Thinking about Money

What do we know about money?

Money is dynamic: We can't escape money. It is woven into the power structures of our society and yet becomes almost invisible in day to day life. Money rewards us for greatness ~ and for dumb luck. The need for money drives us forward, but the love of money may be the root of all evil.

Money is emotional:  Money makes us happy and makes us worry. When we have money we feel secure, proud and accomplished and the future holds promise and opportunity. Without money, we feel discouraged and afraid, and we question our power and value to the world.

Money is interpersonal: Money only exists to make exchanges between people easier.  Each time we buy, earn, invest or borrow, there is a person across from us agreeing to the trade. Currency removes the barriers of time, distance ~ and trust ~ required in a simple barter.

Money is full of meaning:   We use money to accomplish things in the world and to make statements, big and small, about the kind of person we are and what we care about.  We reach for it to solve problems.  We hope in it to change our lives.  Especially in spending,  we express both love and control.

Money is worldwide. You would be hard pressed to find a place where people wouldn't understand the coins and fancy paper that you pull out of your pocket or purse. There are few things so routinely shared across all nations and peoples and its roots are deep in human history.

Money's Existential Purpose

Money is existential.  That is, money helps us resolve, or keep at bay, the problems that come with being human.  These existential human problems include
  • we will die, and we know we will die
  • we want to make the most of our time on earth and to be remembered after our death
  • we are more or less trapped in bodies that come with hunger, pain and addiction
  • we can't live without other people, but they often drive us crazy
Money protects us from death in real ~ and imaginary ~ ways.  Rich countries generally have healthier people with longer lifespans.  If you have money, you buy clean food and drinking water, medical treatment, relief from pain, and safer homes, cars and amenities.  Of course, all the money in the world will not cure every disease, stop a birth defect or disability, or prevent an accident or natural disaster.  But we ignore these later limitations and focus on all that money can do to give us long life.

Money enhances our life in this world.   Even if we firmly believe that another life will follow this one, we still deeply love our life on this lovely earth and hate to leave it.  While here, we want to make the most of our life.  If you have money, you travel to beauty, adventure and history.  While much that is wonderful in life is free, money ensures our continued access to delicacies, pleasures, art and experiences.  It is also human to want to escape reality from time to time, and money buys us seats in the performance hall or bio-chemical means to alter reality for a time.

Money is a good legacy.  We want to be remembered and leaving money to be appreciated by our family, friends or foundation is one way to ensure that our good name lives on.

Money helps with the problem of other people.  We need not go as far as Sartre and decide that "Hell is other people" in order to recognize that it is not easy to get our relationships exactly right.  Nor do we need to consider the world's oldest profession to admit that having money helps to smooth the hundred negotiations of space, respect, and attention that we work out each day.

From an evolutionary standpoint, the social circle is more than enjoyment, it is survival.  Esteem in society and meeting cultural norms kept us and our children within the safety of the tribe.  Therefore, fitting in and being valued is an existential answer as well as dilemma.

We use money to create an environment where people want to join us or an image that generates an invitation.  Money helps us blend into our society or stand out in just the right way.  Money lets us choose our personal balance of distance/privacy and closeness/activity.  The lack of money not only means we haven't proven our value, but presents difficult options of asking for help, taking on demeaning tasks, or trying to survive alone.