Opinions On Money
Money is everywhere, and it is not a modern invention. Money has been around since the dawn of mankind. Maybe even longer. Who knows what type of exchange systems Neanderthals had set up in their communities? There are few situations, if any, that are completely removed from some type of monetary interaction.
What is money? Money is something, often something quite worthless on its own, that we exchange for other things. From shells and beans to paper and credit, all forms of currency are essentially the same. In a barter economy, everything a person owns is their money, and people try to exchange something they don’t value very much for something else they value more.
I know this is far from an exhaustive definition of money, but it is a basic starting point to get me to my real question. Today, I am not so concerned with what money is, or even what we should do with it. Most of us know what money is, and it’s none of my business what people do with what they have. I am concerned, however, with what we should think about money.
There appear to be two ever-present opinions on money. One, that money is something to be avoided, and two, that money is something to be sought after.
There are many people out there who say money is something you ought to avoid. I don’t know if this is true. Chlorine gas and quarantine zones are things you should certainly avoid, but money is not so obviously hazardous. Still, I have no problem with money avoiders. That is, until they go a step too far and say money is not only something you should avoid, but is also something you don’t need.
I hate to disappoint all the spiritualists and utopians out there, but money is something just about everyone does need to survive. Try and live one day without spending or needing money at all. Unless you are a legit hunter-gatherer, or have a very wealthy patron, you will have a difficult time with a money-free day. I guess you could steal food from people’s trashcans, or hunt people’s pets in their back yards.
You can do a lot of things without money, but many of them are illegal. You will get caught eventually and have to pay somehow. Sometimes you have to pay a fine, other times you pay with your time in jail, and many times you will pay with social ostracism. Can time spent, and friends lost, be considered a form of currency?
Many people say you don’t need money, but they are wrong. Either they are not members of any known society, or they have access to a lot more money than they know or care to admit. Regular people need money to get along in life. If money is something you need, is it also something you should seek?
For every person who says you don’t need money, there is another who will say the accumulation of money should be your only goal.
Why practice a craft? So you can sell your work to make money! Why go to school? So you can get a better job and make more money! Why should you spend all of your money now? So you can make even more money later!
Having a certain amount of money makes living in society possible. Having a bit more money can make that life more comfortable. But unlike other things we need, there is no clear stopping point in the accumulation of wealth. You need food to live, but if you eat too much you are a glutton, and will probably die. If you sleep too much, then you are slothful, and will probably die. If you want money too badly, then you are greedy, and may or may not suffer consequences.
In The Hobbit the dwarves live under the Lonely Mountain in Erebor. There, they do nothing but accumulate vast amounts of treasure. They have much more than they need, but they keep working for more. They don’t spend it on anything. They don’t use it to help people. Eventually, the riches drive them crazy. Some say Smaug ruined everything for the dwarves, but they were ruined by their own covetous madness long before the dragon ever showed up.
Do all people that want money deserve to have a dragon crash in their house? Probably not. However, people who dedicate all their lives to the acquisition of treasure have a good chance of going crazy before they ever acquire enough. Money can buy a lot of things. Just having it for the sake of having it is insane, and peace of mind is essentially priceless.
People who say you should avoid money because you don’t need it are wrong. People who say money is something you should seek after with mindless dedication are also wrong.
So what, then, are we to think about money? I say money is something a person needs, but not something a person should really want. People who don’t need money aren’t normal, and people who only want money are bad.
Then again, I don’t really know that much about money. You should decide for yourself what to think. And if you are ever looking for solid financial advice, you probably shouldn’t ask a philosopher.