BY ALEX P. VIDAL
In this time of economic despair, we must be able to differentiate natural and artificial wealth as we struggle to make both ends meet and survive the avalanche of frustrations being felt by most income earners, especially those with no income.
Natural wealth includes consumable goods — food, clothing, housing, etc. — and the means of producing them. Money, in contrast, is artificial wealth. Its utility is merely instrumental–as a means of exchange and as a measure of value of real wealth. Our estimation of “real” wages in terms of purchasing power is a present day application of this basic distinction.
An article written by lawyer Jenelyn C. Baligat published in the July 25 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer recently made rounds and became the talk of the town in Facebook and campuses.
Entitled “Little by little, the bird builds its nest,” Atty. Baligat wrote about her personal struggles in life and how she managed to overcome tremendous odds as a never-say-die student struggling on limited resources and adopting discipline as a personal mantra–and turning despair into hope; and finally emerging ten feet taller.
Atty. Baligat wrote: “For those born with silver spoons in their mouths, life is comfortable and getting a college degree is not a problem, assuming they have the smarts for it. Silver or gold, spoon or otherwise, our family has none. Not even educational plans to finance our studies. But we had hopes and aspirations aplenty.
“I am the youngest of five children. My father is a policeman-farmer and my mother is a dry goods vendor. In our home in a small town in Isabela, my parents’ meager incomes were used to make both ends meet.
“But I dreamt big and I dreamt of what seemed impossible. Driven by interest and passion, armed with determination and faith in God, I enrolled at the College of Law of Saint Louis University in Baguio City several years ago.
“As my way of helping my parents and generous benefactors to pay for my tuition, books and case materials, I worked in the daytime as legal researcher for one of the Regional Trial Courts in Baguio, and went to school at night. I worked eight hours a day for four consecutive semesters, and such experience taught me valuable lessons in time management, self-discipline, tight budgeting and reasonable spending.
“The best days in the life of a working student are the 15th and 30th of the month. Having a regular salary, no matter how measly, allowed me to plan and allocate for my daily expenditures.
“As a self-supporting student I faced a day-to-day battle. I stayed in a small dormitory with four occupants in one room, definitely much less comfortable than living solo or with a companion in an apartment. But never mind the inconvenience. A dormitory space cost me just a little over P1,000 per month, whereas an apartment could have cost as much as P4,000-5,000 to rent, depending on the location and proximity of the place to the school. Add to that the utility bills (water, electricity, etc.) and your expenses can really go up.
“For meals, I had to content myself with ready-to-eat-food, a dish and a cup of rice from a clean carinderia nearby. Why pay every day for food that costs more than a hundred bucks when a P50-P60 meal can satisfy you? I honestly do not recall being taken to the hospital for my diet of carinderia food for four consecutive years.
“In sticking to my budget, I bought no new clothes. Instead, I made do with my old wardrobe plus jackets bought from the tiangge or ukay-ukay to combat the cold weather in the city. I took no taxi rides. I frequently walked from the dormitory to the Hall of Justice and to the university. Walking served as good exercise for me, too.
“I had no expensive cell phone to use to share with my loved ones in Isabela my bittersweet stories and painful experiences. Instead, I wrote letters home. We spoke on the phone only twice a month. No frequent vacations for me despite having been homesick a lot because bus fare cost too much. I did budget for trips home on our semester breaks.
“For a poor working student like me, every hard-earned peso is a ticket to my goals of becoming a lawyer, changing the living condition of my family and extending help to the underprivileged, the lost, the last and the least.
“With the grace of God, and with good budgeting, the dreamer became a lawyer in 2007. It led me to believe that the poor are not destined to wallow in poverty forever. As the French say, “Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid,” which means “little by little, the bird builds its nest.”
“Let me now share with you some simple tips to save money and help your parents while you’re in school:
“If you have to live away from home, look for a clean boarding house or dormitory near the school. The closer to the school, the better, so you don’t have to budget for transportation;
“Eat healthy food at a clean, inexpensive food stall. If you’re a regular, the shop helpers will give you bigger helpings.
“If you have to take a ride, take the jeepney, the MRT or the bus, not the FX or the taxi. But walking can do a lot of good to your body. Safety and good health should be a primary concern.
“Buy school materials only when necessary.
“Bring just enough money for the day to avoid buying on impulse.
“Save P10 a day. In one month, you’ll have P300. In a year, you’ll have P3,650, enough to buy you a new uniform and a new pair of shoes for the next school year.”
Aristotle once stressed the notion of limited material needs. The proper aim of economic activity, he said, is to attain enough real wealth to take care of the material needs of the family or state.
Such needs are limited and can be fulfilled by a limited amount of wealth. The pursuit of wealth merely for the sake of possessing wealth, on the other hand, has no limits. It usually takes the form of accumulating a lot of money, which is more convenient to accumulate than real wealth.
The basic economic distinction between natural and aritificial wealth involves certain ethical principles. It assumes that a means derives its value from the ends it serves. Money is useful as a means of exchange or measure of value, and material wealth is useful as a means to the good life, since it serves to maintain life itself.
Hence, the pursuit of wealth for its own sake, which amounts to the chase after money, disorders the individual and the community since it takes the means for the end.