In order to understand the meaning and worth of money, or the economic crisis we are facing, one does not have to be an economist, but a philosopher (Peter Raev). Thinking about and researching the worth of money, lead me to reading an excerpt from Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. More specifically, it was Francisco d’Anconia’s money speech that really struck me with the power of its message, the depth of its analysis and the simplicity of its ideas. Francisco denounces the idea that “money is the root of all evil.” It simply cannot be, because the root of money is the need of exchange. It is made possible by the men who produce and those who need their product. Try forcing the modern man to live off his/her own product. What do you think might happen? I fear we all might starve to death. We need money! We need it to survive, to be comfortable and to feel worthy. No one is ashamed to ‘sell’ his/her best product, skill, or work. I know I wouldn’t be. On the contrary, I would want to ‘sell’ my best work for the best price. Similarly, I would look to buy the best product with my money (the fruits of my work). There is nothing corrupt in this process of exchange. Rather, there is honor in it – the honor of working hard and reward for the hard work of others.
Money, then, is a tool of exchange, and sets forward a moral code that we all ought to follow. “Your wallet is your statement of hope that somewhere in the world around you there are men who will not default on that moral principle which is the root of money” (Ayn Rand).
There is a valid argument that money is made by the strong of the day to the expense of the weak. While there is much dirt in man’s business with money, I believe that, for the most part, money and wealth go to the worthy. Who are the strong of the day? Those who have the guns or the muscles? Maybe, but more often, money comes to the intelligent, innovative and persistent souls. “Wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think. Then, is money made by the man who invents a motor at the expense of those who did not invent it? Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of the fools? By the able at the expense of the incompetent? By the ambitious at the expense of the lazy?” (Ayn Rand). It is true that those who possess the guns and the muscles possess the power to loot the money and possess if forcefully, but before that could happen, someone has to make the money. And the people who make them are the truly worthy ones.
Our work, skills, intelligence and persistence make money worth something…and worth a lot. Likewise, appreciating the work, skills and intelligence of others makes money worth something. The honest exchange of money makes our lives versatile, comfortable and fulfilling. A truly honest person knows he/she cannot consume more that he/she produces, Rand says. Consequently, an honest person knows he/she cannot spend more money that he/she earns. However, ‘easy credit’ has made millions of people forget the honor code in money matters. Then it is fair to ask – is it money that corrupts people, or is it people who corrupt money. I believe the latter to be true. It is unreasonable to project our own flaws and weaknesses onto money. That is why I agree with Rand’s statement that money is simply a tool, “it will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver”. It will give you the means for satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires.”
Ultimately, we give meaning to money by deciding what to do with it, how to spend it and give back. If money is worth anything, it is us who define its worth by our deeds. Money is a vessel that can sometimes lead us to happiness, but it is not happiness itself, it cannot define the person or his/her code of values, or purpose in life; it can merely be an expression of what the individual already possesses inside. I believe that the way we deal with our money mirrors the way we deal with our inner world, whether we are sloppy, gluttonous, confused, giving, or suspicious. Francisco’s speech declares: “Money will not buy intelligence for the fool, or admiration for the coward, or respect for the incompetent.” Money is power, we hear. It is living power, and like anything that’s living it has its rots. Money should be rooted it the worth that earned it. If its roots are cut, and money is looted by the unworthy, it soon vanishes. That is why the homeless person could not become wealthy, not even with 100,000 dollars. That is why most lottery winners soon file for bankruptcy. If money did not come to you because of your worth, it will not stay with you either. If the source of your money is corrupt, if you have adopted fraud and dishonesty to serve you, then your money and wealth will be corrupt, too. “Money will always remain an effect and refuse to replace you as the cause. Money is the product of virtue, but it will not give you virtue and it will not redeem your vices” (Ayn Rand).
Continuing that train of thought, love of money could not be the root of evil either. Loving something implies loving its nature. Then, the ‘lovers of money’ are attracted to the underlying moral code. “The lovers of money are willing to work for it. They Know they are able to deserve it” (Ayn Rand). It you wish to obtain money and really keep it, it seems to me, the only way is to earn it and truly deserve it. And that demands certain virtues and habits. I would not envy the hair of infinite riches. If he/she is worthy of such, he/she would make that amount of money anyway. If the hair is unworthy, he/she would lose the money as easily as he/she got them. In the “Atlas Shrugged” Ayn Rand writes: “Watch money. Money is the barometer of a society’s v
irtue.” I believe that. So, when we face the current economic turmoil, we should remember it is probably rooted in the corruption of our own society.
…What have we done to money??