Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Back to Basics - Making of a Strong Middle Class

I read a book recently. The Americanization of Edward Bok, by Edward Bok. Edward wrote most of his autobiography in the third person, which was very strange. I don't recommend the book as a particularly good read. What I did find interesting was examining the thoughts of a very wealthy self made man living at the turn of the last century.

Ed is what I would describe as especially conservative politically. He was against women obtaining the vote. Now, where I would provide my typical knee jerk to the proverbial crotch for this sort of backward thinking, Ed expounded on that. Ed had reasons. Ed believed women were socially and politically unsophisticated; that women had not been prepared by virtue of their educational backgrounds to effectively make decisions on political issues. That having been said, Ed didn't just sit back, light a cigar (Ed believed smoking was bad even then) and leave it there. No, Ed set about recruiting some of the finest political minds in our nation to write articles in order to provide the sort of background and education they believed was needed for women to become sophisticated in the art of politics and voting. I have to think that if today Ed believed gay soldiers weren't fit to fight, he would go about doing whatever he believed it would take to make them fit. What does Ed teach us here? Ed teaches us that it's not enough to have an opinion. You have to do something about it.

Ed was also the sort to appreciate good music. To that end, Ed not only put up tens of thousands of dollars of his own money to fund and support a philharmonic orchestra, but he also convinced thousands of his friends to do the same. He set up civic organizations and funded them with his own money and double dog dared other rich people to do the same. And other rich people did the same. When the U.S. went to war in 1918, he ponied up his own cash into treasury bonds and he also ponied up the cash of other millionaires to pay for the war. That's how they paid for wars in the old days. Rich people gave money. Go figure.

He also gave money to support a program that sent home economists around the country teaching very young married women about sex, nutrition, childbirth, child rearing and health safety. Other money went into amking sure those very young women had pre and post natal care for themselves and their children. Then he set about making sure there was food on the tables for those children. Still, that wasn't enough. He bitched so long and loud that snake oils (then called patent medicines) were made illegal, but only after he had educated people on their ills enough so that they weren't profitable anymore. How did he do that? This is the amazing part. He was editor of a magazine that relied on advertisers, ninety percent of whom were patent medicine companies. He refused their advertising money. Yes, you heard me. Refused it outright. His magazine became the biggest money maker ever, the first to earn a million subscribers, the first to invent the Living Room: The Ladies' Home Journal.

This country is a better place because Edward Bok lived. We are better Americans because Edward Bok lived here. Unlike current billionaires today who pledge money to funds and charitable institutions that advocate and proliferate and so far haven't fixed a good damn thing, Edward Bok actually helped people on a national scale. Every millionaire in America needs to learn from Edward Bok, a man who immigrated to America as a child, how to be a truly wealthy man. First clue: To whom much is given, much is expected in return.

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