By Justus Sturtevant Editor in chief
As an economics major, I spend a lot of time dealing with money.
I’ve taken accounting classes where we track money, management classes where we make decisions about money, marketing classes where we learn how to make others spend money and economics classes where we try to understand money.
Even now, in my fourth year at Susquehanna, I am often surprised by the conversations I hear about money.
The other day, one of my professors exalted money as the primary motivator in a business setting. As he said this, I glanced around the room to gauge the reaction of the class around me; no one else seemed to think twice about his comment.
Before I go any further, I should probably qualify what I am about to say.
First, this is not an attack on the business school at Susquehanna; while I certainly see things from a different perspective than most of the department’s faculty and students, I hope that the comments I make in this piece do not come across as an evaluation of the school or its teachings.
Second, I understand that we live in a capitalist society, where money is used as a tool to drive the exchange of goods and to fuel economic growth. This article is certainly not an indictment of the modern economy, as I have neither the time nor the knowledge required for such an undertaking.
Instead, this piece is meant to start conversations, to cause critical evaluation where there may not have been before and hopefully to cause people to take a step back and see the system they have been living in their entire lives in a new light.
The first point I would like to make is something that I alluded to earlier: money is a tool.
I used this word very intentionally, because I believe it is something many of us have lost sight of.
The very nature of currency implies that it is only a means to an end. It was invented to improve upon the inefficiencies of the barter system.
Without money, it is impossible to guarantee that any two parties involved in an exchange of goods will get what they want in the most efficient way possible.
Money solves this inefficiency by placing an agreed upon value on the goods, which can be measured in a common system. It also allows for indirect trade of goods.
Today, so many of us view money as a goal itself. People work to make money. They choose their major and subsequent career path based on money. People stampede each other on Black Friday to save money.
Instead of a simple tool used to facilitate exchange, money has become the driving force of so much of what we do.
In economics, we measure nearly everything in money. In many cases, this makes sense. How do you value land or capital? Money. No problem.
But some of the areas we use money as a measure of value are a little less intuitive in my eyes.
For example, Bill Gates is worth approximately $82 billion dollars while the average American adult is worth around $300,000.
Think about that for a moment. That is not just saying Bill Gates is richer than everyone else; it is literally saying he has more value.
Principles of economics classes often uses money as the measure of utility, which is the satisfaction or happiness associated with an event or good. Can we really quantify happiness in this way?
Measuring utility in monetary units is clearly useful. It allows us to analyze things in ways that otherwise would not be possible.
Using money as a universal unit of measure does the same thing. It allows us to measure and compare things that otherwise are incompatible.
However, money as a universal measure is also a very dangerous thing. How much does it influence the way we see the world?
Earlier this week I watched an episode from the latest season of “Black Mirror,” a British anthology series that presents social commentary through fictitious stories.
The episode I watched, titled “Nosedive,” focused on a society where everyone was tied to a social rating—zero to five—which was constantly being updated by those with whom they interacted.
An individual’s rating influenced everything, from where people could live to what kind of service they received from businesses.
While certain elements of the episode were clearly hyperbolic, many aspects of it reflected our own society in my eyes.
Instead of these ratings, it’s money that drives so much in our society. We build country clubs that by their very nature exclude based on wealth. We build million dollar stadiums with suites and lounges that seperate the wealthiest spectators from the rest.
Money influences where you live, who you are friends with, how people treat you, what education you get and the list goes on.
This thing that was once just a simple tool to facilitate efficient trade has become a central part of our culture. Personally, I’m not sure it’s such a good thing.
Part of the reason I became an economics major is because I am genuinely fascinated by the way markets and trade works. Another reason I became an economics major though is because I am also genuinely fascinated by the control money has over so many of us.
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