Tuesday, October 19, 2010

We can't eat money

Have you come across this Cree proverb?

I never thought I'd say this, but may we muse for a moment on the thorny topic of money?

After all, what is money? What is the true nature of this commodity that we value so disproportionately? It isn't a growing part of the created world. On the contrary, it is entirely man-made, a substitute for the reality it represents . . . a shadow . . . an illusion . . . a mirage. Yet we all know that the craving for money is addictive, and those who set their sights on accumulating a vast fortune never reach a point of satisfaction.

So why does money exert such a hold on all of us? Is it beautiful in its own right? Hardly, whatever form it takes, be it metal, paper or plastic, its beauty lies entirely in the eyes and mind of the beholder.

How, then, have our values become so distorted that the possession of money, vast amounts of money, is now considered a positive virtue, whilst those sitting atop the largest piles are automatically elevated to unquestioned positions of eminence in society?

It's as though we've become bewitched by our own invention . . . seduced by the substitute that we once devised for the simple purpose of barter.
This obsession isn't logical. It isn't reasonable. Can the grubby fistfull of paper and coins that we hand over in exchange for a concert ticket offer the joy of music? Can a plastic credit card, however large the bank balance it represents, offer warmth and shelter? I suppose that pound notes, if accumulated and ignited, could provide some temporary warmth. However, it would be a very short-lived and ineffectual blaze.

Our current financial system, as an American economist wrote recently, is 'a money game in which the players use money to make money for people who have money, without producing anything of value'.

But, even as I sit here typing this letter to you, a thought has struck me. This stuff that dominates our lives does have one redeeming feature. In fact, I would even suggest that this fact alone raises our dubious invention from the ranks of 'curse' to that of 'blessing'.

Money is good for one thing . . . you can give it away!

It has, after all, a similar quality to water. Left standing and confined money stagnates . . . allowed to flow free it is beneficial to everything it passes. A steady trickle from the over-stocked reservoirs of the West could bring life and hope to the arid deserts and parched plains in the rest of the world.

The Cree Indians are right. Money of itself won't nourish the trees, restore life to hunted animals, clean the polluted waters, or purify the air . . . but, if we give it away, freely and willingly, in pursuit of these aims, who knows, we may yet save our beleaguered planet.