Wealth in the Eye of the Beholder: Thoughts on American Financial Discourse

Hello! I wrote a post called Strategic Abundance back in December of 2021, and I would like to expand my thoughts on finance, as I’ve done more research and read other financial perspectives. Let’s get into it.

I see two main financial lenses that shape American discourse around money. One could be called “disciplined autonomous optimism”. This is the view espoused by Dave Ramsey and his team, which says that debt freedom is entirely possible, and anyone in America can become a millionaire with persistence and patience. People with this mindset take personal responsibility for their financial success or failure, and they know that they generally control their own finances. The other view might be called “systematic pessimism”. I would attribute this view to financial commentators such as Chelsea Fagan of The Financial Diet or this article. This viewpoint is resigned to a lifetime of student loans and renting a property instead of ever owning it. They see the problem as external, pinning all the blame on billionaires or unjust systems. I think it’s worth noting that Ms. Fagan runs a “financial media company” despite not having any higher education in finance or media (source: this interview and her tweet), while Dave Ramsey has Bachelor of Science in personal finance from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (source: Wikipedia).

Before I get hate comments, let me make some caveats. I understand that I just described two extremely opposing viewpoints and that discussion about money is on a spectrum. I also understand that these two viewpoints are highly politicized, and money is an extremely charged and personal issue. I also have a clear bias towards disciplined autonomous optimism.

Two of my favorite financially optimistic books are Everyday Millionaires by Chris Hogan and Debt Free Degree by Anthony O’Neal. Debt Free Degree has some simple tips to help prospective students pay cash for college, and Everyday Millionaires summarizes an intensive sociological study of 10,000 American millionaires and their histories, habits, and mindsets.

The main issue people have with Dave Ramsey is his black-and-white perspective that debt of any kind (including a student loan or home mortgage) is “bad” and that having a budget is non-negotiable. More “modern” financial discourse rejects this stark duality for a “both/and” mindset. As an example, Katelyn Magnuson argues that being able to avoid loans is a sign of “white privilege” and generational wealth rather than hard work. Her website also affirms that “I don’t adhere to creating traditional budgets and living a life full of scarcity and lack“. I want to challenge a portion of Katelyn’s logic here. Maybe this is my privilege talking, but wouldn’t we have less scarcity and more abundance if all of our money was clearly accounted for in a budget, and none of it was going towards owed debt? Seeing budgets as lack or scarcity strikes me as a logical fallacy, and Chris Hogan addresses this in Everyday Millionaires.

There’s a lot I’m still learning about finances, and these are two of the most basic and extreme perspectives I’ve seen. I’ll be continuing to learn how to manage my money well and use it to make a tangible difference in the world. Until then, I’ll see you on the flip side.

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