This past Wednesday, a friend and I planned on getting dinner. We wanted to try somewhere we’ve never been, so we consulted Yelp. I began sifting through a few pages of local eateries and saw that in a recent review of one of my favorite restaurants, someone had given the place a rather nasty review. After reading about her experience, I became intrigued by her reasoning behind giving the restaurant only 1 star. “All they care about is money,” she wrote near the end of the tirade.
Growing up, we hear people talk about the greediness of humans all the time. “All they care about is money,” we hear them say. The ones speaking, of course, are never calling attention to the virtue of whoever ‘they’ are, but rather the vice of their greed. So, what do they mean by it? And why is it wrong?
To avoid discussing the morality of the statement and instead assume it is ethically neutral, I will opt to focus on the mechanics of the claim itself. I plan to demonstrate how money is not an end unto itself, but rather the means to an end.
First, let’s go over what money is and why we need it. Money as a common medium of exchange resolves the need of a double-coincidence, only found in moneyless worlds. This being, the person you want to trade with happens to want what you have at the same time you want what he has. This is known as a barter system. It is safe to say that more exchanges take place when people desire money, instead of double-coincidences. The greediness for money helps people achieve their desired ends more easily.
And this applies to everybody. As long as what you desire is a produced service or good, you need money in order to obtain it. When you storm into a restaurant demanding to be served, you are demanding—in the economic sense—with money, the very vice that you denounce. Without it, you are unable to “demand” anything. That being said, a fool is a man whose medium in use is the tool he decries.
To those who hold the desire for money as a vice, I ask, “What do you accept as payment at your job? Or do you work for free?” The answer, of course, is: You only accept money in exchange for your labor so that later, you can exchange that money for the products of someone else’s labor. It is the collective lust for money that produces the goods and services you desire.
Moving on from wait-staff employees, let’s talk about the extremely rich now. Is it possible for these people to only care about money? Can there be a point in someone’s life when they are accumulating dollars just for the sake of accumulating dollars? Can the sight of your bank balance increasing be the desired end? Show me a millionaire who lives under a bridge, who never trades his money, and whose only desire is to see his bank account grow, then you have found someone who fits the descriptions above. All that person cares about really is money.
Okay, but what if this person just has some large savings account—lots of money that isn’t being spent straightaway? What value can this have if no ends are being met? Think of the car sitting in your driveway. If you were aware of every time you would need your car, including every time you did not need it, you could have an opportunity to rent it out when you aren’t using it, and get it back at the start of every time you do need it. You would not be losing anything and only gaining from the income you would receive when it is being utilized by someone else. But since this is impossible knowledge to secure, we recognize that the cars we own offer an availability service. Because we don’t disregard our cars every time they aren’t being employed by us, they can be called upon to help meet the desired ends that we aren’t expecting the need to meet.
The same can be said for money. Being the most liquid good, by definition, money offers the same availability service. As a store of value, money is value that can be called upon whenever needed to help meet the desires of traders. Just because money is not being utilized at one moment does not mean that the holder of that money is not profiting.
So, as it seems, money, even when static and not being spent, cannot be the desired end in and of itself. Its use as a medium of exchange and store of value makes it desirable by everyone, including the people who denounce others’ desire for it.
I will not care to debate the other claims in the woman’s review of that restaurant. I’m sure she did have a sub-par experience. My only quarrel with her review was that the reason her experience was unpleasant was because all the restaurant employees cared about was money. Because of money’s inability to be a desired end, it is impossible for money to be the only thing someone cares about. Even when it is being accumulated and not spent, it still holds a non-pecuniary, subjective yield to the holder. And later, once the inevitable trade does take place, it will hold a pecuniary, objective yield to the traders in question.