More Than Money
Issue #6

Outrageous Acts with Money

Table of Contents

“Thumbing Their Noses at False Gods - Stories of People Breaking Convention”

So often we live within walls of propriety. "You must always...!" "You should never...!" Whether you're afraid the IRS will throw you in jail, or that daddy will disapprove, or that you just might look stupid, fears often hold people back from using money with joy, creativity, and power. We hope you'll feel excited reading stories of people who thumbed their noses at convention, even if their choices aren't ones you would make. In each of following vignettes someone challenged an accepted norm or an inner fear, and followed his or her heart instead.

A Fool for Money

Wearing a fool's cap, I walked to the center of the fund-raising circle at a wealth conference. "I am holding 5 crisp $20 bills," I said. "Does someone have a $100 bill?" Eagerly, 6 or 7 hands went up. Trading the twenties for a Big One, I took a tiny pair of scissors from my pocket. The bells on my cap jingled as I cut the bill into long strips.

"Money is strange and mysterious and full of secrets. People make fools of themselves over money - or monsters, or heroes," I mused.

I turned the green fringe sideways and cut horizontally, creating tiny squares of green confetti. "Do you suppose they're each worth a dollar?"

"Oh, my goodness! What am I doing? Isn't this my father's worst nightmare?" The room filled with nervous laughter. "Am I destroying, wasting, dishonoring money? Don't I know the value of a dollar? Who does know its value, or how many people die for lack of a few dollars? What can money buy, anyway? A woman? A seat in the Senate? A soul?"

"Thank you. This $100 bill purchased one minute of your valuable undivided attention." Handing out little green squares as I circled the room, I invited each person to send theirs in along with a donation signifying that a special moment had been shared, in which value was redefined and money was the language of community and of bold, creative risk, in which generosity was not foolish. "Think of it as an investment," I concluded, "time and money well spent."

- anonymous author

Pay Up or Else!

When New Society Publishers, a small publishing house in Philadelphia, didn't receive payments for books already sent, we suffered frequent and severe cash flow problems. After trying several approaches, finally we wrote stern letters to the non-payers: "We've sent you two invoices and still haven't received payment. This is your last chance to pay up. If you don't pay your bill by Sept. 4 we are going to cancel your invoice. Please contact us if you need to work out a payment plan. Additional contributions are also welcome." We enjoyed sending these letters out and were delighted and surprised at how effective they were. A high percentage of debtors paid us, and a few sent in contributions.

- anonymous author

Unloading Money for Old Age

After inheriting $153,000 from my aunt, I decided to give away most of it. My wife thought we should keep $30,000 because she thought it was nice to have money to give to friends who need it.

Our children are worried by our lack of health insurance even though my wife and I signed a statement taking full responsibility for our health and lives. But I feel strongly that I don't want tens of thousands of dollars put into keeping us alive. With me at age 71 and my wife at 81, we imagine growing older may bring infirmity and sickness. Nevertheless we don't want our money eaten up by the medical system.

- anonymous author

Adapted from We Gave Away a Fortune by Christopher Mogil and Anne Slepian. (New Society Publishers, 1992, p.67.)

Editors Note: At age 83, the author's wife was diagnosed with a heart condition. She refused heart bypass surgery and died peacefully with her family around her a few months later. The author died two years later in the company of friends, after struggling with Parkinson's disease, declining care at a nursing home, and deliberately refusing food.

Oops!

Margaret Alexander, heiress of sewing machine magnate Isaac Singer, died in 1939. Before her death, she placed her will in a bottle and cast it out to sea in England.

In 1949 Jack J. Wurm, a jobless ex-restaurant employee, found the bottle on a San Francisco beach. The will read: "I leave my entire estate to the lucky person who finds this bottle and to my attorney, Barry Cohen, share and share alike." Wurm and Cohen stood to split a $12 million estate and $160,000 annual income from Singer stock. The Singer Co. has yet to pay out any funds because the will was not witnessed.

From The People's Almanac #3 by David Wallechin-sky and Irving Wallace. (Morrow & Co, 1981, p. 614.)

Cabbages Not Bombs

I've been a war-tax resister for 35 years. If I give $1,000 to the government, only a few cents of it goes toward people's real needs. But if I give $100 to, say, a homeless shelter, they add $1,000 to it in the form of volunteer labor. So why should I pay taxes?

