Bad choices (Or Where I come off as a judgemental jerk)



Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

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40 Responses

  1. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    Yup! After all, money is far from the only thing that’s important to raising a family well.  Presumably you want your kids to adopt a reasonable code of ethics, and providing a good example in that regard might well be worth the hit in salary.

    More generally, except in cases of clear-cut abuse, I’m going to keep my nose out of how somebody else chooses to raise their kids.  It’s none of my business, frankly, especially for someone whom I don’t know well.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The confusion of matters of taste with matters of morality is pretty much the reason everybody hates everybody else.Report

  3. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Several years ago, back when I was a new partner at my firm, another company offered me substantially more money to sign on with their firm; since they were a west coast firm whereas my firm is more of a Pacific Northwest firm, they made a compelling argument that future income potential with them was far greater.

    After talking with my wife, we turned them down.  They had the expectation that I would see my family lithe; in fact, I would share a company “concierge” with the other partners, who would do things like shop for Christmas and Birthday presents for my wife, kids and friends. It also meant eventually moving from Portland to Fresno, and we knew we could never love Fresno the way we love the Northwest.

    How many degrees am I away from Gauguin?Report

  4. Avatar greginak says:

    Yeah, you’re off base. As already noted there a variety of values other than money which people hold. Living a moral and purposeful life for many people is worth more than money.

    I’d add that in many conversations libertarians and conservatives often note they are not against charity or services for the poor, they just think it should be provided by private charities. I’ve worked in social services and mental health all my professional life. Most of those jobs pay poorly. The national Catholic charity i worked for five years was one of the poorest paying. In fact the only way i’ve been able to have a career in MH and SS is that MH and SS agencies almost always offer health insurance. Without that i wouldn’t have been able to raise  a child with medical problems. If you want charities to help the poor and needy then you better accept you are asking a lot of poorly paid and under resourced people to do all that work or come up giant barrels of money.Report

  5. Avatar Murali says:

    Thanks for the comments guys! So clearly there are some things which would count against moving on to a similar but better paying job. Not being able to see your family may just be one of the things. Certainly everything is going to depend on what you already have right? If you are already living comfortably, the increase in pay is probably not going to be worth whatever non-monetary sacrifices that will have to be made.

    But what if you don’t have to move? What if the only objection you have is just that it is a corporation. It is not clear (in fact, unless corporations are very different in the US, it is absurd) that working for corporations is the kind of thing which is a bad example to provide. i.e. if you were to tell me that you thought working for a corporation was ipso fact bad, I would look at you and ask whether you’ve got your priorities right?Report

    • Avatar Plinko says:

      I think there’s a critical point in JHG’s post that changes the metric a bit. If he already worked a while in the corporate world earning multiples of his current meager salary, perhaps he was wise enough to sock away a fair nest egg that would insulate he and his from ruin should they run into a disastrous event that might bankrupt those earning a lesser salary and allows him the freedom to live paycheck to paycheck fulfilling his moral visions.


    • Avatar Sam M says:

      Nonprofits are corporations. They are 501(c)3 corporations, typically.



      • Avatar Sam M says:

        If you object that a 501(c)3 is different because it’s structured a bit differentl;y than, say, Exxon, I owuld point out that so is Koch Industries, Inc. Which is a privately held company.

        I suspect that people are using “corporate” to mean… what, exactly?Report

  6. Avatar Kolohe says:

    I wonder if Mr. Griffin is glad that some other shlub sold out enough so that the schlub would have enough money left over to donate to a non-profit so that Mr. Griffin’s position can be funded.Report

  7. Avatar JBaldwin says:

    Mr. Griffin isn’t the only one making choices. Ostensibly, Mrs. Griffin is also making the choice to live in “poverty” as you put it, by choosing to stay married to an anti-capitalist. This, I think, absolves Mr. Griffin of any moral failing with respect to his family obligations.Report

  8. Avatar Kimmi says:

    Working for corporations can be quite stressful. You do nobody any good if you have a heart attack in four years and wind up dead. (warning: these words are highly influenced by financial sector. not applicable to all corporations)Report

  9. Avatar James Hanley says:

    If Griffin is providing well enough for his kids, I don’t see the problem. There’s no indication that he’s failing to provide for his kids at all (ala Marx).  I, too, find his anti-corporate ideology a bit pointless, but if he’s truly happier, well, does he have a moral duty to sacrifice his happiness for his kids?  Would doing so actually be better for them?  I can imagine him coming home bitter every night; the kids should be thrilled with that, eh?

    Yeah, as long as his kids have a decent home, decent food, a decent education, loving parents, stability, he doesn’t owe them a McMansion in the suburbs.  They may actually be much better off for his choice, by not being taught that material goods are everything.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      Yeah, as long as his kids have a decent home, decent food, a decent education, loving parents, stability

      When I think of someone living from paycheck to paycheck, I’m thinking of someone who is not putting anything away for retirement, the kids’ college fund or even the occasional holiday, let alone setting aside some rainy day fund.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        This is 2/3rds of America (the portion that doesn’t have $1000 in the bank right now). I highly doubt there are enough “corporate jobs” to employ that many people.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        Murali, I think the other flaw in where you’re coming from is that you are viewing his situation as being in a static environment.

