Money: The Root of All Evil?

I recently encountered an individual who claimed that a majority of society’s ills are due to the existence of money, and that a society without money in which people “produce for need and not profit” is what the world needs to move towards. This person boldly declared, “Money is the root of all evil.”

First of all, this person is mistaken off-the-bat: they were probably trying to quote the famous bible verse “The love of money is the root of all evil”, which has a far different meaning. On the other hand, maybe the person actually meant what they said. Whatever the case, they are totally off-the-mark. Money, the actual use of currency, is not an evil. Quite the contrary; the use of money is one of mankind’s most benevolent practices, and has immeasurably improved life for millions of people across the world. The modern lives we lead are made possible by the use of currency. Saying “We need a world without money” also implies that we need a world where people live at a primitive and laborious level.

Consider a society in which money is not used. Let’s say that I, a humble meteorologist, want some eggs. This means that I need to find a chicken farmer somewhere to whom I can exchange a weather forecast for a dozen eggs. Perhaps I’ll get lucky and find one right away; perhaps not. Perhaps I will need to travel for miles, for weeks at a time, until I meet a chicken farmer anxious enough about the weather to trade me a dozen eggs for a weather forecast. In the context of barter, this is called the “Double Coincidence of Wants“; I can offer a weather forecast for eggs, and I must find someone who coincidentally will offer eggs for a weather forecast. In a system of direct barter, we can see that this is a tedious process which would likely lead to many starving meteorologists. This demonstrates one reason why money is such a fantastic invention: it eliminates the need for the “Double Coincidence of Wants.” Instead of needing to find someone who happens to offer what I want for what I can give them, currency balances the equation, so to speak: Most people in society can agree to “want” the currency instead of direct bartering good-for-good, which makes finding buyers and sellers infinitely more simple and less arduous.

Barter is a grossly inefficient process. In the society without money, I would probably be better off ditching the meteorologist gig for far more simple labor, such as offering to clean the chicken farmer’s henhouse in exchange for a dozen eggs. Most people with highly specialized skills would probably have to abandon them in favor of simple and more versatile human labor; I doubt we’d see very many Meteorologists, Interior Designers, or Marine Biologists in an economy of simple barter. This illustrates the next trait of the money-less economy: No Division of Labor. In a nutshell, the Division of Labor is what allows people to work in highly specialized skills which are not necessarily in wide demand. A society in which most people have agreed to “balance the barter equation” with currency allows Nuclear Physicist Dr. Jones to work in a specialized skill and sell his labor for money, which can then be used to trade for eggs from Farmer Smith, who was probably not interested in Dr. Jones’ knowledge of the atom. The Division of Labor is one of the single most important social constructs in the history of mankind, if not the most important. No division of labor, no specialized skills, no Professional Masseuses or Data Analysts.

The basic premise of the anti-money enthusiast is totally flawed at it’s core: Even if all official US currency were destroyed tomorrow, something else would arise as money. Maybe cigarettes, candy bars, or cans of tuna, to name a few. Easily portable and largely non-perishable items known to be in wide demand would spontaneously step up to take a currency-like role in exchange. This has happened throughout history, especially whenever ruling authorities collapse and government-approved currency becomes worthless; people find something new to use as a currency. Society will spontaneously and voluntarily select and utilize a new currency unless some type of ruling apparatus can force everyone to engage only in pure barter, which would almost certainly require a true police state amongst police states. The anti-money enthusiast will never have his way unless he agrees that a campaign of mass terror and violent coercion on the part of the ruling authorities is justified to meet his ends.

This should be all I need to say on this topic. Currency is one of the most fantastic human inventions of all time. I will not even go into the anti-money enthusiasts claims that “production for profit” is wicked; that is worth it’s own article at a later date. The point is that without currency, society is doomed to stay at a largely primitive level.

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