Money’s Bad Reputation

Copyright © by Len Holman, 3/20/12


  These days, money has a bad rep among certain segments of the polity, including the people who run Rick Santorum’s campaign—who wish they had much more of it.  What with the Citizens United decision and Super Pacs and the wobbling economy and the Occupy movements and all the stories about the soaring pay CEOs are getting, you’d think money was the Devil’s own saliva—evil, corrupting, and just plain bad.  But of course that can’t be right.  It can’t be right because this is—as we are constantly told—a capitalistic society, controlled by the “free market” and constructed for the greater glory of the republic and the betterment of every citizen in it—and some who aren’t citizens.

  Without money, you’d have to take your goat to Stater Brothers and see how many groceries you could get for it, or lug your pottery to Mickey D’s to see if you could get a burger and a shake for that vase with the pelicans you painted on it. Without money, we couldn’t tell who the best athletes were, except for college athletes, who don’t get a salary, but who DO get cars and fake jobs and girls…while their universities rake in the dough.  Without money, we wouldn’t have politicians.  Senators spend record amounts to get elected, to go to Washington and do nothing but argue.  It’s true that the President doesn’t get much pay, but he gets a lot of keen perks which are almost as good as the CEO of Microsoft or Chase gets. 

  Without money, we’d have to fight our wars of imperialism by throwing rocks and kicking our opponents with sharp-toed shoes.  Drones are very expensive, so we’d probably have to go to dropping bricks on people from balloons.  If we had no money, how would we measure our cultural output?  How would we know if a vampire movie is good unless it sets a record for money earned?  How would we know a painting is good or great if it doesn’t fetch a huge amount at auction?  It is said that money is the “medium of exchange,” but if it is, it’s also the measurement all that’s good and hoily and worthy of attention.  I’d like Apple to run an experiment: sell their new iPads for $1.99 and then step back and see what happens.  I’d bet a lot of that exchange medium that people would say something like, “Wait a minute!  What’s this all about? Is there something wrong with the thing?  Is that why Apple is trying to dump it?  Forget it. I’m not buying it.” 

  But, I hear some saying, that’s our system.  It’s the system that gave us highways and Twinkies and men on the moon.  It’s the system that buried the Soviet Union and gives light-hitting shortstops millions a year to play what used to be a kid’s game.  It’s the system that allows us to educate our young, feed our hungry and house our senior citizens—doing it all so well, at that; it’s a system which cures our ills and entertains us and keeps satellites in orbit so we can use our cell phones to twitter about how the dog took a dump on the carpet (so cute!).  It’s the system which (trumpets, please) Made America Great.  It has had its excesses, but we couldn’t have fought our latest two wars without this amazing system, which can waste billions and STILL build state-of-the-art prosthetics for our soldiers and Marines.  Without money, envy would be in short supply, and it’s envy which can drive some to excel and build companies which earn millions.  The NCAA basketball tourney is upon us, and in businesses all over America, there are bracket-boards set up, with lots of money in various betting pools. 

  In fact, America spends millions of its hard-earned dollars on sports—not road or bridge construction, not railways, not power grid renovation.  For us are Super Bowls and dog races and the Kentucky Derby.  We spend more on cosmetics and hair coloring for men than we do on feeding the homeless.  But that’s the venerable, unassailable, not-to-be-critiqued market system.  It’s unassailable and not to be critiqued because that would prove—beyond a shadow of any doubt—that the assailer, the critiquer, was unpatriotic and should gather his or her belongings and go live in France or the U.K. or even Puerto Rico (but only if they promise to speak English exclusively).  Any system which is not OUR system is Socialized Something and anyone who espouses even a partial removal or modification of capitalism is suspect and probably prays in a mosque, where the N.Y. Police Department will keep an eye on him. 

  There have been other systems in this country—experiments which have come to not much, such as the Cincinnati time-store, put into practice by Josiah Warren.  Of course, Warren was an anarchist who, were he around today, would be getting a free ride to that camp in Cuba.  His idea was not to use money, but to use ”labor notes” to purchase goods in the store, the labor to produce or grow, and transport it to the store being the medium of exchange.  The store did well, but the idea didn’t catch on.  How could it?  Money, and those who lust for it, is—I believe I can say this without fear of contradiction—what makes capitalism so potently hurtful, but also so powerful.  Without money, life is just…well, life.  It’s just for Buddhist monks, the Poor Clares, and people sleeping in culverts.  The Bible says that money is the root of all evil, but it must not be or else we wouldn’t be America The Strong, America The Beautiful, America The Self-Indulgent.  Without the almighty dollar, we’d have to go back to examining our true values and living an examined life, treating each other as if each person we dealt with were OURSELVES. Of all the putative problems money presents, NOT having it might mean to live in peace and dignity and respect is the most chilling problem of all.


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