Some of you know I’ve recently gotten engaged, so I’m cleaning out the basement to make room for our merged household. In going through some files from 40 years ago, I found the following. I don’t remember who it should be attributed to, but I hope you’ll find it as thought-provoking as I did then, and do now.
“So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and people able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that people who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade, and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the people who produce. Is this what you consider evil?
When you accept money in payment for your effort, you do so only on the conviction that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others. It is not the moochers or the looters who give value to money. Not an ocean of tears nor all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into the bread you will need to survive tomorrow. Those pieces of paper are a token of honor—your claim upon the energy of the people who produce. Your wallet is your statement of hope that somewhere in the world around you there are people who will not default on that moral principle which is the root of money. Is this what you consider evil?
Have you ever looked for the root of production? Take a look at an electric generator and dare tell yourself that it was created by the muscular effort of unthinking brutes. Try to grow a seed of wheat without the knowledge left to you by people who had to discover it for the first time. Try to obtain your food by means of nothing but physical motions—and you’ll learn that the mind is the root of all the goods produced and of all the wealth that has ever existed on earth.
But you say that money is made by the strong at the expense of the weak? What strength do you mean? It is not the strength of guns or muscles. Wealth is the product of people’s capacity to think. Then is money made by the person who invents a motor at the expense of those who did not invent it? Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of the fools? By the able at the expense of the incompetent? By the ambitious at the expense of the lazy? Money is made—before it can be looted or mooched—made by the effort of every honest person, each to the extent of their ability. Honest people know they can’t consume more than they have produced.
To trade by means of money is the code of the people of good will. Money rests on the axiom that every person is the owner of his or her mind and effort. Money allows no power to prescribe the value of your effort except the voluntary choice of the person who is willing to trade you for their effort in return. Money permits you to obtain for your goods and your labor that which they are worth to the people who buy them, but no more. Money permits no deals except those to mutual benefit by the unforced judgment of the traders. Money demands of you the recognition that people must work for their own benefit, not for their own injury; for their gain, not for their loss—the recognition that they are not beasts of burden, born to carry the weight of your misery—that you must offer them values, not wounds—that the common bond among people is not the exchange of suffering, but the exchange of goods!
Money demands that you sell not your weaknesses to others’ stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy not the shoddiest that they offer, but the best that your money can find. And when people live by trade—with reason, not force, as their final arbiter—it is the best product that wins, the best performance, the people of best judgment and highest ability—and the degree of a person’s productiveness is the degree of their reward. This is the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money. Is this what you consider evil?”