This website was archived on July 21, 2019. It is frozen in time on that date.

Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

Wealth-Adjacency Privilege

gold ingots and gold coins
Photo by John Louis.

Sara Bibel writes on The Billfold about having a rich uncle:

“When I was making big bucks, I offered to pay my uncle back for the tuition assistance he had given me. ‘Why?’ he asked. ‘I don’t need it.’ I feel guilty about this privilege, that I am not saddled with the debt that has made life difficult for so many people I know. I do my best to pay my good fortune forward. […] Access to wealth, and the knowledge that comes with it, is like getting compound interest on your entire life.”

I said this on Facebook, but I think it’s worth noting here for posterity: I also have the privilege of wealth-adjacency — more than that, actually, because my immediate family is financially comfortable as well as my relatives. I would be in a drastically different situation without robust health insurance and parents who could support me into my early adulthood. That doesn’t even address the money-manipulation comfort that Bibel brings up in her article (which I’m still learning).

"Invest in sharing!" A street art stencil featuring the "get out of jail free" card image from Monopoly board-game. Found painted on the sidewalk in New York City in 2007.
Photo by Jonathan McIntosh.

Something that should happen more often: Rich people mentoring poor kids specifically regarding personal economics. (Also systemic policy reform of various kinds, but let’s not get too excited.) If I’m ever wealthy by virtue of my own actions, I hope I will take the time and energy to hang out with a low-income high-school student and, I dunno, impart some knowledge. And buy their textbooks. Is that an unrealistic notion?

Of course, the policy reform is what would really help — if only moneyed interests didn’t have such a stranglehold on politics! One of the cruelest symptoms of growing up poor is that the whole arrangement is rigged: financial security is unattainable — but if you somehow magically attain it, you can’t handle your newly healthy bank account because you haven’t been able to practice not being broke. (Warning: both articles contain offhand references to sexual violence.) is not your typical progressive publication, but apparently they had the sense to make John Cheese an editor. The brilliant Tressie McMillan Cottom has also written wonderfully on this topic.

Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business (Book Review)

Paul Downs, author of Boss Life and owner of Paul Downs Cabinetmakers
Paul Downs, author of Boss Life and owner of Paul Downs Cabinetmakers.

Running a small business can be brutal. With the publication of a new book, Boss Life, you don’t have to learn all the hard lessons on your own. Instead, read about the mistakes and occasional hard-won triumphs of Paul Downs, an old-school entrepreneur who describes himself thus: “I am a survivor, but not a financial success.”

This first-time author founded and manages the furniture company Paul Downs Cabinetmakers, which has been in business for twenty-nine years, since 1986. He also formerly wrote for The New York Times and happens to be my uncle.

Yes, I’m related to Paul Downs, but allow me to insist that I won’t be the only one who thinks Boss Life is great. Downs uses real numbers and anecdotes, some of which do not flatter his personal judgment, to illustrate the larger principles. His candor makes the book fascinating.

Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business
Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business by Paul Downs, published by Penguin’s Blue Rider Press.

Luckily Boss Life has almost nothing to do with woodworking, though that is nominally the content of Downs’ company. The book is really about sales. It’s about marketing and customer acquisition. It’s about cash flow, accounting, and management — basically, Boss Life is about economics and human nature.

Downs brings the reader through a year in the life of his company (specifically 2012), beginning each chapter by stating his bank account balance, the value of sales to date, and whether he’s lost money overall. Then he explains the month’s events and why they had the financial repercussions they did.

Part case study and part memoir, Downs’ book is worth reading if you employ people, are employed, or work in any capacity, no matter the size of your operation. That’s my review as a reader, not a niece.

A rosewood-and-ebony conference table designed and built by Paul Downs Cabinetmakers.
A rosewood-and-ebony conference table designed and built by Paul Downs Cabinetmakers.

The Negatively Promising Future of Bitcoin

physical bitcoin
Photo by Antana.

I could have called this post, “Why I’m Bearish On Bitcoin”. The draft has been in my notes for a long time. I might as well see if anyone will bother to flesh out the idea, or disagree with me — either reaction is welcome! Digital currencies are on my mind today because I had lunch with my friend Eva Gantz, who is the community manager at Stellar. She is, coincidentally, stellar! Anyway…

Bitcoin believer needs micropayments
Photo by scottks.

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin will fail because of the feature for which they are most lauded: theoretically, no trust required. Veteran journalist Felix Salmon has noted this flaw, as has Sidney Sida Zhang. Cryptocurrencies don’t just incorporate anonymity and lack of trust — they depend on it. Unfortunately for the future of techno-libertarian money, trust is what makes human systems work.

I struggle with this in my personal life. I like to be in control, but I have to outsource what I don’t know how to do, or don’t have time to do. For example, someone else grows the food that I eat. Someone else wrote the code for my website. Someone else takes care of plumbing infrastructure. I have to trust all those people to do their jobs. To a certain extent I can verify them, through consumer and political procedures, through tracking journalism, but eventually it comes down to trust. Trust is essential societal grease.

bitcoin accepted here
Photo by Steve Jurvetson.

That’s my entire hypothesis, pretty much. Here’s some interesting cryptocurrency reading (in addition to the articles I linked above by Salmon and Zhang):

I emailed Martin Weigert about this a while ago, and he told me, “I have not worried so much about trust when it comes to Bitcoin. But probably that is because I have only bought like a half Bitcoin so far, so there was always the acceptance of a potential total loss.” Then he asked if my qualms were about Bitcoin specifically or the whole technological basis of it. The following is my response:

beautiful bitcoin wallpaper
Artwork by Jason Benjamin.

From what I’ve read, the base technology is pretty sound. People are very excited about the blockchain. The concern is re: wallets and banks. Inevitably you have to trust a third party to “take care of” your Bitcoins, and sometimes that doesn’t go well, when banks are hacked or abscond with the funds. So the third party must be trustworthy. There have to be checks and balances, leading to centralized authorities, which is what Bitcoin enthusiasts wanted to circumvent.

Then I dropped more links into the thread:

So? What do you think?

Sign up for my newsletter to stay abreast of my new writing and projects.

I am a member of the Amazon Associates program. If you click on an Amazon link from this site and subsequently buy something, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you).