A Holiday Tale of Money and Illusions

In A Christmas Carol,  Charles Dickens uses the Christmas spirits to offer a profound change to Scrooge.  Scrooge finds in the age-old drama between the human and spirit worlds, a drama of sacrifice and exchange.

The renewing abundance of nature is symbolized by the Ghost of Christmas Present.  But, as we well know, such a fertility god is caught up in endless cycles of life followed by death.

The empty scabbard that the Ghost of Christmas Present wears about his waist suggests the bond between fertility and death.  This bond quickens our awareness that there is only the present in which to live; only the present moment, only the present lifetime.  As we know from the death and rebirth of Attis in the rites sacred to his mother-lover Cybele, blood and death nourish the new life.  For Scrooge, Death comes robed as the dark phantom whom Scrooge welcomes as a messenger of good will–the Ghost of Christmas Future.

In seeing this struggle of elemental forces, this struggle which he experiences in his own life, Scrooge realizes how money has become illusory for him.  He has pursued money for its own sake, but has forgotten the abundance of which money is but a symbol.  When he dies, money will be of no value at all; it will bring no mourners to his graveside.  On Christmas Day, a day of birth (for both the sun and the light of the Christ), Scrooge himself is born into a new life.  His only alternative is death, whether the literal death shown by his name on a grave marker or the metaphoric death of a man who cannot offer his own vitality to the world.

It is a paradox, of course, that Scrooge must die to his old self in order to avoid the death that he has been living and the grave that awaits him.  Once he is able to free the money that he has accumulated, his energy flows into the world.  He can give the turkey, promise to help the poor, and share the season’s joy with strangers on the street and his own family.

Once he can give to others, he is far more generous with himself.  On one hand, he is able to allow himself to receive what others wish to give him — for example, his nephew Fred’s joyous Christmas greeting and dinner invitation that he refused so brusquely at the story’s start.  On the other hand, he gives to himself.  For example, he allows his own sense of humor to reawaken when he pretends to be annoyed with Cratchit’s lateness before giving him the raise.  And then he tells Cratchit to buy more coal for the fires, so that both men will enjoy a greater warmth from the thawing of Scrooge’s heart.

Adapted from The Secret Life of Money: How Money Can Be Food for the Soul by Tad Crawford

The photograph of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is by Alsandro via Wikimedia Commons and is subject to an Attribution- Share Alike license.

Promissory Notes (Are Not Love Letters)

I’m in the process of revising Business and Legal Forms for Graphic Designers. Included in the new material is a discussion of promissory notes and a form for a promissory note. Since this information is equally useful to everyone who lends or borrows, I decided to include it as a post.

A promissory note is documentation of a loan that has been made either to an individual or a company. The note includes the amount of the loan, the rate of interest, the time for payments of principal, and the term during which the loan will be outstanding. At the end of the term, the loan must be repaid in full.

One of the key issues is how often interest will be calculated. If the loan is for a year, interest is calculated daily, and payments of interest are made on a monthly basis, then the borrower will end up having the loan amount increase with each daily addition of interest and then paying the monthly interest payment on the principal plus the added interest. This “compound interest” has been called the Eighth Wonder of the World because of the way it makes money increase. Any borrower has to take care in reviewing how often interest is charged in relation to how often interest is paid to the lender.

The way in which the principal of the note is repaid is also important. Will there be monthly installments? If so, will the loan be repaid in full by the expiration of its term? Or will there be a partial or total balloon (i.e., a part of the loan that must be paid on the end date of the term)?

In the event of the borrower’s default in the payment of either interest or principal payments when due, will the lender have the right to accelerate all of the borrower’s obligations and demand immediate repayment? The note may have a specific provision dealing with this or say something like, “Time is of the essence with respect to payments due hereunder.” The borrower will ideally have the right to prepay the loan so that the interest payments can be avoided if, in fact, it becomes possible to prepay the principal amount.

States have laws forbidding interest rates that are too high. Such rates are considered “usury”. While usury rates vary widely from state to state, it would be wise to determine the usury limit of the state whose laws will govern the promissory note. Also, Form 36 has a saving provision that would change payment of usurious interest into payments of principal in an effort to save the validity of the promissory note.

The promissory note may also place an obligation on the borrower to pay the lender’s legal fees and other expenses in the event litigation is necessary to enforce the note and collect monies due.

Also, the lender may insist that the promissory note be guaranteed. If an individual is signing the note, the guarantor could be someone with more substantial assets who would agree to honor the terms of the note if the borrower failed to do so. If a corporation is signing the note, the guarantor might be a shareholder of the corporation who in the absence of such a guaranty would not be liable because of the limited liability accorded to corporate shareholders.

As the caption for this graphic says, “No debt, no trouble.” But that would be in an ideal world!

Can Debt Feel Like Inheritance?

Issues of debt are so present in our lives and the news. Here’s a brief excerpt from The Secret Life of Money that discusses one aspect of debt.

There is an uncanny resemblance between debt and inheritance. For example, money received by borrowing feels much like money received by inheritance. We receive something for which we do not work; our present resources are increased and we are better off. Of course an inheritance does not have to be repaid, while debt does. But repayment is a future consideration; in the moment of receiving the money we are like heirs, we are richer than we were before. 

William Thackeray, the contemporary of Charles Dickens, made the following observation about debt in Vanity Fair: “Everybody in Vanity Fair must have remarked how well those live who are comfortably and thoroughly in debt; how they deny themselves nothing; how jolly and easy they are in their minds.” While Thackeray is satiric, he certainly captures the sense in which debtors may imagine themselves to be heirs — at least, until the time when the debt must be paid.

Even the story of John Dickens languishing in debtor’s prison shows the peculiar similarity between debt and inheritance. Dickens had been imprisoned in Marshalsea for a little over two months when his mother died at the age of 79. In her will she gave her son 450 pounds, more than enough to pay off all of Dickens’ debts and let him and his family begin a new life. On May 28th John Dickens walked out of Marshalsea a free man — an heir and not a debtor. While John Dickens never returned to debtors’ prison, his son Charles carried the burden of that experience for the rest of his life: “My whole nature was so penetrated with the grief and humiliation of such considerations, that even now, famous and caressed and happy, I often forget in my dreams that I have a dear wife and children; even that I am a man; and wander desolately back to that time of my life.”