Money is power. Money is the root of all evil. Disregard females, acquire currency. Only people who don’t have money say it doesn’t buy happiness. You hear these things a lot when people talk about getting money, acquiring dollars, you know the gist.
Money is important, but more than being important, money is neutral. This might seem like common sense to you, but it was mind-blowing to me. It is a medium of exchange for resources. Money can be under-utilized and very very abused. It just depends on who is using it. Our society employs different methods of acquiring currency based on supply and demand of skills and products. It’s the basis for all we talk about like business, capitalism, workforce, econoimcs, etc. Economics and workforce development look at the intricacies of one simple concept: the environment for people to find work. This video from Vice News is fantastic.
The reason it was so mind-blowing is how I’ve grown up. Living in a capitalist society has really affected me in how I think about money. It has really scarred me. The way people interact with each other is competitive and sometimes brutal. There can be quite a bit of unregulated and unequal distributions of wealth.
I was raised in a lower middle class family and my dad was always at work. For several years before she passed away my mom worked full-time as well. We were not poor, but there were times we had to stretch money like it was a slinky toy and post-pone vacations yearly vacations. Throughout my childhood and adolescence I never did learn the value of money. I’m not talking about the price, but the value. That 3 dollars doesn’t just buy you a cup of coffee, it can be used to get 6 or 9 or 12 dollars. It’s a difference that those with money understand more than those without money.
All of my life I hated the game of business and making money. I was raised to believe it destroyed your soul. That if you spend your life in pursuit of money you would take advantage of anyone to make those dollars. And while it has sometimes been true, many times it isn’t. The dollar is neutral for better or worse. The power is backed by us, the people in society that use it. Problems come in when some people don’t understand or care about the use of money. That it represents resources and is the medium for exchange of goods and services.
I heard a great analogy of why those in poverty can be so terrible at managing their dollars if they first get them: imagine you are insanely thirsty, and have been your whole life. Then someone gives you a gallon of water, you’re going to drink it, right? You’re going to drink as much goddamn water as you can handle because you’ve been without it for so long. You’re not thinking about conserving it. You’re on a deficit and you don’t care if you drink it inefficiently. But then you’re out, what now? The problem is, wealthier families have a water tap. Whether they built it themselves or not is irrelevant in this discussion. They’re using it as leverage and as a tool to plan for their future survival.
Based on how much money you have is both your possession of resources and your ability to leverage capital. That becomes a problem when people need some just to survive, not just to play a game of higher-standard-of-living or use-my-capital-in-a-business-venture way. That collection of wealth hurts the distribution of those resources. It harms those who don’t know how to protect their basic livelihoods from it. The worker who lost his job and went hungry. Maybe you think it’s their own fault for not investing an interest in their financial future? Maybe. I am one of those people though, or I was one.
I’ve never really cared about financial security to be honest. My interests in life have been focused on helping others and trying to change the world for the better. This has come in the form of starting organizations, volunteering, mediating, etc. but one form it hasn’t come in is in making money. Sure, I work hard every day and I’ve gotten a paycheck since I was 16 but I wasn’t consumed by it. It was a way to have the means to continue my other work. During my retail gigs I gave ridiculously great discounts and coupons to customers. I cared more about my employees’ well-being than making the bottom line. I don’t have regrets about this (I’m sure those companies aren’t a big fan) but it helps to show how I disregarded the value of money. I thought social change and money clashed against each other. As time goes on though I’m starting to learn that they are inextricably linked.
If you are looking to make peoples lives better and more productive they need to start with something. Across the spectrum this is a pretty well-established idea. Take a look at what Bernie Sander’s has based his platform on. As much as I hate to say it, even the Koch Brothers are creating education (granted with a large helping of their rugged individualism ideology). Creating educational opportunities and economic incentives is essentially teaching a man/woman to fish rather than dropping off a fish each day at their front door. If they have the knowledge, the tools, and some resources to start that’s really all anyone wants. Everyone wants a decent standard of living with some self respect.
So where do you draw the line between greed and security? That’s a hard question to answer. In fact, I don’t think there really is a line. I think that they are both part of the same human quality of self preservation. The conversation shouldn’t be about how much money should you make, it’s about how you live. It’s about how you are affecting the lives of others. It is making sure that you have enough food on the table and that your neighbor does too. I’m sure that can sound pretty socialist, or liberal, or communist, or however you’d like to go about it. What I mean by that though is that cooperation and group interest wins out over rugged individualism and competition. After all, anger, inequality, and revolution doesn’t happen in a bubble.
Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will. –Nelson Mandela