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Money Talks, Big Time

Money Talks, Big Time

Rajan Menon

Despair about the state of our politics pervades the political spectrum, from left to right. One source of it, the narrative of fairness offered in basic civics textbooks -- we all have an equal opportunity to succeed if we work hard and play by the rules; citizens can truly shape our politics -- no longer rings true to most Americans.

We will not, as a society stop using money soon. But it is, in its essence, not a counter of value, but of iniquity; not an element of trust or merit, but an element displacing trust and merit in our judgment. We may purchase at the market not because we are meretricious or because we have worked, but because having money satisfies and short-circuits the shopkeepers’ potential judgments of that.


So when there are large differences in income or wealth, there is not only much inequality, but much iniquity, simply because people with wealth may, can, and do purchase goods and services. Put differently, people with wealth motivate people to act contrary to what we might do otherwise.

It might be different were people to purchase for the good, but by and large we do not, nor even toward our concept of the good. Instead, we purchase towards personal advantage, particularly towards retaining our opportunity to purchase, sort of like telling the money genie that you wish for more wishes.

What this means is that most human resources are not directed towards human good, but towards competition between humans: authentic production is thus cast into a zero-sum game. Poor people, of course, must largely pay for their needs, so there is somewhat less distortion between need and purchase. But rich people can and do burn up all sorts of resources for ephemeral values. The poor buy beans and maybe booze, the rich by $600 shoes and imported whatnot and likely prostitutes and privileged places at schools, and the very rich buy bombs and government officials and monopoly interests in what others need.

Essentially, then, less equal money means poor social decisions, misdirected resources, and violence distributed throughout the society. This has been documented very thoroughly by Richard Wilkinson et al in a number of books and, briefly, at TED (https://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson/up-next?language=en).

This is not because the rich are particularly evil or nasty individually. It is just part of the nature of wealth and of the act of exercising it. We cannot afford the habit at all if we cannot hold people into reasonable limits.


Wealth also purchases social discourse, and consciousness, and culture.

Who produces what passes through media? Whose ideologies get reproduced? Whose information gets amplified?

Who produces education? Whose ideologies get presented, represented and legitimized? What ideas and information do we bathe in, and what do we rarely or never encounter?

This production and reproduction of social discourse, consciousness and culture does not operate simply through pursuit of “ephemeral values” but strategically, intentionally.

Point taken, except that the ephemeral values referred to here are mostly money and power, and these by no means contravene the possibility that any of this is done with intent.

Also, intent tends to be incompletely self-aware. That is, to paint a sort of vanilla example, a person may strategize and execute and be very aware of sacrificing humans for dollars or sadism, yet little aware why.

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