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Money; the Root of all Evil?

26/08/2013

I can only ask this of the people who think that money is the root of all evil. Have you ever asked what is the root of money?

Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and individuals able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that individuals who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of beggars, who claim your product by tears, or of tyrants, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the individuals who produce.

Is this what you consider evil?

To trade by means of money is the code of the individuals of good will. Money rests on the axiom that every man is the owner of his mind and his effort. Money allows no power to prescribe the value of your effort except the voluntary choice of the man who is willing to trade you his effort in return. Money permits you to obtain for your goods and your labour that which they are worth to the individuals who buy them, but no more. Money permits no deals except those to mutual benefit by the unforced judgement of the traders. Money demands of you the recognition that individuals must work for their own benefit, not for their own injury, for their gain, not their loss – the recognition that they are not beasts of burden, born to carry the weight of your misery – that you must offer them values, not wounds – that the common bond among individuals is not the exchange of suffering, but the exchange of goods.

Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to peoples’ stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best that your money can find. And when individuals live by trade – with reason, not force, as their final arbiter – it is the best product that wins, the best performance, the man of best judgement and highest ability – and the degree of a person’s productiveness is the degree of his reward. This is the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money.

Is this what you consider evil?

You argue that money is made by the strong at the expense of the weak? What strength do you mean? It is not the strength of weapons or muscles. Wealth is the product of thought. 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? Money is made – before it can be mooched by the beggars and looted by the tyrants – by the effort of every honest man, each to the extent of his ability. An honest man is one who knows that he can’t consume more than he has produced.

Is this what you consider evil?

Money is only 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 the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires. Money is the scourge of the individuals who attempt to reverse the law of causality – the individuals who seek to replace the mind by seizing the products of the mind. Money will not purchase happiness for the man who has no concept of what he wants: money will not give him a code of values, if he’s evaded the knowledge of what to value, and it will not provide him with a purpose, if he’s evaded the choke of what to seek.

Money will not buy intelligence for the fool, or admiration for the coward, or respect for the incompetent. The man who attempts to purchase the brains of his superiors to serve him, with his money replacing his judgement, ends up by becoming the victim of his inferiors. The individuals of intelligence desert him, but the cheats and the frauds come flocking to him, drawn by a law which he has not discovered: that no man may be smaller than his money.

Is this the reason why you call it evil?

Only the man who does not need it, is fit to inherit wealth – the man who would make his own fortune no matter where he started. If an heir is equal to his money, it serves him; if not, it destroys him. But you look on and you cry that money corrupted him. Did it? Or did he corrupt his money? Do not envy a worthless heir; his wealth is not yours and you would have done no better with it. Do not think that it should have been distributed among you; loading the world with fifty parasites instead of one, would not bring back the dead virtue which was the fortune. Money is a living power that dies without its root. Money will not serve the mind that cannot match it.

Is this the reason why you call it evil?

Money is your means of survival. The verdict you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life. If the source is corrupt, you have damned your own existence. Did you get your money by fraud? By pandering to people’s vices or people’s stupidity? By catering to fools, in the hope of getting more than your ability deserves? By lowering your standards? By doing work you despise for purchasers you scorn? If so, then your money will not give you a moment’s or a penny’s worth of joy. Then all the things you buy will become, not a tribute to you, but a reproach; not an achievement, but a reminder of shame. Then you’ll scream that money is evil. Evil, because it would not pinch-hit for your self-respect? Evil, because it would not let you enjoy your depravity?

Is this the root of your hatred of money?

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. Money will not give you the unearned, neither in matter nor in spirit.

Is this the root of your hatred of money?

Or maybe you argue that it’s the love of money that’s the root of all evil?

To love a thing is to know and love its nature. To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among individuals. It’s the person who would sell his soul for a penny, who is loudest in proclaiming his hatred of money – and he has good reason to hate it.

The lovers of money are willing to work for it. They know they are able to deserve it. The man who damns money has obtained it dishonourably; the man who respects it has earned it. Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper’s bell of an approaching looter. So long as individuals live together on earth and need means to deal with one another – their only substitute, if they abandon money, is the blade of a knife or the muzzle of a gun.

Money demands of you the highest virtues, if you wish to make it or to keep it. Individuals who have no courage, pride or self-esteem, individuals who have no moral sense of their right to their money and are not willing to defend it as they defend their life, individuals who apologise for being rich – will not remain rich for long. They are the natural bait for the swarms of tyrants that stay under rocks for centuries, but come crawling out at the first smell of a man who begs to be forgiven for the guilt of owning wealth. They will hasten to relieve him of the guilt – and of his life, as he deserves.

You stand in the midst of the greatest achievements of the greatest productive civilisation and you wonder why it’s crumbling around you, while you’re damning its life-blood – money. You look upon money as the savages did before you, and you wonder why the jungle is creeping back to the edge of your cities. Throughout history, money was always seized by tyrants of one brand or another, whose names changed, but whose method remained the same: to seize wealth by force and to keep the producers bound, demeaned, defamed, deprived of honour.

That phrase about the evil of money, which you mouth with such righteous recklessness, comes from a time when wealth was produced by the labour of slaves – slaves who repeated the motions once discovered by somebody’s mind and left unimproved for centuries. So long as production was ruled by force, and wealth was obtained by conquest, there was little to conquer. Yet through all the centuries of stagnation and starvation, individuals exalted the tyrants, as aristocrats of the sword, as aristocrats of birth, as aristocrats of the bureau, and despised the producers, as slaves, as traders, as shopkeepers – as industrialists.

Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to be the tool by which individuals deal with one another, then individuals become the tools of individuals. Blood, whips and weapons – or money. Take your choice – there is no other.

Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastián d’Anconia (Atlas Shrugged)

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