Money is the root of all evil.
An oft quoted phrase of biblical origins that many of us have come across in the past. While the incarnation above is frequently used in popular media, the true passage (depending on what version of the bible you read) reads ‘the LOVE of money is the root of all kinds of evil’. There is a bit of an undercurrent in environmental readings and movements that paints money as a source of all things dark, gloomy and industrialised. This not-so-pretty picture might seem rightfully painted when one looks at the issues presented regarding environmental degradation for the materials economy. Take for example the topic at the forefront of discussion in Australia’s media is mining and environmental offsets. A situation where money is being inequitably distributed, with mining companies making immense profits from resource extraction while only having to commit a small (in comparison to the profits) financial contribution for the ‘rehabilitation’ of land and environmental flows in the wake of their operations. There are two major flaws with this, one being that there is an assumption that business can repair the damage caused by resource extraction, and the second being that humans have enough knowledge to be able to assess the total damage and assign an appropriate monetary value to it (there are some interesting impacts here regarding gender and human displacement that wouldn’t even have been considered in offset funding). This case is just one illustration of why so many environmentalists would feel a little bit negative towards money and why folks might take this dislike of capitalism to the extreme. Some people take this dislike of capitalism to the extreme by shedding their associations with current societal norms and taking a personalised path, such as Freeganism. Probably one of the most famous (and tragic) cases of the ‘shedding of social norms’ is the story of Christopher McCandless, an American hiker whose desire to live simply in the Alaskan bush was unfortunately his demise. A man whose legacy to the world is a non-fictional adaptation of his life story ‘Into the Wild’, a book by Jon Krakauer and movie adaptation of the book, by Sean Penn
The current economic system measures of success make money work better for evil than good.
At present we live in a materials economy. Our measure of success is GDP, which stands for gross domestic product, meaning that the more products your country moves the more successful you are. Sadly for environmentalists this idea doesn’t sit too well because making, distributing, consuming, and disposing of goods (and some services) involves the degradation of the environment and the usage of non-renewable resources. It also favours manufacturing at low cost to make maximum profit and the exploitation of developing countries as a source for cheap labour and the disposal of unwanted goods. As a world ‘overview’ the trend of the global economic system is rewarding the degradation of the planet and unethical practices.
Ideally what is needed to see us working towards a more equitable future for both humanity and the environment in which we live (inclusive of all living and non living beings and flows) would be an economic system that factors in more measures of success than money and power. One alternative measure of success is the Gross National Happiness (GNH) index a phrase coined in the 1970’s by His Majesty the Fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The GNH is based on the the idea that a nations measure of success should give equal importance to non-economic aspects of wellbeing such as; psychological wellbeing, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards.
Money is more useful than a stockpile of chickens.
Before currency was invented, bater was the norm. If you were excellent at keeping chickens then you might trade your chickens for other resources like fruit, vegetables, and labour. However, not everyone will want a chicken or worse still someone may swap some fruit and veggies for a couple of your chickens/roosters and create their own brood eliminating the need for your chickens altogether. Now you are stuck will a stockpile of chickens and none of the other things you need to get through your day. Currency was developed to side step these issues associated with barter. By assigning value to seemingly valueless thing (be it shells, salt, or pieces of paper or metal) people were free to ‘buy’ what they needed rather than having to rely on bartering with the right person at the right time. Currency was designed for freedom and ease, it is only the modern societal use of money as a direct measure for success and a way to peddle unnecessary consumer goods that has demonised it in the eyes of some environmentalists.
Money is gratitude and a vote for the world you want to live in.
It is best to look at those little scraps or paper in your purse, or blinking electronic numbers in your bank account as gratitude for time and efforts. When we work we are forgoing little parts of our limited life span to assist another (be it big or small business or sole traders) to achieve their goals. We are rewarded for our efforts with little packages of gratitude that allow us to eat, sleep, and entertain ourselves in our own way. Sadly, corporate greed often sees some people not being grateful enough for the work of their employees, and don’t even provide them with enough money to meet their basic needs for food, shelter, and healthcare. To see the ‘real world’ implications of a lack of gratitude all one has to do is take a look inside their closet. Many of the every day items of apparel we use are made by the hands of people whose time commitments to their work are not monetarily appreciated. They work for long hours, often with little to no breaks or overtime pay, sometimes against their will, and occasionally in buildings that aren’t built to handle the workload or fire dangers of the garment industry.
While this all sounds pretty dire (and it is) we sometimes forget that maltreatment of employees can happen anywhere in the world. Australia’s are known for our ‘laid back culture’ but what many don’t know is that around 3.2 million not-so-laid-back Aussies are working overtime, and one quarter of these employees aren’t compensated for these extra hours. What’s even scarier about this statistic is that more females were not compensated for the extra hours they worked (33% compared to 21% of males). Kind of shatters that romantic notion that we are all laying around on a beach surrounded by kangaroos and sunshine doesn’t it? So while many of us may not literally be chained to our desks, there is a lot of competition in the job market and sometimes this idea of unpaid overtime can be a ‘gainfully employed or out on the curb while Sally takes over your job’ kind of scenario. Following this example it can be easy to see why so many people think money is the devil. But if you take a step back and realise that it’s just a way of saying thank you then the whole world looks like a slightly less evil and more logical place.
When you go to the store and see a t-shirt for $1 (sadly these do exist) you can ask yourself ‘Is one dollar really enough to say thank you to all those in the t-shirt production system’?
It is likely that after asking yourself this question the t-shirt will no longer be a bargain, it’s low price will embody the feeling of that one time your boss asked you to stay back unpaid and you missed your daughter birthday party. Your unpaid overtime is no different to the unpaid overtime that the garment worker put into making that one dollar t-shirt. Each member of the production system should be shown gratitude for the resources and time that went into making that item. When you think about the power of your dollar as an act of gratitude and a vote for the world you want to live in it can be a pretty powerful revelation. Suddenly you are able to change the world with the contents of your wallet and bank account and the only way that your dollar could be evil is if your intent is evil.
Do you have any revelations about money that you would like to share? Perhaps you have a stockpile of chickens that need re-homing? Let us know below.