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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #67, 1/14/2007

The Value of Money

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

The first thing you need to know about money is that it doesn't exist. You may think that you have $20 in your pocket, but in fact you have only a pretty piece of paper with no inherent value. The only thing that makes money worth anything is the public agreement that it is. Rather than being something tangible, money is more an instrument of public relations. It doesn't buy things as much as it buys the image of things, as they exist in people's heads.

For example, you can by a $2 pair of pants at a thrift store, a $15 pair at a discount department store or a $80 pair in a boutique. All of them serve the same purpose and may in fact appear nearly identical. The only difference between them is an intangible image existing only in the mind of the buyer. Pants are probably essential, and you can argue that they are definitely worth the $2, but beyond this their value is a function of marketing, not utility. You can get for the pants whatever you can convince somebody that they are worth.

At least 90 percent of our modern economy is based solely on image. Yes, you need pants, food, protection from the elements, medicine, communication and transportation. You don't need most of the other things that the commercial world is trying to peddle you: tile, carpet, ice cream, fashion, entertainment, real estate. These are things of image, of no real benefit to you, and they are being sold to you only to extent that you can be conned into buying them.

The real coin of existance is time. You only have a limited amount of it available to you to do the things you want. Money becomes truly valuable only to the extent that it steals or enables this time.

To live, you have to eat, and unless you can harvest your food from nature or dumpsters, you will probably need money to buy it. To gain this money, you may have to perform some economic function for someone else—i.e. "get a job." This job uses up your precious time and prevents you from doing other things that could be more meaningful to you.

Jobs can often be meaningful in themselves. A few people are fortunate enough to be paid for activities that they would want to do anyway (or at least they claim). The rest of us have to make compromises. We aren't doing exactly what we want, but at least we aren't degrading ourselves, and the job is teaching us something even as it is serving someone else. For those with limited self-direction, a job can provide structure and a mission. However, it is rarely the best that you can do with your time, because the goals and methods of the job are always set by someone else.

The most precious commodity is to be able to control your own time and your own mission. Only as a "free agent" can you be the most creative and productive—assuming that you have the discipline to do it. Most young people, however, don't have this kind of discipline and direction yet. For their own good, while they still have some protection, they need to get off the couch and get a job, and the sooner we can move them in this direction, the better.

A job is an important part of a child's socialization. Children should have jobs within the family from the very beginning, and giving them this kind of structure is more important than a nice house or any toy, entertainment or vacation. Young people should enter society by performing an economic function for others, even if it's a job at McDonalds. They shouldn't be lead to believe, however, that a job and the money that comes from it is the end-all of existence.

You may think of money as something with a constant value. Barring inflation, $20 is worth $20, right? Wrong. The value of money varies with your need. When you have no money, then $20 is a lot. When you are making $100,000 a year, then it's tissue paper to you.

Money may be essential to secure your basic needs, but once those needs have been met, then money loses its value. The greater issue then becomes time and how to get the most from it.

Once you have enough money to survive, then you face some new existential issues, like, "What do I really want to be doing with my life?" These issues cause people stress, so what do they do? They start blowing away their extra money on image and committing it well into the future through a facility called "credit." Now, even if they are making more money than they need, they have no extra resources and no freedom, and the existential issues seem to go away.

If a person needs $30,000 a year to meet their basic needs, but they are now making $100,000 a year, you would think they would save the extra money to secure their freedom in the future. After all, their new salary could buy them two years of freedom for every year that they worked.

In practice, this isn't what happens. A person who is making $100,000 soon starts living a $100,000 lifestyle. When it comes down to it, this isn't any more comfortable than the $30,000 lifestyle. They are just adding more "image" items that don't really contribute to the quality of their life.

It costs almost nothing to hike in the woods, to interact with others, to read a book, to write a book or to fight for a cause. All you really need is the time.


Reader Comments

“Wow! That hits it right on the head! Library books, sunsets, laughter with friends and homecooked food spiced with sparkling conversation are more free or almost free blessings that we shun when we get so focused on the "extras".” — 1/14/07 (rating=5)

“I've been waiting for this one.” —Joe in NY 1/15/07 (rating=4)

“I loved the pure brilliance of it” —Christiano Ronaldo 8/26/07 (rating=4)

“USA” —pwwfghqxknu 9/23/10 (rating=UYvSta0v)

Ratings so far: 5 4 4 UYvSta0v 5 (Average=3.6)

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