Gruber on money

The root of all evil?

You may have never heard it put this way. The kind of money used around the world, whether it’s rubles or rupees, dollars or dinars, they all possess characteristics which make it easy to accumulate wealth pretty much any way you may want.  Particularly so when the money you want is in the pockets of people who are unaware of money’s inherent problems.

Money is a currency.  It doesn’t matter if it’s fiat, hard, or digital, money facilitates two-way transactions (buyers and sellers).  There are other obvious characteristics of money and the two way transactions money facilitates that while obvious, we don’t think about very much.  These characteristics are at the root of our problems.

For one, money is physical.  This obvious, simple fact is a major problem.  That you can exchange money between people creates enormous opportunity.  This opportunity though creates disastrous consequences too.  Because money is transferrable, it can be taken from you against your will.  “Against your will” has a much broader definition than you might initially think.  It doesn’t only mean “taken at the barrel of a gun” or stolen through identity theft.  It also means coercing you into giving up of your money.  It can mean convincing you through marketing or fraud to give up your money, particularly for things you wouldn’t want or need if it wasn’t for clever marketing and sales tactics.

For many around the world, taxes are a form of your money leaving your possession against your will.  Even if you believe in the good works of government.

“But wait,” you may say.  “Digital money isn’t physical.”

True. It’s not.  But we treat it as such.  That’s why you pay fees on your bank accounts.  It’s why agencies can garnish that money.  Embezzlers can get at this money too.  So can identity thieves.  Digital money may not be physical per se.  Functionally though it is physical.

Note that in most cases where your money is removed, whether it’s against your will or not, the party removing the money does so so they can have it.  We all know we can take other people’s money.  Most of the time the taking is done in an exchange.  In our global society, we must take other people’s money:  We need other people’s money.  We want other people’s money.  Your salary, for example, is other people’s money.  That’s why your employer gets mad if you don’t earn it. It’s her money!

Some of us believe it’s easier to take money by force or fraud than to earn it. It’s hard to disagree with that.  After all, you’re not having to give anything in return for it.  Most humans I know, armed with the knowledge that they can take other people's money, against their will by force or fraud, from time to time will yield to that temptation.  Particularly when every human being needs other people’s money to survive.

As long as money stands between what we need and want, we will need money.  As long as we need money, we are motivated to do things to get it….from other people’s pockets.

Money is amoral

A drone armed with a hellfire missile is sitting in its hangar.  It’s primed, checked and ready to unleash that missile upon a wide variety of potential targets.  Is the drone evil, immoral, saintly, good, or none of the above? How about the missile?  I believe most people would agree neither the drone nor the missile has any of these qualities.  They both are objects, right?

The same can be said for a nickel, or a Yuan or a Philippine Dollar.  None of these objects, these forms of money, have a moral nature.  They are in fact a-moral.  Morality comes in in how the money is used.  What’s interesting (and we all know this) is money can be used to great positive ends and equally horrific results.  It can be used to feed millions, and to kill equally as many by funding wars.  Money can be used to facilitate anything.  There is nothing, in fact, about money that prevents someone from using money for evil or immoral purposes.

Paradoxically, the fact that money is amoral increases the temptation and one’s effectiveness for taking other people's’ money.  That’s because I can use it to motivate other people to help me take other people’s money, making the task far easier.  I can hire people to create code that is – unwitting to you – downloaded onto your computer.  That code then forces your computer to stop functioning and flashes a message on your computer screen to call a 1-800 number.  Waiting for your call are other people I have hired (in India) who will walk you through getting rid of that code and restoring the functionality of your computer…..for one hundred of your dollars.

See how easy it is?

The more money you have, the greater your ability to use your money to take others’ money.  The greater too the temptation to use your money to gain more money immorally.  With accumulated money, aka wealth, your ability to do harm is greatly increased.

In every case, in the most evil events throughout history, where human beings egregiously harmed or destroyed large numbers of other human beings, money was there making it all happen.  After all, you need people to destroy large numbers of other people.

People need goods and services to survive, and those people need money to get those things.  Give people money and they’ll do virtually anything for it:  including enslave their kind, incarcerate their kind, quell their kind with tear gas and billy clubs, shields and dogs, and military vehicles repurposed for “crowd control.”  They’ll even work to concoct the gas, manufacture the clubs and shields, train the dogs and design the vehicles knowing full well these tools will be used on their own kind!