I've only filed tax returns when I wanted to publicly confront the IRS about the wars in Viet Nam, El Salvador, or Nicaragua. In 1970, for example, I filed a return saying, "WE WON'T PAY! WE WON'T GO! STOP THE WAR! STOP THE DRAFT!", with $0 under tax due.

In 1984, as part of an attempt to create a protest movement, I divided my annual income into 365 and sent 365 dated daily income-tax returns to 365 different IRS offices. To create an educational series, I attached to each one information about poverty, or military spending, or the wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

The IRS tracked 280 of the returns back to my regional IRS office and levied me with a $500 frivolous tax return penalty for each one, for a total of $140,000. By early 1985, I had a file drawer full of their certified letters and demands for payment.

One day they came to my house at 6 a.m. and seized my station wagon and trailer (with its huge educational displays about the war in El Salvador on the side). The Chicago Tribune, the Wall St. Journal, and the Washington Post all carried the story. The IRS sold the station wagon for $1,000 and put a lien on me and never bothered me again.

I once served 9 months of a 2-year jail sentence for avoiding tax-withholding by claiming 12 dependents when I really only had 4, but jail didn't deter my tax refusal. Now the IRS people know me personally. Once I gave their press agent a bag of cabbages and told him I was giving him cabbages instead of bombs. He laughed and accepted. I think they'd be very disappointed if I ever started filing taxes.

- anonymous author

Editor's note: The author is one of a total of about twenty people jailed for war-tax resistance since World War II. He believes that he was jailed not for refusing taxes (which thousands of people have done), but for how very publicly and persistently he flaunted so many IRS rules.

Touché

My father still manages the trust funds for his five kids, even though most of us are in our thirties. I don't think he consciously means to be controlling, but when I write checks on that account, it feels a bit infantalizing to know my dad has a record of how the money was spent. For fun, my sister and I started fantasizing about writing checks to create "the bank statement from hell" for him: perhaps $600 to "Dildos of San Francisco," or a $2000 contribution to the "Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary Party...."

- anonymous author

Dorothy Day Didn't Dally

In the 60's, I lived at the Catholic Worker house, an organization working for social justice. It was founded by a determined and gutsy activist named Dorothy Day. The Catholic Worker struggled for funding and mostly received small contributions, but this one time we received a bequest of $30,000. So what did Dorothy do with it? She sat down the next morning and wrote three checks and gave the money all away. She believed all resources should serve immediate needs, not sit around for the future.

Another time somebody donated a diamond ring to the Catholic Worker, and the young people were quite excited. "Just imagine how many bags of beans and rice this will buy!" Workers were aghast when Dorothy gave the ring to a tiny old Italian woman who came every night for the house meal.

"Do you know how much that ring would have bought?!" they cried. Dorothy calmly replied, "Even the poor deserve beauty. And this woman can always sell it if she wants to and buy lots of rice and beans.""

- anonymous author

She's Not Interested

I believe that receiving interest is a form of theft, so I refuse to take it. When I opened a bank account one day and told the clerk I didn't care to receive interest, he was aghast. "I don't think you understand.... This is a good deal! We're paying you money simply for keeping your money with us. We give interest on all our accounts. You have to take it."

"No, I don't!" I replied. "I think interest is a terrible thing! You make it sound like money just magically 'grows,' but most interest comes from people barely scraping by, paying back other people who already have surplus. If someone is lucky enough to afford a house they end up paying several times its price in interest to the bank. It makes no moral sense to me."

"But, Madam," he said, "we are going to make money on your account."

"That's your problem!" I retorted.

The clerk claimed he couldn't stop my account from accruing interest, so I went to see the bank president and we had a similar conversation:

"You have got to acknowledge that interest comes from somewhere--it doesn't just appear. Some city children still think milk comes from the supermarket; they've never seen a cow. Many people don't know any better when it comes to interest, but you should. Most often it's from people who don't have enough, paying debts piled with interest for years and years. I think interest is immoral and I refuse to accept any...." By the end of the interview I got the "right" to an interest-free account.

Every time I went to the bank to make any transaction, the manager had to get a special key so the computer could bypass its program and determine my balance without adding on interest. I mused, "How gloriously disruptive it would be if enough other people were doing this at their banks." .

- anonymous author


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