Money; that one simple word evokes all sorts of emotions in us, dear reader. It can remind us of how much we have of it, how little of it we have, what we can do with it, and what we aren’t able to do without it. Simple pieces of paper and metal that we are able to exchange with one another to acquire the product we desire so long as we have enough of it. Seems absurd, doesn’t it? We work for it, we want it, some people even go so far as to kill for it, and it is one of the prime concerns of nations to have plenty of it, and keep it grounded to a rate that is easily spendable and acquirable.
Indeed, money is something to wonder about in society. Each society has its own form of it, or some way of exchanging products and services for the right price. However, there are societies that currently thrive without the use for money such as the tribes at Jonbeel Mela in India, the Yanomami and Awa tribes in the Amazon, the Kula people of Papua New Guinea, and the Nyimang people of Sudan. Instead of relying on money or currency, these tribes have their own forms of bartering to trade goods and services with one another based on tradition and culture.
However, these tribes are relatively small and isolated from most foreign influence; the Awa tribe is only 350 people strong. With bigger and more industrialized nations such as the United States, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and others, money and currency proved to be a more convenient and efficient way of trading with another party and much more effective than bartering. Money itself does not qualify itself to any specific purchases; it is a blank check that can buy just about anything so long as there is the proper quantity of it. There is no limit to what exactly money can buy, the dollar in your wallet can buy a candy bar in the same way it can be grouped with other dollars to purchase a pair of shoes or a new car. So long as something has a price tag on it, it can be bought.
Herein lies the problem.
While money is a more convenient way to exchange goods and services, it lends its way to the problem that just about anything can be bought, even if it doesn’t have a price tag. The mid 19th century British philosopher and economist, William Stanley Jevons (1835-1882) believed that everything had an inherent value that goes beyond what is produced, and that utilitarian value is the final value of economics. Every ounce of capital that goes into producing something must reflect the same worth of everything that was put into it; the end value of that end product must be equal or greater what went into it. Thus, everything is assigned a value from the minute it has begun production; it may be sold for more or less than what it is truly worth, but it has an inherent value that cannot be changed whatsoever. But, if everything has an inherent value, should this not stay limited to manufactured goods and products? What if it extends to feelings? People? Love? Things that supposedly are invaluable?
What if this blank form of currency can be involved in the most intimate parts of our lives and humanities to the point of where everything is worth something? British psychologist, William Davies (1950-) explained this phenomenon in his book The Happiness Industry. In his book, Davies equates this situation to a person who sees everything as a value and only looks for utilitarian value in every little thing they pursue. Giving this figure the name Homo Economicus, Davies asserts that such a person would be little more than a psychopath, only looking out for themselves and not caring about any other factors other than what the potential worth and outcome of each experience is or could be. As Davies says of this miserable creature:
“Homo Economicus doesn’t have friends and doesn’t relax. He is too busy looking out for number one. If he ever really existed, he would be deemed a psychopath.”
By having the Homo Economicus focus primarily on money and overall pleasurable experiences for themselves, they lose their humanity in the meanwhile and are devolved into a lumbering creature who looks to extoll as much pleasure as they can out of everything and everyone. It was to this effect that Davies believed that money could be used to devolve people into a hedonistic leech, constantly sucking everything of their pleasure. For Davies, money truly is the root of all evil.
Yet, there is also an upside of money that must be taken into account, one that strikes at the purpose of money. For the conservative philosopher, Ayn Rand (1905-1982), money was not only good for a society, but it was necessary in ensuring that said society would succeed and flourish with a plentiful and attainable financial capital. Money itself was a form of credit to those who have produced enough in society and have raked in the rewards, the people who have given others what they need and a rightful reward for their contributions. Not only this, but it is also a statement that man is the rightful owner of his labor and his mind if he is able to work and freely exchange money at his own disposal.
As Ayn Rand said about money:
“Money is the tool of men who have reached a high level of productivity and a long-range control over their lives. Money is not merely a tool of exchange: much more importantly, it is a tool of saving, which permits delayed consumption and buys time for future production.”
For Rand, there is no alternative to money, it is either this, or a society devolves into a point of barbarism where if money does not rule an economy, then guns and primitive traditions will. Without the token of individual labor and free will that money symbolizes, there will be nothing left of a society except for savages taking things from one another in a pitiful attempt to lead a meaningless life. The end all of money should be to freely exchange with one another with proper capital that reflects what the value of that product or service is worth. Money is an equalizer in a society and serves as the best negotiator between the producer and the consumer, argues Rand.
And yet, this is only another point of view about the worth and value of money in our society. It is not yet fully understood whether money is a good or bad thing for a society to have, and it may never be understood; after all, economics is not an easy thing to understand, and relies on a case-by-case operation. Whether money truly is detrimental or beneficial to a society is a question left up in the air since it truly has no answer since the question of what the perfect economic system is also does not have an answer. Until the day we find an answer, it will still be a battle of capitalism vs. socialism or money vs. bartering and other questions about what to exchange with others and how to keep it at an appropriate value.
So, dear reader, the next time you pull out a $20 to pay for dinner, you may be wondering if the meal was truly worth that amount of money, and if it can equate the amount of satisfaction you got from your meal. Whatever you may be thinking, just remember that the money you pay will be used for the food, the capital of the restaurant, somebody’s livelihood, or anything else that it can be put to. Money has ephemeral like properties that can be applied to anything in a given economy, no matter how many controls or regulations are on it.
(And leave a tip for cryin’ out loud.)