FREE's Insight of March 12 was my account of two young, attractive, and highly successful lawyers married to one another. Each had served as law clerk to Article III federal judges, an excellent career beginning. I found them and their careers especially interesting; this summer FREE is offering seminars for clerks to federal judge.
As partners in their law firm the couple had earned and saved a large sum of money, something in the seven figures. If they lived in Bozeman they would be a champion "Fun Hog" couple.
In Bozeman that term is a compliment. It is both a noun and a verb. "What are you doing this weekend?" I hear "Just fun hogging" as a common answer.
It implies competence and enjoyment in all manner of outdoor, four-season recreation. Skiing, rock and ice climbing, kayaking, hiking, and fly-fishing exemplify Fun Hog activities. Many of our most productive, civic minded residents spend a lot of time with fun hog activities. They don't live here by accident.
The young couple retired from their law firm last year. Now they are traveling throughout America and abroad, fun hogging all the way. They had carefully scouted out New Zealand and were preparing to move there.
Meeting such individuals enhances our appreciation of the vision Ramona and I share; to advance responsible liberty, sustainable ecology, and modest prosperity. This is why we founded FREE. Unlike billion dollar legal cases, that mission is never finished.
Generally speaking, lives are lessened without some mission. This is especially true for individuals with great talents. Why? Simply because their potential contributions to society and ecology are so high. From an outside perspective, fun hogging is an insufficient principle for organizing lives.
The FREE Insight of March 12 generated strong and complementary (decidedly not complimentary) letters. I am flattered that successful, busy individuals read Insights and take time to respond with highly thoughtful commentaries. Here is one from a federal judge who has attended FREE seminars:
...as a small personal opinion about the featured couple, it does sound exciting and romantic, but frankly, it also struck me as somewhat narcissistic-- they are of course FREE to spend their life as they choose, but they have apparently elected to forego the pleasures of a family, and any further participation in the issues, troubles or solutions for any community in their native land.
In a similar vein, a rabbi who has attended and recommended FREE seminars wrote this:
Dear John & Ramona,
What an interesting piece! I'm so glad you shared it. But, I'm not nearly as taken with this couple as you seem to be (although maybe there is more to the story)! If this was an extended trip exploring the world, that would be great; but I read this as a permanently intended move/lifestyle choice.
The United States gave them so much and it seems as if they have no sense of gratitude or obligation to re-pay what they have received: choosing instead to spend their lives playing in Africa and New Zealand visiting friends, eating, and being outdoors.
I must admit that I am influenced to write you by recent media accounts of Americans who've been the beneficiary of the educational and other bountiful public opportunities of the United States, who make a lot of money here, and then move somewhere with lower tax rates and renounce their US citizenship (although this couple has not renounced citizenship).
I find this so incredibly immoral. Now, I'm no killjoy -- Beth and I just got back from 2 weeks in Australia and we're heading on a bike trip to Spain in May to celebrate our 30th anniversary. But my primary question, much like I know is also Ramona's and your primary question, is "how may I serve" given all that I have received?
Maybe these folks are serving or paying it back in some way, but I didn't see that in the article -- mostly I saw self-indulgence. Given their bounty from the practice of law, maybe they'll consider using their hard won skills by spending a few years volunteering at legal services for the poor -- what an act of repayment and generosity that would be!
After finishing four years of grueling medical school, my daughter now works at least 80 hours a week as a surgical resident, starting most mornings before 5 am and not finishing until 7 or 8 pm, similar to the hours that this young couple put in. She earns a little more than minimum wage. She will finish her training at age 35 (going straight through for 8 more years of residency and fellowship training towards her ultimate goal of pediatric surgery) at great personal and financial cost.
Presumably she will then start to make more than the minimum wage she is now paid; but, her overwhelming motivation is not the deferred earnings, but to become a pediatric surgeon with opportunities to save children's lives every day. ...
But most of all, at least for my daughter, I hope she retains her sense of gratitude for what this country has afforded her and her determination to express that gratitude by giving back....
Blessings to both of you,
Allen Johnson leads Christians for the Mountains. This organization works to redress the social, health, and ecological costs of mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia and surrounding coal country. Allen knows FREE's work well for he has attended and spoken in several of our seminars.
I usually take well-spent time to read the weekly Free Insights. Thank you.
Your most recent column, “Tracking Successful Law Clerks,” stirred up questions in my mind, not so much what was written about the couple you met, but what was left unsaid.
You described the 40ish couple as having recently resigned from highly successful law firms to “have the freedom to pursue their vision of the good life.” Up until then, they had worked extraordinarily hard while frugally spending in order to get to that place. This I join you in commending them.
The question that disturbs me, especially from the viewpoint of a religious ethic, is the response that Jesus gave when asked what The Greatest Commandment was. “To love God with one’s heart, soul, mind, strength, AND to love your neighbor as yourself.”
Is the couple you met now going to live for their own pursuit of pleasure, or are they going to also be instruments of good to others?” Your following Appendix, “Galt’s Luxurious Gulch” referring to Ayn Rand’s work, disturbingly seems to answer this.
What I admire most about Ramona and you is your community-mindedness. You are appreciative of the Bozeman community and its surrounding ecosystem that give you a good measure of peace, security, and fulfillment, while you respond by giving back to your community. And in a sacrificial measure, you give to future generations such as with your conservation easement, along with giving to those outside your immediate community who have suffered mishap, such as your service to wounded military personnel. I would hope that the couple you conversed with at the ski resort has some similar altruism.
.... (I)t strikes me that in Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s idealism of elites escaping to a Shangri La insulated from the teeming, seething, unwashed and undeserving masses would as much lead to societal implosion as would a massive governmental entitlement-based egalitarianism.
Your law clerk friends who rose to law firm partners are exemplary. However, they did build their careers on The Law, that is, an enforced Public Good that exists to affirm and protect liberty to pursue one’s goals, protect one’s property, and defend one’s person (and related matters). ...
I do not argue for an Entitlement society, a welfare state, a “Nanny” government. That such societies exist or bend toward these forced egalitarian systems can in part be attributed to a failure of community altruism and “loving one’s neighbor.”
When the powerful and rich can leverage government to pass and enforce laws and regulations to aggrandize and accelerate their power, AND those at the bottom slide further backward, the “beloved community” is further fragmented into long-term dysfunction. ...
I am happy for your friends that through hard work and frugality they have the freedom to pursue their dreams of travel and adventure. I hope that they use their freedom not as an escape from the considerable woes of the world, but as opportunity to lift up and strengthen the hands of others, that society and the ecosystems that sustain the Public Good might flourish. That, I suppose is their individual choice, which in combination with yours and mine and others determine the contours of the Public Good.
Thank you for your always thought provoking columns, and above all, for your friendship.
Blessings! ---Allen Johnson
The couple I wrote of last week is surely among America's elite. This is true on multiple dimensions: accomplishments, appearance, education, income, intelligence, and recreational prowess. They have it all--alas they exit. I hope they will enjoy fun hogging in New Zealand and then return. Ideally, they will then foster responsible liberty, sustainable ecology, and modest prosperity. America surely needs such individuals.