Is money the root of all evil?
It is a common saying that ďmoney is the root of all evil.Ē According to the Random House Dictionary of Proverbs and Sayings, the phrase first appeared in English circa 1000 A.D. The saying originated in the New Testament. ďFor the love of money is the root of all evil.Ē Timothy, 6:10.
Itís obviously one of those sayings that has as great deal of staying power, having been around for two thousand years and still going strong. But how fair is it to blame all evil, or even any evil, on a medium of exchange?
I think it would be a much more accurate statement to say that the root of most evil is manís desire for status; either greed to increase oneís status, or jealousy over losing in the status game to others. Money is the most obvious measure of oneís status, so itís easy to confuse the two, but they are certainly not the same thing at all. Money is just one way of keeping score. Blaming money for evil is like blaming the scoreboard for the baseball game.
Itís easy to point to many evils committed for the sake of status in which money wasnít involved at all. For example, figure skater Tonya Harding conspired to have Nancy Kerrigan assaulted so she wouldnít be able to compete in the Olympics. Now itís true that there is some money involved in winning an Olympic medal, but Olympic athletes are mostly motivated simply by the desire to be the champ, and that status that brings them in their own world of athletics.
Then thereís the story of O.J. Simpson, who killed his ex-wife and the man he thought was her boyfriend. O.J. was motivated by jealousy over the fact that some other man was more successful with his ex-wife than he was. Jealousy over women is a very common cause of evil. It has nothing to do with money, but everything to do with status and being jealous of another manís greater success with a particular woman.
One should never expect the Bible to be consistent, and sure enough, it isnít when it comes to evil. One of the very first acts of evil committed in the Bible has nothing to do with money. In the Book of Genesis, Cain kills his brother Abel because he is jealous that Abelís offering to God was better received than his own. He is jealous that Abel has achieved higher status than him.
Idealists wonder why we canít live in a world where everyone is equal, and therefore where there is no greed or jealousy resulting from status differences. Unfortunately, they overlook the fact that our desire to have higher status than others is part of our human nature, and nothing can change it. The goal of communism was that an economic system would be created where no one would be rich or poor, where everyone would have equal wealth. The problem is that such a system is impossible. Manís desire to rise ahead of others is too strong, and money is not the only thing that man competes over. And because all men are not equal in ability and other characteristics, no matter what the playing field is, some will rise ahead and others will fall behind, and those who are behind will feel intense jealousy, even if the competition is about something other than money.
One might even say that communism itself is a great evil, and the root of communism is jealousy on the part of its adherents that others have more money than they do.
Desire for money, or greed for money if you prefer to use stronger language (reminiscent of a scene from the movie Wall Street), is a good thing when people play by the rules, and when their desire for money and status results in better ways of doing business and in inventions that help people and that make the world a better place. Desire for money and status is only bad when people do bad things in order to obtain what they desire. And even then, itís not ďgreedĒ thatís really bad, but the person whoís doing the bad things whoís bad.
The goal of a just government should not be to punish people for being successful in obtaining money, but to create rules to ensure that competition for money results in good for society.
posted Tuesday, May 04, 2004