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There is no denying that many people, perhaps yours truly included, seem to love the idea of having money. The same, of course, is true for extra-individual institutions.

But is it really the case that even for the most megalomaniacal person out there that the acquisition and pursuit of money is an end wholly unto itself? I’ll simply argue without proof that love of money is pretty low on the hierarchical scale of values for most people.

Ignore the obvious ethical dimensions that the pursuit of wealth in a private property market system can have, my point simply is that all of us see wealth as a means toward a greater end. For some it might be the freedom from back-breaking labor, for others the time to study ancient religious texts, and for others it may just be a game – a way to measure oneself against others.

But it is entirely misplaced to condemn the love of money unless you are some sort of omniscient being with an understanding of what these higher ends might be. I offer up that the reason today there seems to be so much invective directed at money acquiring people is that many of us insert a mental substitution for what money enables folks to do. Perhaps I think George Clooney’s wealth is yucky because it gives him the mouthpiece and “unmeritorious” influence that lowly lecturers in Economics really crave? Maybe the government school teacher (the “99%”) hates the 1% because their entire way of living is actually determined itself in a zero-sum process whereby some people with money decide how much of it they get. The mental substitution here of course being that money = power.

The natural end of this is that for some, having money is a way to exercise political influence. And I put forth that what many 99%ers object to (not all, there are of course knee jerk anti-capitalist elements) is the fear of the wealthy exercising political control over them, and not actually any disdain for profit making ipso facto.

In any event, I guarantee you’ll see much of this straw man ignited in the next few months. It would be nice if people were forced to explain to what end they objected the use of money toward.


PSA: I’ve been trying to blog a little from within the WordPress app on my (new) iPhone. You can see that the iPhone is too smart for its own good, making many substitutions that I do not intend to publish. Sometimes I miss them when I am typing fast in the middle of the night trying to get a post up. I apologize for the editorial mess that results.

4 Responses to “The Money as Ultimate Ends Straw-Man”

  1. Harry says:

    Excellent piece, WC.

    Yeah, it’s a problem, for example, to type its with your thumb.

  2. chuck martel says:

    Ordinarily money is defined as a medium of exchange, store of value and accounting device. But in interpersonal relationships money seems to have a more ambiguous role. For instance, some wives desire an “allowance” from the income of their husbands for their own purposes, not getting it means big problems. Not being paid for some chore done for a casual aquaintance can mean the end of the relationship. Thus money, in some cases, is a signal of respect or fondness or gratitude and failure to come across with it denotes the opposite.

  3. Harry says:

    “…[T]he fear of the wealthy exercising control”

    That indeed is a fear many people share. Before the American Revolution, King George owned all the trees, and cut down the biggest and best ones and shipped them to England, which he owned, just as Caesar owned the Roman Empire.

    The founders of our country understood that danger I think as well if not better than many today — I refer to the crowd to which Wintercow would mandate book purchases. James Madison worried about the rabble crowd tyrannizing the minority. We all know what happened in France, from James Madison’s day to the present day, including the part about how Frenchmen do not have to speak Deutsch.

    Moreover, I think Wintercow makes a great point about people begrudging others because they own property, including money. That’s the American dream, right? To live in peace and freedom to do as we choose, right? The alternative is Attilla the Hun.

  4. We all know “Francisco’s Money Speech” from Atlas Shrugged. Less famous is Benjamin Franklin’s “The Way to Wealth.” The link is to Swarthmore’s HTML, but you can find it as a PDF, and Google Books provides several editions.

    A hundred years ago, we got away from an objective view of money, as Horatio Alger stories, and intentions of material success fell from popular favor.

    Of course, Christianity preaches against wealth, but that could be put into any number of contexts, as Franklin and his colleagues did. Indeed, Max Weber quoted Franklin’s essay at length to show how Protestantism had changed in 200 years.

    Few societies honored merchants, holding warriors and priests (philosophers) in higher regard. Deirdre McCloskey argues well for our bourgeois virtues, attempting to grant us bourgeois dignity, but hers is not the accepted narrative. At least, it is not the message we get from the White House.

    Perhaps the new reality – considering the topic on “Reading” – is that our society is decentralized, connected as webs and nets, no longer hallmarked by a Pyramid. Therefore, for those who do honor their ability to make money, interactions among themselves may now be more important than their relationship to the centers of political power, which “power” may prove ultimately to have faded some time ago.

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