We should not fear money as an evil; we should fear it as a thing that knows not evil, and thus need not be mired to good
As a mode of exchange, money has little equal. This standardisation allows trade on a global scale unimaginable without a specific token for barter recognised by all to hold some value. How, prithee, shall I import a thing of America built with components from China if each market should not have in place an interface that allows a conversion to another?
Yet I fear adopting its convenience. We have forgotten its toll, though we pay it daily. We pay it in the children who starve on our streets; we pay it in the old who wither slowly away, for treatment does not come cheap; we pay it in our schools and universities that must charge exorbitant rates, if for no other reason than to continue being able to provide the services upon which their pillars rest.
For when every commodity and service upon which we have built our civilisation requires payment, it is not only the goods we barter when we exchange our time and effort for cash. It is our souls, dignity and worth as humans that we sunder aside, saying equally to all, if you do not have the favour of the green god, you have not the right to live and enjoy those amenities of human society which best nurture us above all other beasts.
Your child can learn not the best he could, for you have not the wealth. A corporation burns your earth for it generates said wealth. You cannot drink clean water unless you have the wealth or live among those who do. You cannot eat well unless you have the blessing of the green god.
Profit-driven marketing is almost an afterthought – the battle was long lost when we declared the rights to that which makes us human, our basic needs and our wants to live a good and healthy life with our loved ones steeped in the knowledge and culture that makes this species still worth fighting for, up for sale, only available to those who attend the sale, equable to a number on a page.
Never mind whence flows the wealth, when a significant amount of it is the bare minimum needed for humans to be human.
Nor, I believe, is this an avoidable consequence of the usage of currency. A currency only holds weight if it is limited; if all can have access to as much of it they desire, all possess infinite purchasing power in a system where that which can be purchased is far from infinite, thereby rendering the medium of exchange useless and engendering the original conflict.
But then a finite quantity of a valuable thing will in conjunction with human nature, greed and prudence alike, lead to its acquiring, hoarding and attempted increasing, starting no small number of hierarchies and inequalities in the process.
And once a pile of it is made, to distribute this finite capacity to enjoy the things in life (or, you know, just purchase survival necessities) renders a class the distributor and another the receiver, only by personal choice inasmuch as the supply and demand balances match the dispositions of individuals.
Money thinks nothing of the hand that holds it. Money thinks nothing of the exchange which its transfer signifies. Money thinks not of the service provider who whiles away the best part of his prime to acquire more of it, to service himself and his loves; nor of the legal and civil institutions that are changed and bought to support those with sufficient money to do in the first place.
We should not fear money as an evil; we should fear it as a thing that knows not evil, and thus need not be mired to good. A universal medium is a many-edged sword, for that which buys food may buy also wasteful luxury, illicit drugs and the bodies of the weak and desperate (be it for labour or sex).
Nor can any opt out: survival and higher order projects alike require fealty to the green god, and to be unconcerned about the necessities of wealth yet enjoy the fruits of civilisation requires a personal wealthy angel on high, or to be Confucius reborn.
If all chase profit, it is only because said profit represents the power to accomplish any and all that they desire, and to leave it be is to give up one's ability to achieve.
Thus if my carrots are worth X amount of currency in contrast to Y of your fish, because wealth has such power to give me all I desire if I have enough of it, my desire is now to maximise the carrots I can sell.
Your desire is similarly to maximise the turnover of your fish. The fish are worth more to you dead than alive, thanks to the market, as my carrots are only worth their weight should they meet the requirements of what is desired on the market.
What consequence has our carrot-digging and our fishing on the world from which we take them, we care but little for. All is reducible to quantity, questions of worth decided by if X is greater than Y.
Currency, in its stupid unaware existence as a tool, remains unable to inform its users and masters of its inert nature as a convenient exchange medium, that must not be in the interests of all that is desirable equated away to true worth (indeed, money is oft equated to worth because those with less of it have significantly diminished agency upon the world).
If there are no employees, there are no owners or businesses, the service a janitor provides his hirer cannot have its worth measured volumetrically in trash collected or time swept, and certainly not in payment rendered against the same, for were he to cease his duties, and all like him follow suit, the great civilisation machine would come to a grinding halt.
We are all the threads of the web, a truth to which ravings of wealth have made us blinded. We need one another, and the world should be a much better place if in recognition of that fact, we see each other not as sources of value extraction but as invaluable components that must be nurtured and maintained, for the sake of goodness, ourselves, and our species.
Much has been written by greater minds about the merits and demerits of many socio economic models. Marx held that the best, natural and inevitable ascension of civil society necessarily leads to an ownership of the means of production by the working class, and shared property thus sets the standard for all that is of value in the public domain.
Smith and the families of economists and leaders he has since spawned have all held that some form of market trading with a focus on profiteering is the best pillar upon which an economy is to be founded; a thought that has cut so deep it finds its way even into the most totalitarian regimes of today.
It is not my intent here to argue the finer points of socioeconomic organisation against the legacies of my betters; but I am sufficiently developed, perhaps, to recognise that our present institutions have failed us all, intrinsically, inherently, deeply.
The development of a method of exchange that does not require the sale of souls and true merit in service of a false god, who only has power because we all agreed to its idolisation, is the socioeconomic and political question of our time.
It is the problem that once solved frees us from the yokes of profit and the survival struggle responsible for quashing the best in the largest number of our species, thus turning us all once-adversaries by default into collaborators of the Great Civilisation Project.
The exact nature of such a framework remains elusive, but more for want of effort in this direction of the combined talents of Man than for any other reason that is commonly propounded in its opposition (often citing the other false gods, Practicality and Tradition, in opposition to all attempts at progress not coincident with currently beneficial thinking to those up top).
But surely it is a matter of no little absurdity to claim that our best possible socioeconomic administration is one dictating starvation and feasting abound simultaneously, even while there is food for all. Though money is not evil in itself, it knows not evil from good; and so any kingdom built in the image of such a god is necessarily an evil empire or becoming so, unheeding of its own welfare or that of its constituents.
Hossain Jihad Turjo is a philosophy alum of New York University Abu Dhabi, currently a father, online teacher, researcher, and occasional business consultant.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.