty."

3. If you prefer not to give, simply say so.

A significat majority of homeless people want to be homeless and don't want to change.
Hannah needs a good slap across the head. A 15 yr old should not be running the family.


Who said anything about "threatened?" Wow, that's quite an odd leap/assumption on your part.

And no, it is absolutely NOT a valid assertion that if the Mercedes guy had less, the homeless guy could have more.

Another faulty leap of logic on your part. The economics of that thinking simply don't work.

I kind of had a feeling you'd respond with that "out of the mouths of babes" type of argument. My point was: Her dad -- the entrepreneur -- missed an opportunity to correct his child's thinking.

But I guess a lot of adults have never had that type of faulty thinking corrected.

@FMF -- oh, when did I say ANYTHING about not giving? See my reply to Amy where I discuss being in favor of charity.

Wow -- THREE faulty leaps!! Good job, dude! I'm impressed with your economic knowledge AND reading ability!

Artdogs --

1. You seem to be threatened. Why else react so harshly when posed with a simple, innocent question.

2. If you can't see the fact that guy A could sell his Mercedes, buy a Toyota, and give away the excess to help others, then I guess I'll never get through to you.

3. Faulty thinking is in the eye of the beholder.

4. You may indicate that you're in favor of giving, but your other comments seem to be contrary to that statement.

5. Just the fact that you need to resort to sarcasm and personal attacks to try and make your point shows that you're lacking on rational arguments.

6. As I said, it's valid that you'd simply prefer not to give or that you feel that people don't ever have enough. So what's with the attitude?


1) I did not consider my response to your "threatening" question harsh, but I apologize if it hurt your feelings.

2) I totally understand that a guy can sell his Mercedes and buy a Toyota and give the money to charity, so you don't need to try and "get through to me." But I was making the bigger economic point that HAVING doesn't necessarily mean people don't give. That point got lost because your feelings were hurt.

3) No, not necessarily, but I'll let this one go.

4) You have absolutely no idea of my history of charitable giving (FWIW, it's pretty darn generous, and has been for many years), and I've said nothing in these posts that should give even an *inkling* that I'm against charitable giving.

5) Again, many heartfelt apologies if your feelings were hurt. You were making some assumptions about me that were inaccurate.

6) See my response to No. 4 above. Also -- I never said a word about people never having enough. Of course, there's grotesque, unnecessary consumption that's quite offensive. I never suggested I was in favor of that, and I resent the assumption.

Artdogs --

Ok, maybe we just misunderstood each other. Sorry if I took your thoughts out of context or jumbled them up. It's often hard to read emotion into text and (like others) I sometimes miss the mark.

It's cool dude. I'm watching Oprah right now (a generous rich person :) and she has a show about people whose kids died. Little online disputes ain't worth it, in the grand scheme of things.

Keep up the great work on your site - I'm a regular visitor!

one never has enough. every man for himself. i agree with the "teach a man to fish" comment but other than that, i have little sympathy anymore for most of the world. often you do nice things to help people, they take advantage and expect more. often its a result of their upbringing, theres nothing you can do to change the world. its always been this way and always will be. more people worse off than better off.

I think that the question "Have I got enough?" is a really valid and important one for us all too consider.

Our economic system is based on a theory of constant growth. It is unsustainable from an environmental standpoint. And it asserts a constant pressure on us as consumers to have more, rather than to be more.

The more 'stuff' we aspire to having, the more we have to go out to work to pay for it. And the less time we have to spend with our families, to do the things we value - or to enjoy the 'stuff' we work so hard to acquire.

There is nothing wrong with being rich, or with working hard. But by choosing a level of ENOUGH that we are comfortable with, we give ourselves more choices about how we live our lives and by SHARING what we have over and above our enough level we can give other people opportunities and choices that they wouldn't toherwise have.

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