Raising My Authentic Voice in the Homogeneous Personal Finance Blogosphere / by Jennifer Chan


Since starting this blog, I've promoted one approach to wealth management: thoughts first, actions second.

Learning the practical skills to accumulate wealth is easy.

Cultivating your own financial philosophy is hard.

A simple observation of the personal finance blogosphere reveals endless posts on topics such as how to create a realistic budget (which I have also written about), why index funds are better than mutual funds, and the difference between the “avalanche" and "snowball” debt repayment methods. While I understand that there’s a clear demand for this information, let’s be honest, this sort of content is not necessarily unique.

Because there is such an overemphasis on this sort of content, I believe there is a significant lack of true discussion centred around our varying financial philosophies. Certain bloggers have been great at discussing their larger, overarching financial mindset - and have created strong relationships with their readers in the process. For example, why are Mr. Money Moustache, The Minimalists and Cait Flanders so popular? Because money is only one piece of their overall life philosophy. Their readers not only gain knowledge about how to save money, but also are enlightened as to how that money is used to achieve a fulfilling life. That's why we love reading their content, because we learn finance in practice. And for those of us who are weighed down by material crap, we leave their blogs evaluating our own preconceived notions about what makes us happy and how we can live life with intention.

The personal finance community needs to engage in a critical debate about why we are so desperately chasing financial independence.

And I'm ready to contribute my own voice to this discussion.

Now, you ask, what will this look like? Well, quite honestly, I’m not sure. I first mulled over starting an ongoing weekly editorial devoted to my musings, but I don’t want to impose unnecessary constraints on when or how often I can write about a topic that interests me.  In other words, I'll open this door and see where it takes me.

I do still intend to write practical posts about how to do this and that, because I really do want you to be better with your money.  But, a second dimension will be added to this blog - an honest commentary on the impact our capitalist labour structure has on our ideas of meaningful work and our chase for money.  Since I am a lawyer at a legal aid clinic that services low-income workers, it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to surmise some of my economic positions. But this doesn't mean I want to alienate readers that hold conflicting viewpoints, I'm always welcome to respectful and thought-provoking conversations.

For now, I’ll leave you with a quote by Robert Hale from his famous 1923 essay, "Coercion and Distribution in a Supposedly Non-Coercive State." For those who aren't familiar with the name, Hale was a lawyer, an economist and a proponent of legal realism. In this essay, Hale discusses property laws within the framework of the political economy. He argues that laws of property creates distinctions between owners and non-owners, which create coercion between the two. This ultimately leads to an unequal distribution of wealth.

More specifically, non-owners are coerced to obey employers (owners of businesses) in order to receive money, which is required to pay for basic necessities of life. However, this is not a voluntary transaction. Non-owners rely on this money in order to provide for their family. Non-owners cannot simply walk into a grocery store, take a loaf of bread, and exit without paying. Of course non-owners can always choose to forgo working for an employer, but this does not change the fact that the grocery store requires payment in order for someone to take food from their store. Consequently, non-owners are subjected to a false choice. Hale's example summarizes my point of view - that the relationship between money and work is not a mutual exchange of fee for service because non-owners depend on employers to survive.

If Hale's essay is too long to read, this quote perfectly encapsulates his position:

"Unless, then, the non-owner can produce his own food, the law compels him to starve if he has no wages, and compels him to go without wages unless he obeys the behests of some employer. It is the law that coerces him into wage-work under penalty of starvation — unless he can produce food. Can he? Here again there is no law to prevent the production of food in the abstract; but in every settled country there is a law which forbids him to cultivate any particular piece of ground unless he happens to be an owner. This again is the law of property. And this again will not be likely to be lifted unless he already has money. That way of escape from the law-made dilemma of starvation or obedience is closed to him. It may seem that one way of escape has been overlooked — the acquisition of money in other ways than by wage-work. Can he not “make money” by selling goods? But here again, things cannot be produced in quantities sufficient to keep him alive, except with the use of elaborate mechanical equipment. To use any such equipment is unlawful, except on the owner’s terms. Those terms usually include an implied abandonment of any claim of title to the products. In short, if he be not a property owner, the law which forbids him to produce with any of the existing equipment, and the law which forbids him to eat any of the existing food, will be lifted only in case he works for an employer. It is the law of property which coerces people into working for factory owners."

Although Hale seriously lacks succinctness, his argument is compelling.

This is a small preview of what sort of topics are on my mind. While I will try to refrain from going too deep down the rabbit hole, I will be intentionally pushing more uncomfortable conversations into the spotlight. After all, we can't talk about money without talking about work. We also can't talk about work without talking about the economy. And of course, we can't talk about the economy without examining its current structure. I want this to be a platform to not only discuss how we can help ourselves with our own jobs and money, but also how we can help our family, friends and neighbours with theirs too. People are struggling. And we need to start asking ourselves why.