There has been a lot of discussion on the topic of morality lately given the current occupant of the White House. I don’t want to make this a political post but rather a post about morality and how the choices we make when it comes to finance and life in general have a lot to gain by being guided by a moral compass. We need this compass not just to stay on the straight and narrow path in the legal sense but also for our own personal satisfaction with our lives.
A strong factor of what guides your morality is who you look up to. Many people have heroes when they are kids but as we get older we tend to start seeing the all too common human flaws in people. The motivations behind why our hero’s stars fade are many; be they to make money, be the best athlete or just to be in the media spotlight it seems there is always some factor influencing seemingly great people to make bad decisions and lose our high esteem of them in the process.
It is all the more remarkable then, that some people go seemingly their whole lives without making compromises to what they believe and who they are. Some of these people you look up to may be people like Mohamed Ali, Abraham Lincoln or maybe even Ronald Reagan. My hero however, was very famous in his time but is not as well known outside of Italy nowadays. That person is Giuseppe Garibaldi.
Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) was an Italian revolutionary, politician and nationalist who is considered one of the founding fathers of modern day Italy. Garibaldi was born to a family of merchants and traders in Nice, which at that time had been annexed by the French Empire and in 1814 was returned to the Kingdom of Sardinia. Garibaldi grew up to become a merchant marine captain and in his international travels, he came in contact with Italian nationalists and revolutionaries who were bent on unifying the Italian peninsula through revolution such as Giuseppe Mazzini.
After joining the Carbonari revolutionary association and a failed uprising in Peidmont, Garibaldi was sentenced in absentia to death by the Genoese government. He fled to the Empire of Brazil and joined revolutionaries who were attempting to establish a republic in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. During this time he met his wife Anita Ribeiro, a Brazilian woman, who also fought at his side before they moved to Uruguay.
There they were caught up in the Uruguayan Civil War, where Garibaldi fought until the revolutions of 1848 in Europe prompted his return where he participated in the First Italian War of Independence, where he lost his wife, who was carrying his 5th child, in retreat from the Austrian, French, Spanish and Neopolitan troops who hunted them.
Garibaldi fled and eventually ended up in New York for a time (you can visit his home in Staten Island, which is on the National Register of Historic Places), before returning to Italy to fight in the Second War of Italian Independence. He linked up with Victor Emmanuel, King of Sardinia, and took advantage of an uprising in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies to lead his troops to victory in Palermo and then on to Naples. His armies then linked up with those of Victor Emmanuel’s Piedmontese army which had conquered most of the North of Italy. Then something amazing happened, Garibaldi, who was the undisputed leader of Southern Italy at the time, handed over all his territory to Victor Emmanuel in the name of Italian unification, retired to his rocky island of Cabrera, and turned to a life of farming.
Throughout the years after, Garibaldi participated in military forays to capture Rome and in a final war against Austria. Although elected to parliament, he spent most of the latter part of his life in Caprera until his death in 1882.
Great, So Why is He Your Hero?
Garibaldi saw first had the equality of races and the bravery and smarts that women showed long before anyone was arguing for universal suffrage or racial equality. This was due to his time fighting alongside all races of people in Brazil and Uruguay as well as the heroics of his first wife, who taught him the gaucho culture of South America and fought along his side in battle until her death. This may not sound like a lot now but these ideals were absolutely off the wall crazy at the time. It took a man of deep convictions and belief in what is right to fight for things that many people found too extreme at the time to even contemplate as reality.
In addition, he gave credence to the monarchy of Victor Emmanuel due to his popularity with the common people. The fact that he gave up all his power to go back and be one of them after all of it, spoke to people and he died as one of the most popular figures of the 19th century. He spent much of the latter part of his life criticizing corruption and the policies of the Italian government.
Garibaldi is proof that ideas and ideals matter in history. I connected with his story when I was young. I went to school in a district that was mostly poor and was mostly black and Hispanic. I experienced first hand how racial stereotypes caused people to treat me and others different in terms of race. In terms of poverty, I saw the power of morals in one’s life when I watched some people around me descend into a life of drugs; either selling them, using them, or both. However I also saw many people who bucked the stereotypes and proved that every person, despite what others think, is an individual that has needs and desires just like any of the rest of us. I saw people I had little hope for in terms of keeping away from a life of crime, go on to become highly successful model citizens.
Garibaldi is my hero for is seemingly unwavering moral compass and belief that everyone should have a voice and a chance in life.
OK So What Does All This Have to Do With My Money?
Many people will be forced to choose between compromising their morals and getting ahead at some point in their lives. It could have to do with politics at the office, getting away with something illegal for money or lying and manipulating to get something you want. The question that many times will guide what you do is: how willing am I to compromise my morals to get this thing that I want?
In my current reading The Tower of Basel financiers during WWII who worked at The Basel Institute thought they were in an elite club of international financiers that was above politics. This thinking caused the American head of the Basel institute at the time, to accept deposits of stolen Nazi gold from the central banks of the countries they invaded and potentially even the gold melted down from concentration camp victims tooth fillings, extracted before they were gassed.
My point is, in thinking they were neutral and above the fray, the bankers at Basel were in the middle of it and even aiding and abetting a completely immoral and murderous government. Even though they made money and made it through the war, how proud of themselves were they after?
We are all political actors whether we like it or not. Whether or not you choose to vote and who you vote for, are all political decisions. The finance bloggers who mention that you should forget the political discourse and focus on how you can use it to your advantage, such as with taxes, are in a micro sense right but they are also naïve for dismissing the favorable economic and political status quo that has allowed them to prosper.
People in Venezuela and South Sudan do not have the luxury of being able to ignore politics and government policy outside of interest rates and taxes. One has hyperinflation which is destroying an entire generation in terms of work, education, safety, health and savings and the other is in the midst of a civil war where common people are more worried about their survival tomorrow than they are worried about the personal tax rate.
Your morals also affect you in terms of what you feel you deserve in life both economically and socially. When I discuss with people the divide between rich and poor in this country, the price of higher education or the changing economic landscape, I get the sense that there is a large contingent of people that feel they are owed something. To think this is a real disservice to yourself and the opportunities that we all have if you are lucky enough to live in the U.S. If you are a welder, who has been a welder for 20 years and all the welding jobs leave your town, you are not owed a welding job, you are not even owed a life as a welder by the government. What you are owed is an opportunity, that opportunity is in the form of changing yourself, your outlook, having the tools to change your career, reorient yourself and move away if you have to, in order to support yourself. All those opportunities exist here but we seem to have lost sight of our ideals of a fair shot at life.
A lot of people that you may admire for their success in business or making money, never sat back and felt that they deserved something or were owed something because of a setback in their life. I would encourage everyone to take back their own lives by taking this same view. At the same time each of us needs to be active in preserving the system that allowed these opportunities to safeguard against it sliding into a situation like that in Venezuela or South Sudan. This means engaging oneself politically.
Your thoughts may be that you think the rich aren’t taxed enough or that the government needs to keep its nose out of your business but no matter what you believe it is always going to be in your interest to work with the system in place to ensure everyone has a voice and a chance to succeed rather attempting to break the system to get what you feel you are owed. At the same time, by thinking you are above the fray and don’t need to engage politically, your apathy and the apathy of the millions like you, threaten to let the country slide into such a chaotic state that it will eventually force its way into your daily bubble and you will be forced to confront the question of how we all let it get this way in the first place? So do yourself a favor and take a stand when it comes to both your money, your career and your opinion on what is right, you will thank yourself for it later.
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