The Concept of Money

I was watching this movie recently on Netflix where this boy finds a golden pair of pants that give him unlimited money and it got me thinking about money. (We see how his newfound wealth takes him away from his father, he buys dinner rather than eats it at home and hides all his purchases and the golden pants from his father).

I thought back to Hunter Gatherer society where people would have had little concept of money because it was impossible to stockpile any goods or gold per se. Everyone could only own what they could carry with them, including children (you could generally only have one child under four at a time because that was all you could carry when you moved). Before it was possible to stockpile things ( I think money is representative of your share of the stockpile), the concept of money would probably have seemed unimaginable to people, as unimaginable as the internet or iphone to Henry VIII.

But it also struck me that money requires detaching our sense of ourselves and our welfare from other people’s welfare. Money is a zero sum game, if I am to have the money, you cannot have it. If I get a bigger piece of the money pie (or the gold pie) you get a smaller piece of the pie. Money is an individualistic thing. Money is about what you have, alone with yourself (and whoever you may choose to share it with but it is yours alone). It’s a richness that is alone. It’s not a richness that is together. But it says nothing about things that we have to do together, where we rise and fall together and are all in the same boat, like scientific discoveries that take a society to discover but then benefit us all. It says nothing about things like peace on earth.

Things like maternity leave or paternity leave for mothers and fathers to bond with their children, things like work life balance and good healthcare these are all are generally not things that we can have alone. We need to do them and have them together and yet they are almost infinitely valuable. Can you put a price tag on a father spending the first six months with their baby and forming a stronger lifelong bond with them ? You can’t and not even many billionaires are able to have that. Money as a individualistic “more for me” less for you pursuit, says nothing about our hopes for things going right when it comes to all us being in the same boat, for instance like stopping the black death or another epidemic. Money is a measure of solitary “success” rather than collective success. I think that the existence and focus on money makes us think more of solitary success and trying to achieve that sort of success rather than collective success. Because we are constantly thinking about money (where if I am to have more you are to have less, after all there is only a limited quantity of gold on earth), everything else starts to look like a zero sum game too.

Money says nothing about “we’re all in the same boat” and “we better work it out.” I wonder if that’s what all those awful group projects in high school were supposed to teach.

With money your sense of personal wellbeing is decoupled from others’ sense of personal wellbeing (even your family or those you might be expected to gather money to care for them with). People are seeing their welfare as separate from and even opposed to others welfare. People come to see everything as a zero sum game, if someone else is benefiting and getting their rights, then they fear losing their rights and having decreased benefits.

Like what you read? Give The Mental Health Column a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.