        Is he making less money now than he would be in a career that would be a bad fit for him?  It appears so.  Will he be making more in 5 years, or 10, in a job that he cares enough about to succeed in than he would be being that bad-fit employee?  Hard to say.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:


  10. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The most important thing, by an order of magnitude, that he can give his kids is an example of a healthy relationship with their mother.

    Love between two mature people, people who are capable of disagreeing agreeably, capable of fighting over important things without being unhealthy about it, capable of showing affection, capable of being interdependent.

    I suppose a close second would be stuff like reading to the kids when they’re small, having small conversations with them from time to time throughout the day, giving correction when the kids need correction, praise when they need praise, and time when they need time.

    None of those things involve material wealth.

    I grew up with a handful of kids who had their parents divorce quite messily in the 80’s and 90’s. Some of those kids were harmed because the divorces were so acrimonious and some of those kids were harmed because the divorces should have happened years before. Material wealth had nothing to do with it.Report

  11. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    All other things being equal, making more money is better than making less. All other things may not be equal, though.

    If your choices come down to making $250K a year vivisecting puppies and $25K a year rescuing stray puppies to save them from vivisection, morality may trump money. The real world is not nearly so binary as this. There are always a multiplicity of options.

    “Working for a corporation” is not ispo facto a bad moral choice. Nor is it ipso facto a more financially rewarding option. The more sobriety you bring to your decision, the better decision you will make. Ideology defeats sobriety.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      If your choices come down to making $250K a year vivisecting puppies and $25K a year rescuing stray puppies to save them from vivisection, morality may trump money.

      Yeah, but what if it’s not puppies we’re talking about, but libertarians?  Which way does the morality arrow point then?  *grin*Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “If your choices come down to making $250K a year vivisecting puppies and $25K a year rescuing stray puppies to save them from vivisection, morality may trump money. ”

      It doesn’t even have to be morality. You might say “I am, effectively, paying $225K a year to not have to vivisect puppies, and in this way I am economically expressing my desires through the means of opportunity cost”.

      It’s the same calculation someone makes when he says “I don’t steal because I don’t want to go to jail”. There’s nothing of morality in it; it’s just economics.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Sure, that’s one way to look at it; the economist each all of us will labor to find a way to quantify morality and in some contexts I think that is a useful calculus. It’s not the only way to go, though; quantifying everything eliminates the possibility of a moral dealbreaker — something that the economist would quantify as of infinite value. As you’ve framed it, maybe $225K is an acceptable opportunity cost for not vivisecting puppies, but perhaps $500K is not (meaning you’d do it for $525K a year). Or $1M or $2.5M or whatever — we’re in a moral auction at this point, and it’s not clear to me that everything is subject to a moral auction.

        Having to vivisect puppies would be a dealbreaker for me and I suspect for most of us; confronted with the reality of actually doing it, the money and other incentives would stop mattering at all and the quantification melts away. If you could see yourself doing it for a particular quantity of money, then there is still surely something else that you can concieve of, which you would not bargain away for any amount of money.

        While I don’t feel this way, mabye Murali and/or JHG finds the idea of working for “a corporation” (whatever that means) to be the moral equivalent of vivisecting puppies. You and I might not make that moral choice but it’s not for us to tell either of them what they’re morally comfortable with doing. So if that’s the case, then $250K in exchange for working for “a corporation” is simply not an option.Report

  12. Avatar North says:


    I would submit, Murali, that this is in essence a form of charitable donation. Choosing to work for a charity for less money rather than working for a corporation for more money means you’re essentially choosing to donate the marginal value of your labor to the charitable agency you’re working for. It would be almost the same as if JHG took the higher paying corporate job but then donated all the difference in salary to the charity he had ceased working for.

    Viewed as charity I would generally say this is laudable. Adding family into the mix does cloud the matter. Imagine we have a person who brings home 60k a year to his/her family and donates 5k of that to a charity. How would we feel if that person donated 55k of his/her salary a year to the charity and made his family live in cardboard boxes and eat bugs? I would say we would approve of the former man as a charitable conscientious individual and there would be some sort of parabolic curve where as he donated more and more of his income we would laud him more until at some point it starts becoming harmful to his family and our admiration would shrink to the point we’d be condemning him.Report

  13. Avatar A Teacher says:

    Welcome to my world.  My younger sister and I are both gifted in mathematics.  I love the art of teaching, of coaching academically, of seeing “ah-ha moments”, the being a leader, inspiration, and on occasion the source of tough love for the kids that need it.  My sister, who has the same talents, dedicated her love to environmental science.

    As a result she takes vacations in the Carribean once a year while my wife (who also works) and I hope we can take our honeymoon to Ireland on our 10th wedding aniversery.  (BTW:  not looking likely).  It’s a choice I made; less pay, less respect, yes I get my summers off, but I spend them trying to live cheaply because really there is VERY little rewarding work that only needs you for 3 months.

