I just received an email from a concerned friend of mine who had never read The Simple Dollar before. I asked for permission to share this part of the email with you (with just a touch of editing).
I can’t believe you’re actually using your life and your energy and your mind talking about money and encouraging other people to accumulate money. Money is the root of all evil. It provides a path to greed and gluttony and cruelty. Why are you devoting your wonderful life to teaching people how to walk that path? What are you doing to yourself? What are you teaching your children?
I originally intended to respond to this email privately, but I realized that the answer was something really worth sharing on here, so I generalized it a bit and turned it into the article you’re about to read.
First of all, your comment that “money is the root of all evil” is a misquote. You’re referencing 1 Timothy 6:10 from the Bible, which is usually translated as “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” or simply “for the love of money is the root of all evil.” Not money itself, but the love of money.
That’s a key distinction. Money itself is neither good nor evil. It’s simply a medium of exchange. It’s a way for people to trade one thing – say, their money or their time or their energy – for other things, like food or housing.
What you choose to use your money for may be good and it may be evil and it may just be a big missed opportunity. You could use it to make sure your children eat very nutritionally balanced meals or you could use it to hire a hit man to take out your rivals. You could use it to help improve orphanages for extremely impoverished children or burn a million British pounds just for the fun of it.
How you use that money is a reflection of who you are and what you value. Whether it’s “good” or “evil” is as much your own judgment on how you spend money as it is a judgment passed on you by others who observe how you use it.
The entire purpose of this site is to help people become more efficient in their exchanges: to earn more money, to spend less on the things that they need, to avoid wasting their money on interest payments to lenders, and so on. Again, that’s neither good nor evil. It simply widens the door to the good and evil choices that people have with their money.
What that scripture is talking about is the love of money being the root of all evil. The argument is that when you begin to focus on the accumulation of wealth as the highest purpose in your life, you put a lot of other virtues below it. You value wealth accumulation over the welfare of others, in simple terms.
When you see other people as merely things that can be exploited to improve your wealth accumulation, that is evil, in my opinion. Companies that would knowingly sell toys to children that are covered in lead-based paint are evil. Companies that would sell known carcinogens for consumption and not label them are evil. Individuals who would exploit and steal from the defenseless are evil.
These are situations where, in that person’s mind, the love of money has trumped other virtues. I am explicitly opposed to these situations.
I regularly discuss ethical methods for accumulating money. I don’t even mention illegal acts or acts that would harm others and I encourage people to put human relationships first when it comes to things like borrowing money or hiring people. At the same time, I also look at ethical ways of spending money, highlighting charities that I personally know are doing good work and being selective on the things one buys for personal enjoyment.
In the end, it all comes back to your ethics and your character. It takes a bad person to intentionally exploit others. I also believe it takes a somewhat (although more debatable because of the various contexts) bad person to refuse to help anyone in need when they have the resources to do it easily without harming themselves in any real way.
Having money isn’t evil. Earning money isn’t evil. Exploiting people to acquire that money is, however, and spending it wantonly in ways that don’t bring value into anyone else’s life is probably also evil (though a bit more muddied).
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Thinkers of many cultures and epochs have sought to find the fundamental reasons for social problems. Philosophers of the past analyzed numerous contributing factors, such as leaders, money, religion, and so on. A significant number of these thinkers came to the conclusion that an individuals’ passionate attitude towards money was an influential trigger of various social calamities. Desiring to obtain more and more material goods and profit causes an individual to become selfish and hard-hearted—this in turn affects the quality of a whole community. An uncontrolled love of money is the reason for many disturbances and wrongs which are enacted.
Apostle Paul, in his letter to Timothy, today known as Timothy I, says, “…they that desire to be rich, fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evils; which some coveting, have erred from the faith.” Paul emphasizes the pursuit of money and financial gain causes one to be distanced from one’s morality and virtue. No longer do people seek to build a relationship with their neighbor; instead, they seek for ways to use them to obtain more wealth and security. At the same time, people who treat others as a means of reaching their goals tend to be treated in the same manner, thus multiplying their own misfortunes.
People with a strong lust for money can develop an insensible disposition. In the discipline of psychology, there exists a correlation between happy feelings and money which has already been discovered (Vohs, Mead & Goode, 2008). Those who have a strong love of money constantly feel the urge to gain more money as if they have a lack of it; consequently, these individuals have a poor disposition and are impatient when confronted with those whom they believe are seeking to prevent them from gaining money.
Because of a fanatic identification with their savings, those with a persistent love of money are hesitant to lose their capital. Such individuals are hesitant in investing in community projects or remaining loyal to their fellow coworkers, employees, and even neighbors. Today, because of the apparent focus on obtaining more entertainment devices, cars, games, and technology in general, the sense of community is dying. Paul Mattick states in his book Art in Its Time that, “A steady increase of the love of money present in our capitalistic economy system causes a sense of community to decline as faith is placed in material things for the self rather than concepts for the community” (Mattick, 2003).
In an attempt to understand the true nature of different social problems of the past and of today, many thinkers have paid attention to the phenomenon of yearning for money. Because of an individual’s love of money, there is a decline in personal values and morals. Subsequently, the constant pursuit of money causes one’s behavior to be well under par with the needs of other human beings. In addition, many people with an excessive passion for gaining money tend to identify themselves with their financial well-being, thus being afraid to lose their capital. In their fear, they lose the greatest of all values: a sense of peace.
Mattick, Paul. Art in Its Time. London: Routledge, 2003. Print.
Vohs, Kathleen D., Nicole L. Mead and Miranda R. Goode. “Merely Activating the Concept of Money Changes Personal and Interpersonal Behavior.” 2008. Web. 8 January 2012.
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