Everybody loves money. So what’s up with the biblical admonition that money is the root of all evil?
Turns out, the actual quote is “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” (Timothy 6:10)
Is it because of this biblical admonition, or is it because of some inherent dark side to money that society is so clearly conflicted about money?
This article provides some insight into the dark side of money that I hope can provide resolution to any conflicted feelings you might have about having or pursuing money, especially lots of it.
So let’s start with the good side of money.
The good side of money
So why do we need money? Imagine what life would be like without money?
No one can produce everything they need or want by themselves. Without money, we would have to somehow find people who have exactly what we need and who are willing to trade it for whatever we produce.
Being the inventive animal we are, humans responded to this problem with the inventions of banditry and money. Both arguably very effective means of acquiring whatever you need to survive without having to trade the direct fruits of your labor.
Banditry has always been unpopular because one side of the exchange is always left decidedly dis-satisfied, but money—ah money—benefits us all.
With our invention of money, the problem of assessing value and bringing the right buyers and sellers together went away. By using money as the medium of exchange, people could trade it for whatever they wanted.
No longer did they have to worry about finding someone who wanted exactly what they produced, because everyone could use money to trade for anything that was available to trade.
By greatly reducing the cost of transacting and by being universally accepted, money unleashed our productive and creative power. Money even made life easier for bandits because one heist could now take care of many future legitimate transactions instead of having to rob and steal everything they needed.
Money is the necessary condition that makes possible the level of abundance and surplus that most of us enjoy in the Western world.
Unfortunately money also has a dark side.
The dark side of money
Every solution brings with it the seed of a new problem. Cars brought pollution and congestion, fossil fuels brought wars and climate change. Every groundbreaking technology brings with it the possibility of mis-use e.g. computers, nuclear technology, genetic engineering etc.
The dark side or problem with money is that it does its job so well as the universal medium of exchange and the means to assess value (through the intermediation of the marketplace) that we have come to regard it (money) as the source of value; that which produces what we desire.
We have come to believe that we can get whatever we want if we have money, even love, respect, admiration and happiness.
Money allows us to lose sight of the help being provided by real people to take care of our wants and needs. Money makes us lose sight of the fact that it, money, is only a manifestation, a representation of people’s capacity to produce what other people value.
It is people’s capacity to produce what other people want that is the true source of value. NOT MONEY!
But when people think that money is the source of value, they focus on money at the cost of all else, and a lot of unintended consequences occur. This is what I think is meant by the “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”
Here are some consequences of this mis-guided focus.
The unintended consequences of money’s dark side (the “evil”)
Feel free to let out a Dr. Evil “Boo ha ha ha ha ha … ” for each one.
We neglect Our Capacity to Produce Value
Like treating a symptom and not the cause of the disease, people give their attention to acquiring what represents value (money), and not on their capacity to produce value. The proverb of the Golden Goose is apropos I think.
This is why people are quite happy to spend their time in meaningless jobs, doing mindless activities: because it gets them a paycheck at the end of the week.
The same phenomenon is at work with unions. Most are unwilling to adapt to change or even learn to adapt to change, because their focus is on providing guaranteed income for their members, not on the capacities of their members to produce value.
Whether you look at it with the wider scope of the economy or in a narrower scope of your workplace you will see this effect of people’s focus on money as the source of value: they are not developing their own capacities to produce value.
The focus on money separates us from other human beings
As long as we have it, there is no need to connect with others. We can be rude, not keep our word and move around at work without producing anything of value because money is the only thing that matters, and the current system produces money for us.
As long as you have money you can get what you need (you think). Because it is in the money–not our human connections–that we have our needs taken care of. No wonder that our quest in today’s world is to get as much of it as possible. We even think that it is the key to being treated well. The more money you have, the nicer people are to you.
Our focus on money even causes us to lose the capacity to care about other people. We walk the streets and are untouched by homeless people, we watch TV and are unmoved by stories of tragedy.
Neither in our minds nor our hearts do we connect the poor, homeless, imprisoned, uneducated or disasters and famines that wipe hundreds of thousands of people off the face of the earth with the tremendous loss of capacity to create value that their passing represents.
Money creates the illusion that we don’t need help
Funny how, whether rich or poor, we all feel invincible by the presence of money. There are millions of people who live from paycheck to paycheck with no sense of there being anything wrong with being in that situation, and who celebrate like there’s no tomorrow when they are paid.
The bars fill, they satisfy their “important” desires and all is well with the world until the paycheck runs out. Then they abstain or borrow until the next paycheck, and the cycle begins again.
The net result is that they are working only for the money, behaving like drug addicts with money being the drug.
Money perpetuates a culture of “What’s in it for me?” This is manifested primarily in the question “How much money can I make?” Perhaps this is why so many young people disrespect their elders. They don’t see the value in their stories or in their experiences because the acquisition of more and more money–not anything their elders can teach them–is all that matters. Money can provide everything they need or take care of any problem or need that might arise.
With money we can just buy the help we need regardless of our capacity to give any (help). So money provides a perceived shortcut to living the good life because as long as you have enough of it, you can get people to do just about anything for you.
Like the moon passing in front of the sun, money eclipses the help that we need from and provide to each other.
Money also allows us to produce fake value
The focus on money, the illusion that it is money that is the source of value also encourages us to produce what I call fake value. We will produce almost anything that we can use to persuade people to exchange their money for it, even if we know that what we are selling is harmful, destructive and even deadly.
The love of money drives us to create products of war and the perpetuating stories of fear and hatred required to sell them; it is the love of money that has us resist diving headlong into renewable energy sources because it will stop the current beneficiaries of the status quo from accumulating more money.
We value security and safety over creativity and ingenuity
Our focus on money as the source of value has people reluctant to leave “secure” jobs, because they are focussed on the accumulation of money and not on their capacity to produce value, which interestingly enough is what money is meant to measure.
Many people in “secure” jobs don’t feel that they produce any meaningful value that they can offer to another employer. They consider themselves “lucky” to have a job. So they stay in jobs that don’t fulfill them.
People aren’t out there applauding those going off the beaten path and taking risks. No. Instead they are scolding them for being rash and foolish. Stay here where it’s safe and you can earn the money you need to live a good life.
Money enables us to trade and assess value. Money is necessary for us to unleash our creative potential. This is the good side, indeed the purpose of money.
Like most things in life, money also has a dark side; and this dark side is that money comes to appear as the source of all value when in fact money is merely a manifestation or representation of value; value that is created by people’s capacity to produce help in the form of products and services, that other people want.
Because money allows us to have our needs taken care of, money as an artifact has become the focus of attention and this has many negative unintended consequences which include:
- We neglect our capacity to create and produce value
- We become separate from other human beings
- We believe (falsely) that we don’t need help from others
- We produce fake value, anything that we believe we can use to persuade others to exchange their money for it, regardless of the consequences.
- We remain stuck in situations of safety and security
Perhaps it is these consequences that is the biblical “evil” that comes from the “love of” (our focus on) money.
In a subsequent article, I will write about healthy attitudes towards acquiring and having money.