Money in All the Wrong Places

|December 20, 2022
Sports betting board at the New York New York Casino and Hotel.

A Note From Amanda: Joel and Andy are of the same mind. Both believe that too many folks are spending their money in all the wrong places. It’s why wealth feels out of reach for many… and why our country is getting sicker. Today, Joel shows a perfect example of this… and offers a better investment, one that could have a huge impact on our lives and our economy.

In October, Virginians spent $529 million betting on sports, primarily professional football. Since the state taxes gaming businesses, this amount was easy to find in news outlets.

Let that number sink in for a minute.

More than half a billion dollars, in one state, in one month. I have no idea what the number is nationwide, but I assume per capita spending is similar in every state that has legalized sports betting.

That would put national spending on sports betting in October somewhere around $15 billion.

Each week, The Wall Street Journal‘s Friday edition includes a “Mansions” section, detailing real estate goings-on among the upper crust. As a peasant farmer, I’m constantly stunned by what I call “the money out there.” That kind of wealth is not in my vocabulary, and I certainly don’t see it in my circles.

For the record, I’ve never placed a bet in my life – on anything – or even bought a lottery ticket. Well, I guess I have patronized some raffles for fundraisers, but that’s the extent of my gambling.

I have a hard time thinking money is scarce when folks spend this much on gaming. Or on mansions.

Ruminating about all this brought three thoughts to mind.

Plenty of Money

First, not a single problem exists in the world due to lack of money.

Name a tragedy or travesty. Hunger, housing, education, transportation, energy… No problem persists due to the world lacking the money to solve it.

Plenty of money exists for everyone to eat good food, live in a sizable house and stay warm in the winter.

To be sure, money doesn’t and can’t solve everything. I’m talking about things we know how to fix.

I’m not interested in redistributing wealth, but I think it’s important to realize that society’s worries aren’t due to a lack of money.

Every day I talk with young entrepreneurs (most of them involved in farming, since that’s my vocation) for whom $100,000 would be life-changing.

There is enough money in the system for all these folks… it’s just not trickling down to them.

This raises the question: Does a better investment exist?

For the record, I’m not suggesting that spending $30 million on a beachfront mansion is sinful or that betting on next week’s football games is evil.

What I dare to question is the nobility of objectives. What is sacred and legacy-affirming about how we spend our money?

Teresa and I were married 20 years before we spent a cumulative total of $10,000 on automobiles.

I’m not saying nice cars are sinful. But what’s the opportunity cost? Could we do something better with that money? Do we take the time to identify what something better would be, or do we just go with the flow, spending and buying like everyone else?

This leads to my second thought.

Wealth Transfer

Imagine what the money we spend frivolously could do if directed to a targeted problem.

For example, school lunches. The per-plate allocation for the school food program is abysmally low. It ensures that the ingredients will be the cheapest, least nutritious options available. (I refer to school lunches as the scrapings off the industrial food floor.)

For years I’ve tried to get our farm’s high-quality, pasture-based options into schools. But alas and alack, the budget won’t allow nutrient-dense, ecologically grown fare.

Transferring just the money spent on gaming in October to Virginia’s school lunch program would increase the per-student allotment by about $300 for the month.

Do you think the schools could buy decent food at that rate? And how many struggling, soil-building farmers would suddenly be able to make a living if such purchasing were enabled?

Think of how many noble things such a transfer would create: healthy kids, happy earthworms and good, profitable farms.

Budget Booster

The third thought has to do with individual food budgets. Again, I’m concentrating on good farming because that’s my area of expertise.

There is plenty of bad farming going on. Shouldn’t we defund farming that erodes soil, reduces nutrition and disrespects life?

Most people who want to help sustainable, ecological, regenerative (I don’t care what you call it) farming think the weak link is the land. Many philanthropic outfits assist young farmers in acquiring land. And that’s fine as far as it goes.

But the real recipe for changing our farming from primarily bad practices to primarily good practices is for millions of people to buy well-grown food. Not the cheap junk.

Usually this means opting out of the supermarket for most things. Paying a little more.

Let’s take the gaming money mentioned above and add it to each American household’s food budget. That would be nearly $100 per month. Would that pay for healthier food?

And that’s just gaming money. It’s not counting what we spend on Netflix, alcohol or a host of other nonessentials.

“I can’t afford good food” is the excuse on the lips of millions.

I’m not whining here… I’m simply stating the obvious. Most people eat poorly due to their priorities, not because they don’t have money.

Do some people truly have financial constraints? Absolutely. But most excuses are made by people who buy smartphones, lottery tickets, Coca-Cola and takeout.

We will have better food and better farm stewardship when more people prioritize eating well. We could actually have our farmland stewarded by soil builders instead of soil destroyers… life respecters rather than life disrespecters.

There’s plenty of money in the system to fix what ails us.

It’s just a matter of what matters.

Joel Salatin
Joel Salatin|Contributor

Joel Salatin calls himself a Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer. Others who like him call him the most famous farmer in the world, the high priest of the pasture, and the most eclectic thinker from Virginia since Thomas Jefferson. Those who don’t like him call him a bioterrorist, Typhoid Mary, a charlatan, and a starvation advocate. With a room full of debate trophies from high school and college days, 12 published books, and a thriving multigenerational family farm, he draws on a lifetime of food, farming and fantasy to entertain and inspire audiences around the world.