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View Diary: Morning Feature: Streaming into Success (102 comments)

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  •  Money as a medium of influence (4+ / 0-)

    Some of the standard definitions of money include:

    Money as a store of value.
    Money as a medium of exchange.

    To which I might add one of my own:

    Money as a self-replicating virus.

    That last one sounds a bit bitter, probably won't catch on for that reason. But that's kind of how I view what's been happening on Wall Street since Ronald Reagan declared Morning in America. Of course, the first rule for any successful virus is not to kill your host, at least not before you can replicate yourself into another host. Unfortunately, the current, virulent version of the money virus has come close to killing us, and may yet. The harmful effect of the virus is to destroy the "pro-biotic" function of money as a store of value (by causing inflation and/or deflation) and medium of exchange (by freezing credit availability). And we could note that one implication of the globalized economy is that there is effectively only one host any more.

    I do like your suggestion to think of money as a medium of influence. Economics as psychology, influence as power. It is in the nature of influence that even a small increment, applied consistently over a long period of time, can have large effects. If there is a small money reward to be had each day by behaving a certain way, after a while almost everyone will adopt that behavior.

    Something I've been thinking about lately is, the wonderful things that can be accomplished if we take money out of the picture. In other words, if we are able to keep 'money as influence' from being the thing that prevents good things from happening. It is my belief that the world is full of people who would love to help their fellow humans, if only money were not an obstacle. Teachers and nurses, for example, who certainly don't go into those jobs to get rich, all they ask is the means to support a basic lifestyle so they can do what they really love, which is helping others.

    Personal story: a friend and I, two retired guys, just finished and installed a handsome new sign for a local community health clinic. Neither of us charged for our work, and the clinic paid only for materials. The result was a much nicer sign, for a much lower cost, than if the clinic had had to go through a conventional commercial process. That sign will be there for decades, providing a steady trickle of whatever benefits quality, grace, and proportion confer to the social and psychological environment (there must be some, because their price is quite high if you go through the money medium). In this example, money was not the incentive for a good outcome, we were simply fortunate to be able to dodge it as an obstacle.  

    •  Thanks for sharing your example. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DBunn, NCrissieB

      Your anecdote about personal experience is exactly what I'd like people to think about more often.

      Taking money out of the picture — or at least becoming aware of how money can distort the picture — is part of my goal in talking about money in terms of influence. The standard definitions you mention seem descriptive; unfortunately they can become deceptively restrictive when we apply them purely out of habit.

      By the way, I deliberately use the word influence instead of power because the P word seems to carry some connotations that distract people. Exploring the psychological assumptions I see buried in the P-word's baggage might become another essay someday. :)

      I think of influence as a common denominator in human interaction. Not the lowest, but actually the most important. I tend to translate a lot of descriptions and explanations in terms of influence. I find that transformation helps me to turn things sideways, to see some of our hidden assumptions and sometimes, to see some of our hidden solutions.

      Thanks for continuing the conversation.


    •  Money as an index of choice. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DBunn, etbnc, FarWestGirl

      I agree with both "medium of influence" and the other definitions the two of you have offered.  I'll offer another: money is an index of choice.

      To use etbnc's apple example, if you have 24 apples and potentially 30 people who'd like an apple for lunch, how do you choose which of them gets an apple?  There are a lot of ways you might do it: first come first served, which people you like, even who can make you laugh.  More commonly, who offers you something you need or want (a cookie?) in exchange for one of the apples you've brought.  Or you could put a money price on each apple and use who can afford and is willing to pay that money price as your index of choice.

      That's not quite the same as "medium of exchange," because it recognizes that word: choice.  Those with a limited supply of some good or service must choose, somehow, those with whom they'll share that good or service.

      The converse is true as well; those with money must choose what they do with it.  The less money you have, the harder those choices become, because you have more choices you could make - even more choices you need to make - than than you have money with which to choose.  But however little we have, we're still making choices.

      The word choice brings in non-economic dimensions like morality and wisdom.  Our indices of choice have moral implications and reflect our moral values.  If you distribute your apples according to whom you like best, that quite a lot about you.  If you distribute them first come first served, maybe you think randomness is better than making decisions.  If you give them to people who make you laugh, that says you value laughter (at least your own).  And if you give them to people who have money, that also says something about you and whether you think money is a moral index of choice (at least in distributing those apples that day).

      Similarly, our spending choices also have a moral dimension.  In God's Politics, author Jim Wallis writes: "a budget is a moral document."  Whether it's your household, a business, or the government, how we choose to spend money is a statement of our moral values, of what we think is more or less important than what else.

      Defining money as an index of choice also breaks the magical spell of money as an objective index of human worth.  It's not objective.  It's a choice, and it's not always the most moral or most socially useful choice (think health care).

      One of the things we're exploring this week is how our "opportunity windows" are often capricious.  The real "lesson" of Outliers is that most of us probably could have done a lot more than we imagine, had different opportunities been opened to us at key points in our lives.  Those windows can never be totally uniform, but letting so many of them be so dependent on money is not "objective;" it's a social choice.  Which opportunities each of us decides to seize on and which we let slide are choices, and they're not entirely individual choices.

      All of those choices have moral dimensions, and to the extent that we participate in those choices, we are morally responsible for them.

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