Let us be clear: the Bible does not say that money is the root of all evil–it says that the love of money is the root of all evil. Money is merely a means of exchange. I give my time and energy to some pursuit, and I am given money in return, so that I can exchange it for what I need to sustain myself and others. It’s a mere convenience. Without money, we would be spending much of our time trading and bartering.
As societies grew more sophisticated, more complex economic systems evolved. These systems are based on conceptual models, and they espouse certain values. This country’s system of capitalism assumes that (1) competition is good and yields the best products at the lowest price for the consumer; and (2) when it becomes out of balance in one way or another, the system will “right” itself by market forces. It is self-regulating, and ultimately serves the greater good.
All this sounds dandy–except that it just doesn’t work quite that way. The system doesn’t take into account (1) the endless and impossible demand for “growth” and “products” (as in GNP), which overtaxes our natural resources; (2) the cost of production to the earth and to living creatures (these costs are dismissed as “externalities”); (3) the needs of those people who fall through the cracks when the market doesn’t need them any more; (4) and finally, what this system does to the character and integrity of people and their relationships in a given culture. It is perhaps this number four that is the least mentioned, but that is perhaps the most pervasive and the most dangerous, for it infects almost every element of our living.
Consider the following:
1. Drug companies spend more money on gifts and stipends to doctors than they spend on research or consumer advertising. They give free drug samples, free food, free medical refresher courses, and they pay doctors handsome stipends for marketing lectures.
2. The popular culture offers very little of value, and yet billions upon billions are spent on producing artistically degraded films, derivative music, and escape literature. Meantime, serious poets and independent filmmakers, artists and musicians who have much to offer, languish without support.
3. We are inundated with advertising of all kinds, all day every day. Billboards ruin our cityscapes and countrysides; radio and television ads can hardly be avoided. There is no escape.
4. News shows are really entertainment now, with very little hard news or enlightening analysis–”if it bleeds, it leads.” Their job is not to thrive, but simply to survive. So how are citizens truly informed in what is supposed to be a democracy?
5. We have been told since the ’50′s that we need more (of everything from beautiful hair to bigger houses), and we can’t get off the cycle of getting and spending. There is never enough.
6. Our best and brightest students, we are told, have been majoring in “finance” for years and years now, and their goal is to get a lot of money–quickly.
I could go on . . . and so could you, but we both get the picture. How did we get stuck with a system that seems to bring out the worst in so many of our people, that sets people apart instead of bringing them together, that is laying waste to the earth?
You tell me–I don’t know. But I do know this: the first step in change is awareness. We have accepted the assumptions of this economic system far too long, and we are sick of heart and sick of character. We need to stop. (Well, maybe the economic downturn pushed us to this step.) We need to re-imagine how we want to live together and how we might more equitably share the resources of the earth.
As President Obama said today in his press conference, “These changes won’t be done in the first 100 days, or in the first year. But one day we will look back, and we will say, yes, this is when we started, this was when the great change began.”
How do you want to live? Begin to imagine it. Then begin to go there, as fully as you are able. We don’t have a moment to waste.