    But, the question is:  At what point are you doing a disservice to your family by choosing the harder run of things in favor of a ‘better job’?  I do agree that it CAN be a “wrong” choice depending on the level of poverty you impose on your children in making that choice.  How hard will their lives be for your priveldge of “doing what you want first”?

    I like to think I’ve made an overall good choice to take the lower pay and that my kids will be better people having a Father who loves what he does.  But I also keep food on the table, have a house we can make payments on, we own two cars outright now, we do okay.  If the cost to be a teacher were to not know where my kids would sleep at night?  No.  That’s just not right.  It can’t be right.


  14. Avatar BSK says:

    I’ve thought about this myself.  I’m a teacher, which comes with a relatively low ceiling on potential earnings.  While I love what I do and would be loathe to give it up, if I NEEDED to to support my (not yet conceived) children, I would.  Of course, it comes down to how we define “need” and “support”.  If people thought I was negligent because I stayed in the classroom while my kids took the bus to school instead of driving their own car, screw them.  If I had a child who could not get the medical care he or she needed because of our financial situation, I would switch in a heartbeat if possible.  There are a myriad of situations in between those two so exactly what that line falls for me, I’m not sure.  But I’m yet to be confronted with that situation (and hopefully never will be) and I presume I would know in my heart when it had to be made.


    To Mr. Griffin, let’s be careful not to mix up his words.  He said nothing of corporatists, only capitalists.  I don’t know exactly what he meant by that, but it is important that we respond to his words in question.  If he personally finds capitalism to be immoral, it is his right to feel that way and to pass that ethos on to his children, even if we find it disagreeable.Report

  15. Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

    For what it is worth, several commenters have expressed my thought process and feelings of morality in why we chose this.

    To clarify (hopefully):

    First, we chose this. Not just my wife and I, but my two children. They don’t get the shiny new objects each year, but they are very happy with what we have.

    Second, in my experience, earning larger sums of money almost always entails selling some of your life for it. Time with your children, your wife, yourself. How you feel at the end of the day. How much time you spend thinking about work (or actually working), when you should be doing something else. How much that is worth is up to each individual to determine.

    Third, I feel that my example (what I do, and why I choose to do it) is the best and most powerful thing I can pass on to my children. I love my wife greatly, and my children see it each day. I work to help those less fortunate than us, and my children see it each day. It is very important to me.

    Finally, my children do not lack for necessities. We live paycheck to paycheck, but have a little tucked away from previous work. Enough for college? Maybe a state college. It depends on how fast tuition increases between now and when they will be ready for college (over a decade from now). How will I retire? I don’t know. But, I do know that until then I will have as much time with my family as possible. Maybe I’ll have to keep working beyond when I could have retired. I don’t mind that.

    I have been very lucky to have earned a lot from the capitalists for a time, and even luckier that I was able to choose what I eventually did and spend my days focused on my family as much as I can. We don’t have cable; we buy things used; we have old cars; we bought much less house than we could have afforded; we don’t eat out; we vacation locally; we dance together every day. I’m happy with my life. I think more money would make us less happy, because then we’d be looking to make “just a little more” and “just a little more”. When is it enough?

    I’m frankly surprised by the post, though the commenters surprised me even more in their near unanimous agreement.

    Am I not doing what Jesus preached that all should do? Is it really so surprising to see someone actually follow those teachings? Does the Bible not have a few things to say about the “capitalists” and love of money?

    I’m not a Christian, but there are some good teachings from that old book (though they were taken from older texts and teachings, of course).Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      we vacation locally

      For me this would be too big a price to pay.  My wife, kids, and I all love to travel and see new places.  And as an educator I find that few things are as enriching to kids as travel (the difference between my students who’ve never traveled outside their local region and those who have is vast and unmistakeable, in terms of worldly awareness, self-assurance, and so on).  So I think you may be doing your kids a disservice on this single point.  And traveling can be relatively inexpensive, if you’re willing to camp, cook your own food at the campsite, eat sandwiches for lunch, etc. It doesn’t have to be trips to Paris, but even to a very different region of the U.S., such as going from the NE to the South, or from the Midwest to the Rocky Mountains.  It doesn’t have to include expensive visits to Disney World, but inexpensive visits to local museums, state parks, etc.

      But on all the other points, which collectively overwhelm this one, I’m fully supportive, even in the areas where I don’t follow suit.

      (I hope I don’t come off as a moralist lecturer here–I was raised on car camping trips that, low-budget as they were, nevertheless stretched my parents’ finances, and I think that, along with their commitment to always letting us purchase books from the Scholastic Book Club, were the best investments they made in their children.  Much more so than going to church three times a week, and even more than music lessons.)Report

      • Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

        Well, of course there are some tradeoffs in the hierarchy of priorities and choices. And, the hierarchy may change in the future. For now, this is one of the tradeoffs we have chosen to make.

        With that said, I agree with you and wish I could take my children to experience more places, more peoples, more cultures. Perhaps we will in the future.

        For me, the biggest investment I feel we are making in our children is to engage with, talk to, play with, listen to, and dance with them for several hours every day.Report