FROM CAMELS TO CRYPTO
The Power of Money
“Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.” — Benjamin Franklin
As with so many things — oil, science, politics — money is employed for both good and bad purposes. But there is no denying its power. After religions, it is probably the biggest driver of our society’s progress. And the biggest hindrance to it.
It started innocently enough as a means of exchange when barter became complex, it was for a while tied to actual wealth — the Gold Standard is one example. But most recently it has become nothing more than a kind of fiscal froth, based largely on — and therefore highly susceptible to — the ebb and flow of greed and its constantly lurking companion fear, the two uneasy bedfellows of our financial world, Messrs. Boom & Bust.
In many ways, money has become rather meaningless, but it closely replicates the narratives that so often trump facts, relying for its utility on that ultra-sensitive and supremely unreliable commodity: confidence.
Yet, despite — and because of — its fantastical place in our world, it is still an immensely powerful part of our everyday lives, our plans and ambitions, our preoccupations and fears, our social and business drivers and decisions. You could argue it rules our lives, that we have evolved ourselves into a society dependent on and vulnerable to money, where it has teamed up with our incredible technology to create a mythical world steered by power and the ability to kick the $226trillion world debt down the street for the next generations to sort out. Or probably not.
The Power of Money manifests in so many ways.
It has the power to divert our attention and efforts away from our own true purpose, by offering that never-to-be-completed diet of interchangeable greed and fear, of hope and disappointment. It can hijack our moral compass and interpose itself between real need and our compassionate impulse to address it. It has deprived many of us of our ability to steer our lives in the way we might wish, compelling us into a debilitating dependency, where acquiring money becomes our only means of survival.
Money also gives a potent tool to power, equipping those who worship size and quantity over shape and quality.
It fuels the destructive myth that we will only be happy and fulfilled if we have more — and yet more — stuff, leading us to bury ourselves in a possessional pit and sink gradually into a dreadfully comfortable morass from which it is almost impossible to escape. Yvon Chouinard, rock-climber and founder of Patagonia, said: “He who dies with the least toys wins. Because the more you know, the less you need.”
The mis-use of money can so easily distort and complicate the growing desire for enterprise to contribute to the present and future well-being of people, nature and planet, and instead its abusers seek to persuade us that our efforts can only be successful if based solely on the accumulation of money wealth.
In these and other ways, if we allow it, money can blind us to the astonishing wealth all around us that is not money; wealth such as friendship, love, the joy of giving, the great pleasure of receiving and being the cause of others’ experience of generosity, the extraordinary loyalty and constancy of the natural world, the peace that comes of an absence of fear-based competition. For if we choose, money can be the means to facilitate the experience of these other wealths, these gifts that we sometimes fail to see in the mad rush for that usually illusive and illusory idea that lots of money equates to lots of happiness.
Because money is like a drug: there is never enough.
This is its fundamental power. And its fundamental flaw. And of course, such is its pivotal position in all our lives, if we have too little of it we fear for our future, and if we have lots of it we fear we will somehow lose it. We thus have an ambivalent relationship with it: we love it when we have it, we hate it when we don’t.
And yet money in itself is not bad. It is just a really useful and convenient methodology for the transactions of our modern world. It is our use of it that distorts its original purpose, that turns a tool into a weapon. Because it can also do so much good, can help those in need, support initiatives that address the solution of real problems, act as a delivery mechanism for our innate goodwill and kindness, a vehicle for our compassion. The outpouring of practical love for the plight of so many in the world — currently in focus the Ukrainian people — is a manifestation of the potentially good power of money.
But why do these generous, instinctive gestures have to be regarded as philanthropy, as simply donations, as an add-on to the complex social and financial system we have developed for ourselves? And similarly, why have we until very recently laughed at those among us who, by singing a different, financially non-attached tune, have questioned the authority of the established market economy, the assumed supremacy of the traditional commercial imperative and its history of disregard for our future well-being? Because money shines brighter? Because the goodies it begets — for some — are so much more attractive and compelling than concerns about the melting or burning planet, or its disappearing species? Why can’t it be part of the equitable distribution of our common wealth, rather than its distortion into inequality?
And what is the role — the responsibility if you like — of enterprise in the 21st Century?
Is it to carry on the same old, same old, using up our resources while we can? Or is it to break free from the patterns established over so many years of planetary and human exploitation, and to really match our commercial aspirations and plans to addressing the growing needs of this increasingly fragile world? In our incredible technology, we have the tools. And in our money, we have the amazing energy.
We now need the will to use them with wisdom and generosity. After all, it’s the only place and only time we can exercise this power! And as that arch advocate of Objectivism, Ayn Rand, pointed out:
“Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.”
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