It’s Only Money

I've been suffering with severe post-election fatigue for the last few weeks, incapable of bearing another moment of Maddow or an extra ounce of Olberman, and spending only a minimum amount of time scanning the headlines. But there is one subject that has been hard to avoid even as background noise: the monetary crisis.

I'm one of those people who could never understand the fascination of the market, nor get excited by the endless ticker tape of information running across the bottom of the screen on CNN, even when I was (very briefly) working as an options trader. But then I'm not that interested in gambling my money away in Las Vegas either.

The question I have is this: when did we all become so fascinated with the dollar bill? Or, to quote Pink Floyd, buy so much into the philosophy that ," Money, it's a gas. Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash."

There was a time in this country when the the health of the economy was defined by how the average working man was doing and not how a handful of corporations were fairing. Once upon a time, good fortune meant being blessed by the gods and not acquiring a huge pile of cash. When and where did we go so wrong? When did we decide that all that matters is the game of money?

The other day I was half-listening to NPR as I worked and the usual pundits were droning on about the need to inject so many billions of (our) money into yet another failing institution in order to preserve our financial health, when a caller broke in to say, "When will you guys realize that it's not about money?" The speakers paused for a moment, seemingly unable to comprehend the question, and then carried on with their usual pontification about where to sling the next bundle of rescue dollars. To me, the caller made the first sensible comment on the subject I had heard in ages. The problem is not the availability or flow of money; it is our addiction to it. You don't free a drug habit by pumping more drugs into the system. You have to gradually wean the body of its dependence on the drug and restore balanced functioning in the physiology so that good health can return. We need to do the same with our fixation on money.

There is nothing inherently wrong with money, but like anything else, if its use flies out of control it becomes a danger. Money after all is just a convenience, (sic): "A medium that can be exchanged for goods and services and is used as a measure of their values on the market…" It's not as if you can take it with you to heaven. Nor is it a great currency for your next lifetime, such as, say, good deeds might be.

A sage saint once observed that decisions made solely on the basis of money are never wise ones. Plato wrote that, "All the gold which is under or upon the earth is not enough to give in exchange for virtue." It seems to me that we need to bring back the value of virtue as well as honesty, compassion and fairness into our economic philosophy. To redux Pink Floyd: we need let go the attitude that, "Money, it's a hit. Don't give me that do goody good bulls**t." Then we might find some sense and all round prosperity returning to our lives. We cannot base our national well-being on the fate of a few corporate institutions that have so obviously failed us. It's time to take care of the people.