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  •  Money as an index of choice. (3+ / 0-)
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    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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