Lack of Money is the Root of All Evil

Cover photo credit: Jeremy Yerse, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

So I saw the Lego® movie recently, and loved it. I’m even addicted to the theme song. However, there’s one part I really really disliked: the antagonist’s name is Lord Business. If you’ve seen the movie, think for a second: did Lord Business have anything at all to do with business? He was representative of conformity and was a symbol of oppression, but he didn’t actually represent business.

Spoiler Alert:

(Yes I know it was actually the son’s way of describing his father since he’s a stiff that wears a tie. Why not ‘Dr. Mean’ or something equally as bland then?)

His name simply serves to associate the negative connotation with business since children watching the movie don’t see the nuance behind the name. All throughout Hollywood there’s this undercurrent or suggestion that corporations or businesses are bad, along with anyone that makes a lot of money. Unless, of course, you make that money acting in or producing movies wink

This is a viewpoint that I’ve found doesn’t stop there, and permeates our society. If someone has accrued wealth or seeks to gain it, people resent this goal or assume that the person in question has done something dishonorable to gain that wealth. The pervasive idea is that business owners must have built wealth on the backs of others or taken wealth from someone else to acquire it. We demonize the goal of becoming rich as a result.

Why do we do this?

Why do we resent the creation of wealth? Why do we think that people who make money don’t deserve what they’ve earned (or at least not as much as they’ve earned)?

Sure, there are some people that are dishonest in their business dealings or pursue illegal courses of action. But those people are very much in the minority when we talk about all of the people that have wealth. I’m not talking about the Gordon Gecko “Greed is Good” version of wealth here. I’m simply saying that having money doesn’t mean that you acquired it dishonestly and in fact, usually this money is acquired honestly and in a way that benefits everyone around you.

I believe that wealth is created – making a new or better product, improving services, or creating an entirely new market makes money out of nothing. New technologies literally make markets out of thin air.

Wealth is not money. Wealth is the potential to generate value. For example, when you invest in stock and it appreciates over several years, where does that money come from? It represents value. Inflation can affect this process (and frankly so can too many economic factors to name), but that money is a side-effect or a representation of the true wealth, which is value.

When companies create valuable goods or services, do they actually take money from anyone? Nope. Willing consumers gladly traded dollars for some other kind of value – a value that could earn them even more money. The same holds true today. Companies (and owners, CEOs, etc) earn money by creating new or better products and services. If you think the value of something isn’t aligned with the cost, you can simply choose not to trade your dollars for it.

The creation of wealth does not mean that money has to be taken from one place to another – it can simply speed up the transfer of money, which represents values being traded. Wealth is not energy – it doesn’t have to be conserved, and is not finite (the amount of money in a country may be finite, but wealth also depends velocity of money and the two are not synonymous). Wealth can simply be created or grow when value is created via new resources or personal ingenuity.

Stop the Jealousy

Most of the time, this hatred of wealth boils down to avarice and jealousy. Wealth is not evil, and most of the time it’s certainly not ill-gotten. It’s a consequence that results from the creation of value that speeds up the velocity of money. It’s a measure of value, and the currency of that value happens to be money in most cases.

So why the hatred of wealth? People want what others have, and think for some reason that wealth should be equally distributed among people of unequal drive, ambition, and determination. Stop the social schadenfreude. Stop wanting other people to fail or hating other people’s successes and therefore marking business as evil.

I’ve seen this crazy idea in the tech sphere as well – the idea that companies, developers, or {insert any revenue-producing body} don’t deserve what they’ve earned. Since I work in the eCommerce space, I’ve literally heard or read store owners’ claims that “software companies don’t deserve to make so much money”.

Really? Do you make money from your store? Does that software make running your store easier or more efficient? Then whoever sold or created it has earned exactly all of the money that’s come their way because of the value that they’ve created.

Should I tell you that you don’t deserve the money from your store because you’re making more than I think you should, or that you deserve only part of what you’ve earned? Nope, because you must have created enough value for people to trade money to get that value, and I don’t care how many people are willing to pay you for it.

So long as wealth is derived from value-creation, there is absolutely nothing wrong with pursuing or acquiring it.

A New View of Wealth

A rising tide lifts all boats. Creating businesses and wealth provides employment opportunities for others and manufactures wealth by creating value that wasn’t present before. When people say that business owners don’t deserve the money they make because employees do the work, they’re putting the cart before the horse. Without the entrepreneur that had the vision and took the financial risk in starting the business, those people would have never made any money (or at least would have helped someone else to make it).

One of the best approaches to this concept is from Daniel Lapin in Thou Shall Prosper. He explains the Jewish imperative on generating wealth, as it’s viewed as a reward for helping others. If your product or service did nothing for others, no one would trade money for value. However, if people are willing to pay you for your time or goods, then you’re helping them to achieve what they want.

For me, this comes back to the idea of creating value. When wealth is based on value, it’s both right and moral. Not only is it a result of work and value created for others, but it also enables one to help friends and family to achieve their own goals, hopefully generate their own wealth, then continue the cycle.

Let’s stop telling people what they do or don’t deserve and all chase wealth, because if we’re chasing it, the only way to make the journey is to create value for and help those around us.

With that, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from George Bernard Shaw (though he has many great ones):

Photo credit: 5 Year Project

Lack of money is a lack of help or value created for others, and is not a moral path in itself, so let’s stop evangelizing it.