Editor’s Note: In yesterday’s Weekend Edition, Casey Research founder Doug Casey wondered: how much money is enough?
Today, Doug Casey explains why your attitude toward money reveals your attitude toward life itself. This essay originally appeared in Doug’s hit book, Crisis Investing for the Rest of the 90s.
Attitudes toward money are a psychological watershed that reflect on every aspect of life. Your attitude toward money reveals your attitude toward life itself. There are two schools among those who take the trouble to formulate their thoughts.
One school, the dominant view of society, sees money itself, or at least the love of money, as the root of all evil. It is viewed as the root of divorces and lawsuits, robberies and murders, lying and fraud. But money, although evil to them, is considered a necessary evil, and that thought helps to rationalize the effort to get more of it.
The other school, to which I belong, sees money as a moral good, representing all the good things in life you want to have, do, and provide for others. Insofar as you spend the days of your life working for it, money represents concentrated life. This view doesn't need to rationalize the quest for wealth.
It is odd that the “money is evil” school is usually seen as morally superior – more detached, spiritual, and concerned about ethereal values. It is odd because when these folks attempt to make money, they are living a lie and being hypocrites. If they do not make money, they are being self-destructive, parasitic, and a burden to others.
Loathing money in principle, but being forced to deal with it in practice, presents what Marx would call an internal contradiction. It calls for constant justification and a constant effort to make reality conform to a belief system, rather than matching the belief system to reality. That is why legislation on economic matters is almost universally disastrous: it amounts to no more than a dramatization of the fantasies and wishful thinking of those who draft it. Such legislation would be a joke, not to be taken seriously, except for the inconvenience and destruction it causes.
Money, wealth, and possessions are a hot button for people in general; they bring up an area of “charge” that's almost tangible. That kind of reaction is predictable in areas of life (sex, politics, and religion are others) fraught with irrational motives and impulses. Because it is so highly charged, many people have trouble confronting money directly. Confronting it doesn't mean studying conventional economics, full of bizarre mathematical formulas describing abstractions that have nothing to do with the real world. Confronting money – growing comfortable with the concept – is a subjective, introspective process; economics, after all, is really a division of philosophy. As with all “charged” areas of life, when you confront it squarely, money is no more intimidating or confusing than a flower or an ice cream cone.
Antagonism toward money goes beyond dollars and bank accounts, however. From an economic viewpoint, money is a medium of exchange and a store of value; its main value is to represent other goods. So, what do money-haters think about the material universe that money represents? The logical conclusion is that they don't like the world at large, or at least they are very uncomfortable with it. That is hardly a formula for spiritual serenity and is doubly strange for people who pretend to being detached, spiritual, and ethereal.
Anti-capitalists tend to view money as an artificial and deadly barrier to personal evolution, when it is really an integral stepping-stone to further evolution. People who blame money for the evils of the world suffer from a lack of responsibility at best; assigning blame isn't an optimal way of making evils go away. In fact, readily assigning blame elsewhere has caused most of the poverty, war, and general misery that history catalogues.
Attitudes toward money tend to be ingrained. The philosophical notions underpinning the way one deals with the world cannot be swayed by written arguments and appeals to logic. Where the roots to the problem are psychological or spiritual, an intellectual understanding doesn't really help.
THE BIG PICTURE
I notice that – notwithstanding their philosophical aversion to money – as people get older, they seem to get more, not less, money-oriented. This is somewhat counter-intuitive; you might think that the older you get and the less time you have left, you would focus more on inner values. But instead, once people hit middle age, they seem to become more grasping and to try to clutch the material world to themselves ever more strongly, at the very time they should be trying to let go of it. It is perverse, but humanity is replete with contradictions.
So, despite most people's philosophical aversion to money, they do their best to accumulate more and spend less as they get older. Those who are successful leave an estate that can be distributed to their children or to charity.
Certainly it is nice to have a bequest from a parent or “rich uncle”; sometimes it can be put to good use and generate a great deal of pleasure. As often as not, however, it can lead to indolence, dissipation, and guilt. Receiving the unearned often leads to guilt; compounded with the prevailing views on money, it is not surprising that heirs often suffer from low self-esteem.
That is partially why giving money away to charities is appealing. But most charities turn into vehicles for their organizers; board members and executives travel first class, hire secretaries, pay themselves fat fees, and create bureaucracies whose existence eventually becomes more important than the original objective of the charity. And charities can wind up destroying those they are supposed to help, just as government welfare programs often do. Certainly Ford and Carnegie would have a fit if they could see what the foundations bearing their names have done with their money. I suspect they would have sooner put it in a big pile and burned it.
So, you might ask yourself, what's the real meaning of money? And, for that matter, what's the meaning of life? Once you have enough money, you have the leisure to address the bigger question. People who are barely making ends meet have less time for philosophical reflection.
It is understandable that when you think about how much money you “need,” how much time you should spend, and the risk you should take to accumulate the stuff, it puts you in a quandary. The enormity of the task and its seeming futility cause some people to not even try to become wealthy. The attitude toward money they have absorbed from society often persuades them they have chosen wisely in eschewing wealth.
I have had many millions of dollars pass through my hands. But much more valuable than the money are the experiences and knowledge I've gained from the money I no longer have. We come into the world with nothing and we die with nothing. But in between, while we are living in the material world, we try to lay claim to it. That is natural because the first imperative of life is to survive, and the more we have, the easier it is to do so. It leads back to the condition of those who are anti-money or anti wealth; by hating these things, they, by implication, hate life.
Even while we are alive, our ownership of things is fleeting. A fire, a flood, a war, or some action of the government could take it all away in an instant. And even though the situation may, at that moment, seem hopeless, it is not really serious. You finally realize that what you really own are not your possessions, but your experiences, skills, and knowledge. That is all that's really essentially you, and that can never be taken from you. Should you lose your material possessions, as has happened to millions of people throughout the world throughout history, then it is your essential self that will allow you to regain possessions, if you so choose.
Doug Casey is a multimillionaire speculator and the founder of Casey Research. He literally wrote the book on profiting during economic turmoil. Doug’s book, Crisis Investing, spent multiple weeks as number one on The New York Times best sellers list and was the best-selling financial book of 1980. Doug has been a regular guest on national television, including spots on CNN, Merv Griffin, Charlie Rose, Regis Philbin, Phil Donahue, and NBC News.
Doug and his team of analysts write The Casey Report, one of the world’s most respected investment advisories. Each month, The Casey Report provides specific, actionable ideas to help subscribers make money in stocks, bonds, currencies, real estate, and commodities. You can try out The Casey Report risk-free by clicking here.