I’d like to suggest an alternative way of looking at the concept of money.
Money, as I see it, is not stuff. Money is power, power to control the flow of the world’s resources.
Most of the time, this power is used to bring resources from the world to you. Some of the time, it’s used to bring resources from the world to another person (a gift, a donation) or from the world to a structure (a business, an NGO, a political entity).
The resources are not yours. They belong to the world, to everyone. You just control where they are being sent.
Obviously, you don’t have to believe that. It’s a rather communist sort of view, the idea that we all are equally deserving of the world’s resources, that everything belongs to everyone. But perhaps you’re interested in entertaining that point of view for a moment.
When we see things like this, being “rich” doesn’t mean having a lot of stuff. It means being a politician. A politician who happens to have very few real checks and balances on their power; in some way, in fact, one who is culturally encouraged to abuse their power.
If you are this politician, and use all your power to benefit yourself, you’re obviously being grossly corrupt. No one is going to call you out on that, probably, or at least it will be very easy to ignore people calling you out on that, but the fact remains. You’ve been entrusted with a share of responsibility over the world’s resources. You can send them to those who sorely struggle to get their needs met… or you could send excessive amounts to yourself, for no other reason than to inflate your ego.
After all, no one really needs a private jet, or at the very least, a private jet is not worth the lives of homeless people who die of cold for lack of shelter. For the price of a private jet you could save I guess at least ten lives. Put it this way, if you had to kill ten people (with no legal consequences) in order to receive your private jet, would you?
I suppose most of the people who are reading this article aren’t rich, but at the very least, I would like to break down the cultural conditioning that has been put in place to maintain the current social order. In practical terms, I would like the rich to be taxed more, and for that money to be redistributed via a citizen’s income. Going back to the politician analogy, this would mean democratising power, putting checks and balances on power which has until now been grossly abused.
One idea that keeps the current social order in place is the idea of “deserving”. Rich people deserve their money, because they worked for it. Poor people deserve their poverty, because they haven’t worked for it or their work just isn’t valuable enough.
But seen from the perspective of money-as-power, “deserving” makes no sense. Rich people are those who have a lot of power, and poor people are those who have very little power, not even enough to adequately serve their own needs. A rich person doesn’t “deserve” a private jet; the resources belong to the whole world, and so buying a private jet means a massive abuse of power. Rich people – that is, politicians – should instead be aspiring to take their position seriously, to heed their responsibility. They must do their job and find the best places for the world’s resources to go in order to serve the good of all.
A good “politician” would think carefully about how to use their power. Which people, communities, and structures most need resources to be brought to them? What is the most effective use of this power?
Another question for the “good politician” would be how much resources they themselves need. As I mentioned, it’s murderous negligence to use their power to acquire a private jet. But what about a tropical holiday? Frequent restaurant meals? A high-end bicycle?
There’s a big grey area here and I think it’s best for us here to avoid calling out anyone for anything that isn’t absolutely obvious. The reason for this is that we can’t know how important something is for someone. For one person a tropical holiday could be a frivolous waste of money, and could instead be used to keep someone off the streets for three months. For another person it could be exactly what they need for their self care.
Self care is an important matter here. Supposing you do work which benefits others, it may benefit the world overall to take a relatively large amount of resources for self-care if it means later being able to give back more. Also, if self care allows you the time or energy to make more money, then you could then use the extra money to redirect resources in a less self-focused way, and again, there’s a net gain for the world.
Of course, being a “politician” allows you the power for self care, which other people might not have. It’s important to remember that this is a privilege.
I do aspire to be “rich” one day. It’s a realisation I’ve come to. Perhaps some people would take it as simply a given that all people want to be rich, but actually, if you think about it, that’s not the case. If you think money is evil, for instance, being rich would make you horribly uncomfortable.
I was conflicted about how much money I would ideally like to have, until I came to the “politician” analogy. I simply believe I would be a good “politician”. Politics, indeed, is something that has always interested me, but I don’t think I would be happy being involved in the popularity-contest of election politics. I have never been one for popularity contests; my style is punk-ish and easy to dislike if you don’t agree with my ideas. Being rich for me would be a sort of benevolent dictatorship, a sort of power which doesn’t depend at all on what people think of me.
Of course, just because I aspire to be rich doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily succeed. But it is nice to come to a clear idea of which direction I’d like to go in. So long as making money harms no one (or “harms” rich people by removing a bit of their abused power) I basically have no limit to how much money I want to earn.
Somehow this has changed my perspective too. In order to get the sort of money I would like, I can’t depend on money-for-time exchanges; I would ideally need to work out some clever hack, like setting up structures (businesses) which earn me disproportionally more money per time than wage work does.
Just because I’ve decided I want to be rich doesn’t mean I will be; but I can say this – if you can’t completely resolve the conflicts you have with money, it’s quite likely that you won’t make a serious effort to become rich, or you’ll sabotage your own efforts subconsciously. And if you can’t even fully decide whether you really want to be rich (and I mean considering the possibility seriously, rather than just fantasising), then you definitely won’t try to become rich. So, it seems that with my current mental disposition I’m somewhat more likely to become rich than other people with my relative mix of social privileges and disprivileges would be.
I would like to live in a world without money, or better said, I would like to live in a world that didn’t need money. But in this world, I think it’s okay that money exists.
Money is like laws and punishment. In a world where people were kind, we wouldn’t need such a system. However, I am in some way happy that some people who would do harm to others are being violently forced not to do that harm. It’s a deal with the devil, very much a situation of “the lesser of two evils”, and I do believe that the current system could be much improved; yet, I do see that it has its place.
In the same way, money is a harsh way to get people who would do harm to hopefully do a bit less harm. It gives people who would otherwise hoard resources an incentive to allow the resources to flow. It’s not a perfect system, but it works for the very imperfect situation we have at the moment.
Ultimately I believe no system can help that much when we’re stuck with the problem that people are unkind. No matter what the system is, people will continue to be unkind, and actually, the system is more created by people’s unkindness than the other way around.
This is why I don’t believe in trying to replace the money system or the legal system at this point (despite disbelieving in them in an ideal sense). I believe in reforming the legal system and redistributing wealth via a robin hood tax and citizen’s income combination. I believe these are the best practical steps we can try to take at the moment. (“We” being the kinder humans, who have to try and impose our ideals on the unkinder humans, who obviously have their own plans).