The concept of money

I'm not a communist.  I swear. I like money, as a concept.  I think it's useful.  I even think the free market is good for a lot of things. I am technically a socialist, in that I think there are a lot of things for which the free market is a very bad solution.  But that's not what I want to talk about.

I think that as an abstract premise, money is quite a good thing.  But I also think that the concept of money can be corrupted, and that's what we see a lot of in the version of capitalism we have in the United States.

I saw a commercial a lot like this one earlier tonight.  (I couldn't find a clip of the actual commercial I saw.)  It's for a gas card, and points out all the money you can save if you just spend enough at the right places.

It's common wisdom that "You can't get something for nothing."  The philosophical validity of that claim aside,* in our culture we're encouraged to try to get things for nothing.  The atmosphere presented by stock markets, gas cards, rewards programs, IRAs, and mortgages pressures us towards a view of money that suggests we should be trying to game the system -- that financial success means being good enough at 'money' to avoid providing full value in money for the goods or services we're asking for.

The fact that this is basically a description of the simplified version of an "economic bubble" we heard so much about in the 2000's is troubling.  But that said, this all does work out quite well for people who really are good at money.  There's a mind-bogglingly elaborate system that invites you to try to exploit it, and the more complicated a system, the easier it is to find an exploit.

For the rest of us, though, what's left is a culture that encourages us not to develop a coherent philosophy of money that suits our needs.  We're expected to want more than we can afford, and told that if we work hard enough in the right ways, we really can turn our low-income jobs into high-income lifestyles.

I don't think this is the only problem with the American economy or with American culture, but it's a significant one.  It's the same sort of problem as the cult-of-thin beauty expectations that encourage us all to look photoshopped.

I don't have an easy answer for this problem.  I don't have any sort of answer at all, really.  But, like I've been saying a lot lately, I think a big part of the solution to the problem is just understanding.  Exploring the issues with our systems and understanding that they're not the only option is ultimately all it really takes to make change happen.  Spreading that understanding is a whole task unto itself, and ultimately it's going to be someone's job to act on that understanding.  But that doesn't mean that, for the individual, understanding isn't something huge you can do.

Personally, I'm going to be trying to develop a more coherent philosophy of money.  Best wishes, talk to you tomorrow.

*I think that it's not so much a right or wrong statement as it is a close-to-useless, non-communicative statement that contains too much ill-defined presumption to convey a coherent point.