Without money, evil acts in the world would be the evil acts of an individual.  Not the evil acts perpetrated by millions facilitated by an amoral money.  Indeed, if money were moral, if it could be made to reward only beneficial activity, i.e. activity we want to see in the world, the world could likely be a completely different place.  But money today, in every form, is always amoral.

That’s a problem.

The Money-fueled zero sum game simulation
A zero sum game is when there is only one winner.  Everyone else loses. What the winner wins is matched by what the losers collectively lose.  Anyone with two brain cells can see that our markets are anything but zero sum games.  Most people in our global markets – any place money is exchanged for goods and services – are far better off than not.  Most of us are winning.  Sometimes we don’t win, such as in a recession.  But in that case, the vast majority of us aren’t winning.

So why is it that in our markets, we can do some things, but other things we can’t do, because we “can’t afford it” or “we don’t have the money”? You’ve heard versions of these:

  • “We should pay people a higher minimum wage, but we can’t afford to do that.”
  • “We should pay teachers more more money, but we can’t.”
  • “We should repair all those old bridges and highways but we don't have the money.” “We should clean up the pollution at all those industrial sites but we don't have the money.”
  • “I’d love to have a zero emission factory, but do you realize how expensive that technology costs?”
  • “If we spend more money on that, we won’t have enough money for this.”
  • “Oh dear, you can’t have that toy.  We can’t afford it.”

You know and I know that the global money supply is growing and shrinking all the time. But don’t the statements above seem to indicate a lack of available money? Whether it’s a government, a corporation, a school, a family, or an individual, every entity that depends on money operates as though the amount of money in the world is fixed.  And that amount is never enough to do all that we’d like to.

That means, some things some people want get funded while other things other people want don’t. The amount of money spent on what’s done, reduces by exactly that amount the money available to do something else we want done.

Doesn’t that sound like a zero-sum relationship?

Now, take money out of the process and look at the world around you. There are plenty of resources in the world today to do everything we want to have done.  There is no physical, resource-based reason why the money supply should prevent the doing of anything we want done. Nothing!

So even though our markets are NOT zero-sum game environments, money appears to simulate such a scenario. How does that scenario affect our relationships with our fellow people?

If you and I are competing for the same job (a job is an activity that gives you access to another person’s money), and you get the job, you get the money and I don’t.  That makes you my competitor.  That makes us opponents on the opposite side of an objective (getting the job/money). As my opponent, I think you will do anything to defeat me. I of course will do all I can get away with to defeat you bounded only by my morality. It also makes me try to think of ways to keep you from winning. I can fake my credentials. I can lie in my interview.

It’s worse in transactions between a buyer and a seller where the expectation is that the other party (the opponent for value and money) is trying to take advantage of us, either by holding back information or outright falsifying it, or by trying to pay as little as possible.  That may not actually be the case, but wary shoppers always have this feeling.  And savvy proprietors always have in mind making as much money as possible, which means, taking as much of other people’s money as they can.  There’s good reason for these mindsets: because both parties often are trying to get the advantage. They’re either trying to give up as little money as necessary as consumers, or they’re trying to get as much money as possible as proprietors.

Imagine what the world would be like if we could cooperate to have our needs mutually met without fearing the other person is trying to take advantage of us. Stop and ponder that.

Money makes us adversaries in subtle ways.  It’s sinister, but we’ve lived with this feeling so long it doesn’t consciously register.  It motivates behavior most of us would rather not see in the world.  Yes, it creates many positive benefits, yet those benefits can exist in far greater magnitude if there was no money at all.  After all, we have all the resources we need to do everything we want.  The only thing preventing the doing is money, sitting there between the resources and our desire.

That and, of course, your denial that this problem even exists.

With money we believe we can benefit at the expense of others and we do: my monetary gain is your monetary loss, even if I do exchange something of value for your money. Money motivates us to do immoral things because we can gain at another's expense.  The immoral way is often less expensive than the moral route. Money is amoral and uncontrollable and can be taken against your will, so it can be used to pay others to help someone take your money.  The zero-sum relationship guarantees that people will be motivated to hurt each other and the planet too. It guarantees people will treat each other as opponents. It guarantees that blacks on average will be kept down, that politics will remain the same, and that war will continue. It guarantees the minimum wage will never be enough.  It guarantees that people will steal.  It guarantees that governments will spy on their citizens. And why not? When money is involved, everyone is suspect.

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