Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 April 2020

Is money truly the root of all evil?

It is important to neither view wealth as inherently good or bad and get the balance right, says Zach Holz

The way you view money affects your spending and saving habits, as well as your personal wellbeing. Getty Images
The way you view money affects your spending and saving habits, as well as your personal wellbeing. Getty Images

It seems like half my Facebook feed these days is made up of posts from my more progressive friends and family members saying we should eat the rich.

This is not a new sentiment; railing against money and those who have it is a long and venerable tradition, and it's one that is often enshrined in religious traditions as well. In the Christianity that is so prevalent in my native US, the Bible is often misquoted to say that "money is the root of all evil" (the actual quote is the “love of money is the root of all evil”). Another popular phrase from the Bible is that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven".

If there is something inherently vile about money and its gain, does that mean we all should avoid it and live in poverty to avoid its ill effects?

Zach Holz

This attitude is certainly not limited to a religious context. Populists of all stripes have manipulated populations (and continue to do so) by calling out the evil nature of the landowners, slumlords, fat cats and rich corporatists that use society for their own greedy ends. And rich people certainly give the rest of us plenty of ammunition to aim back at their sleek, well-groomed faces. Corporate malfeasance and corruption are highlighted nearly every day, and there is certainly plenty out there that we haven't heard about yet, or may never come to light.

Some of us may even have been financially taken advantage of and have seen the negative effects of greed close up. I know of many expats here in the UAE who have had years of their savings taken as 'fees' by unscrupulous financial sharks. Their love of money certainly causes these financial predators to act in harmful ways.

But what is it about money that makes us view those that have it and the acquisition of it in such a negative light? After all, money has no will. It cannot itself act upon the world. It can buy things and experiences and services and give us options, but it can't murder or pollute or steal.

If there is something inherently vile about money and its gain, does that mean we all should avoid it and live in poverty to avoid its ill effects? After all, our lives would certainly be much simpler and easier if we didn't have to spend so much time and effort chasing money.

As far as I can see, money isn't good or evil, it is simply an amplifier. A single poor person cannot cause much harm, even with terrible intent. But a corporation, loaded with cash, can sicken and kill thousands of people, or even millions through negligence or the pursuit of profit. When people have a great deal of money, it can lead them to let their bad habits have free reign, with nothing to control their worst impulses and addictions.

But money can also amplify our ability to do good in the world. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and their partners are credited with saving over 122 million lives through their childhood vaccination programmes, and nearly eradicating several tropical diseases. The massive fortune that Elon Musk received from the sale of PayPal has allowed him to start companies he believes can help save the planet from climate change and explore space.

If you want to influence governments to pass helpful laws for issues you care about, you need money behind you. Even some of our favourite fictional characters reflect this; Batman and Iron Man are both billionaires who help save the planet on a regular basis. The fact that their nemeses are also often wealthy only further illustrates this point.

How you view money, whether you have been raised to see it as good or evil or desirable or something to spurn, has a lot of control over your actions towards it. If you think that only rich people are evil, you may not make choices that could garner you financial security and may leave you in a place of hardship your whole life. It may support your decision to spend every dirham you get your hands on, because you don't want to accumulate a soul-destroying hoard.

On the other hand, if you have been raised to think that the pursuit of money is the whole point of life, you may sacrifice your family, your friendships and your health while chasing it. Many of my students at my expensive international school rarely see their parents because they are often travelling for work. That time will never return, and it is often given up in the pursuit of riches.

It is crucial to have a good relationship with money, spending and saving. If we don't, we can be stuck in terrible jobs or lacking the motivation to develop our skills and knowledge. Money itself is not good or bad, but it is something for which we often trade our precious time. Getting the balance right can lead to a happy, stress-free life and the ability to make the social changes we want to see. Getting this wrong can destroy us, our families, our communities and the planet.

Dubai schoolteacher Zach Holz (@HappiestTeach) documents his journey towards financial independence on his personal finance blog The Happiest Teacher

Updated: February 20, 2020 02:45 PM

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