Intent Blog

To Pay or Not to Pay… Is Money the Problem?

Economics is commonly defined as the study of the allocation of scarce resources. There is one assumption built into the core of contemporary economics. The assumption is that being rational or acting rationally is a matter of maximizing self-interest.

The assumption that underlies almost all economic theory these days is the assumption that the only goal of the truly rational person is to maximize their self-interest.

This image is taken from Dave Belden’s article.

The conjunction of the apparent scarcity of resources along with the understanding of humanity as self-interested leads inevitably to rampant inequality where the majority cannot share adequately in the scarce resources.

In an article titled “Money:Bridging Present Reality and Vision” Dave Belden argues that the best solution to resolve the fundamental inequalities which result from the current economic status quo is to get rid of money and exchange-based interaction altogether.

Dave Belden has in fact come up with a sophisticated articulation of how Society may remain functional in the event that we had to get rid of money. He envisions a world of willing gifting and sharing as a substitute for our current system of placing a monetary value on everything and providing services only for monetary remuneration. Dave Belden has a vision of a society where people’s endeavor is aimed not at self-gain but rather at altruism and beneficence. He wants a world where we do not act to acquire resources for ourselves but rather act to make a contribution to the society we live in. He thinks we can get to this world by getting rid of money and an exchange-based economy.

I truly appreciate the nobility of Belden’s vision and agree that a change in the current economic status quo is required. I am however not convinced that such drastic measures are required.

The issue that underpins the rampant inequality with regards to the distribution of scarce resources is not primarily a result of a money and exchange-based economy, rather it is an issue of the intent of the individuals engaging in the economy.

The cause of the problem of inequality and poverty is a result of the underlying assumption of economic theory regarding what it means to be a rational agent.

The problems we have are the result of rampant self-interest. Money has lent itself as an efficient tool for producing the inequalities that will inevitably result from the conjunction of rampant self interest and scarce resources. To blame money however is to blame the tool and not the way of being that directly causes the problem.

Blaming money in this instance seems equivalent to blaming guns for the existence of violence.

It is true that guns lend themselves as excellent tools for doing violence but to blame them for the existence of violence is to fail to understand the human genesis of violence.

The key variable that needs to change is the intent of the individuals acting in the economy. This can change even in the event that money remains the primary tool for economic engagement. There is nothing inherently malevolent about money. Money is a tool and it can be used to do good or it can be used to do bad. How it is used is entirely dependent upon the intent of the individual using it. What we require is that ever increasing numbers of people concern themselves about what they can contribute rather than what they can gain from an engagement. It seems that this is the core of Belden’s vision. This can be achieved even if we do not get rid of money.

I think then it is wise to caution that we should not throw the baby out with the bath water.

We need to endeavor to generate benevolent intent within ourselves and those around us. This should be our only concern.

Assad holds a Masters in Philosophy from the University of the Witwatersrand and is currently a PhD candidate. He is the editor of the Schuitema blog and is a regular facilitator of the company's Care and Growth and Mentoring for Mastery programs. He also has 5 years experience lecturing and tutoring Philosophy at Wits.