From Iceland — The Limits Of Money

The Limits Of Money

Published May 31, 2010

I can understand a father working two jobs to support his family, a mother sacrificing her time to ensure that her children don’t starve. But once you’re assured a basic subsidence (adequate food, shelter, and clothing), how much of your time can you sacrifice to your job before the impact on your family’s well-being becomes negative? Where is the point of diminishing returns?
Apparently, we answered this question in the wild times leading up to the kreppa.
According to a recent study (, Icelandic children and teenagers are happier now than they were when we were the richest country on Earth. Although the researchers aren’t entirely sure why this would be, they theorise that parents are able to spend more time with them, and less time working, shopping, travelling, schmoozing, and trying to impress one another.
“Economic prosperity may come and go; that’s just how it is,” Warren Buffett’s son Peter writes in his new book Life is What You Make it: Finding Your Own Path to Fulfillment. “But values are the steady currency that earn us the all-important rewards.”
And what were the values we were teaching them? That the ridiculously expensive clothes we bought for them could make up for the times we couldn’t spend with them? That the evenings on the town with our co-workers were more important than quiet evenings together? That money is the measure of all things?
Fortunately, our children seem to be wiser than we are. To be sure, some learned their lessons well, and will have one helluva time establishing some sense of balance and self-worth now that the money is gone. “Entitlement is the worst thing ever, and I see entitlement coming in many guises,” Peter Buffett writes. “Anybody who acts like they deserve something ‘just because’ is a disaster.”
But our kids understand that, although the world may be a hostile place, they’ll always be alright as long as they have their family and friends. For most of our country’s existence, we were alone in the world, for all intents and purposes. All we had was one another. Nearly all of us have been raised in a very egalitarian manner—we went to the same schools, ate the same foods, watched the same shows, listened to the same music, and lived the same lives. We all cheered the Icelandic handball team in the 2008 Olympics. We are all glued to the screen every year when the Icelandic entry in Eurovision performs. We all feel a rush of pride every time an Icelandic singer, actor, or writer makes the big time.
I suppose, too, that this is why the Black Report hurts so bad. It shows the dark side in each of us; it makes us ask, “What if I had the opportunity? Would I have acted differently?”
Our nation is healing, children first. Now that our demons are out in the open, we can fight them together. Like our children are teaching us, we re-establish our internal compasses and recalibrate our society’s true worth. We didn’t really need all that money, but—more than ever—we really need one another.

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