I hate money. I hate having to think about it. I hate having to use it to measure what’s valuable. I hate that amassing it is a measure of a person’s worth. I hate that some human beings’ inability to gather enough of it means they should be thrown away. I hate the way it dominates all our lives, the way it dominates society. The thing I hate the most about money is that it isn’t neutral when it should be.
Money is a tool. What makes it so useful is its fungibility. If I want to buy groceries, I don’t have to haggle over how many essays on what topics I should provide the grocer. I can just give them some money. Money solves the problem of fair and even exchange rather neatly. Every powerful tool is also a weapon, though, particularly when it is also a locus of power and influence. Money isn’t merely a method of payment — its use, its disbursement, its function in society is tied up in notions of reward and punishment. Who is deserving of possessing massive amounts of money? The answer is nearly always someone who already possesses a massive amount of money. Who isn’t deserving of having any? The people who already don’t have any. There’s a self-serving tautological argument built into the way we talk about access to money that’s thankfully being exposed.
Howard Schultz, the billionaire who founded Starbucks is running for the U.S. presidency on a platform of billionaires being an aggrieved class. Billionaires, he argues, should be called “people of wealth.” Yes, one of the richest people on the planet is trying to imply that the term “billionaire” is some sort of slur. A recent Washington Post opinion column asked “Is criticizing billionaires the new wearing blackface?” It’s such a nonsensical premise I can’t even parse out what it’s supposed to mean. Criticizing wealth hoarders and participating in virulent, anti-Black racism aren’t in the same logical categories. There isn’t any rational way to make a meaningful comparison between the two. The point that’s being made, though, is that billionaires have had quite enough of being bullied about their massive fortunes, and they’re not going to take it anymore. Personally, I don’t understand them not just sailing away on their super yachts to their private islands and being glad no one has brought back the guillotine. How intent they are on ruling is going to be their undoing.
The notion of who is deserving and why is being examined more closely than it has in a long time. It’s getting harder and harder to sell the notion that it’s possible for a person to work 20,000 times harder than someone else. The idea that it’s possible for anyone to earn a billion dollars is being met with more and more skepticism and even outright derision. It’s becoming clearer that the narrative is a scam.
Other people hate money too. They hate having to organize every part of their lives around it. They hate having everything they require to survive (food, shelter, clothing, medicine) being held ransom to it. They hate their children’s futures being held at gunpoint by it. They hate the constant, prickling fear of living pay check to pay check. They hate the indignity of low wages for honest work (if they’re even paid at all anymore). They hate money and how it’s used to control and demean them and coerce their participation in the injustices being perpetrated against them. They hate feeling enslaved.
Billionaires are falling into the trap of believing we all want the opportunity to skim off the top the way they do and hoard gold like dragons. They think we all want to be like them. We don’t. Not everyone is driven by covetous acquisitiveness. Most of us just want to be treated fairly. That’s it. We want to stop being held hostage. Money is an abstraction. It’s not possible for us to take our hatred, anger, and fear out on it. My message to Schultz and his ilk is: Share, and do so fairly before it’s too late.