A while ago a friend of mine posted something on FaceBook about how money cannot buy you integrity. I responded in my typical snarky fashion that while money can’t buy you integrity, it can certainly buy you the appearance of it. This is, after all how advertising works. Don’t believe me? Look at any political add, ever. They’re either selling you a “bright shiny future” and then sticking a politicians name and face on the end to create a positive association, or their selling your a “dark sad dystopia” and then sticking their opponents name and face on the end for a negative association. This is in a nut-shell how political advertising works.
All snark aside, my friend was correct. You cannot buy integrity. You have to earn it, usually the hard way. The same is true, as the popular sayings go, for happiness and even love (although I’d argue in the case of the latter what they really mean by “money can’t buy you love” is that money can’t buy you trust).
These are not new ideas. Besides Jesus’ memorable quote about the odds for rich people entering into heaven, he provided a smashing good illustration of his opinion about money in the church proper when he went after the money changers in the old temple with a whip. Even now, years after I stopped being a believer I still get chills at this action, giving the proper Californian response to anything awesome, “Dude!”
So this got me thinking. If money is so pernicious then what can you buy with it? As it happens I think there are a whole lot of things perfectly suited for my money. Books, probably tops the list, followed by anything my wife or son wants or needs. (Although, to be fair, “wants” and “needs” in this context is strictly limited to the realm of realistic.) Chocolate also comes to mind, although I’d qualify it with “good” chocolate. But even this leads to problems. Books I have discovered can lead one to be overweight (don’t look at me like that, you know its true) The same can be said for chocolate. Giving too much to a child, I am told, can lead them to be lazy and spoiled. Apparently the same is true if they are an adult and poor. Although curiously this phenomena is limited to only government hand-outs. When individuals give to the poor, or when churches give to them, then they somehow don’t become lazy and spoiled. I suspect my many conservative friends will tell me its not that government money makes people more lazy than money from the church, its that the government is giving away this money without their consent. I find this argument (if in fact this is what they would say) more compelling, but then it just makes me think the issue is not about the money itself but about who is in control of it, which is a whole nother weird thing. (one weird thing at a time, please)
So if books and money make one fat, and giving money away is problematic, then what can one buy that doesn’t taint their everlasting soul? I don’t have an answer to this. I’m not the teacher here. Hell I’m still stuck in the back of the class with my hand up. But what I’ve found is there are some things you can buy that do make life better.
Money can buy you time. This is pretty straight forward concept, but a surprisingly large number of people miss it. We sell our own personal time to our bosses in exchange for money. This is, after all, how employment works. But the equation of time=money also works just as well in the reverse. One can trade money for time. Need a dress hemmed for a date on Saturday, but don’t have the time? A dry-cleaner or a tailor will be happy to do the work for you, at a cost. Need a computer part sent to your home by tomorrow? Amazon will be happy to ship it next-day, at a cost.
Of course, there are problems with this. You need to have enough “extra” money laying around to afford the expense, and the need has to be greater than the cost, but there are plenty of times when both of these are true. The classic example of this being the vacation, where you trade your regular income for time to not come work. Of course, many employees have some form of vacation pay in their contracts so their bosses in effect pay them to not come to work, but the self-employed and the unemployed don’t have this advantage. And don’t even get me started on those poor souls who work at home raising their children. For them there is no true vacation. Every where they go, they are still on the job.
All of this leads me to conclude that there is one other thing money can buy, and that is peace. You may not have enough money to buy that beautiful house in a remote part of Hawaii, but almost all of us can afford to rent the experience of living there, for a week at least. And oh the peace that comes to your soul when you do. You may not have the spare $25,000,000 laying around to help stop Ebola like Mark Zuckerberg did, but you can still contribute to Medecins Sans Frontieres. And yes, I’ll bet you’ll feel better afterwards. You may not have enough money to stop the grinding poverty in Africa and Asia, but you can give to companies who will oversee the work for you like Heifer International. And yeah, that feels pretty good to.
Of course all of this requires that you have “extra” money, and extra money is a rare thing for most people, especially the poor who are ironically the ones who need it the most. I suspect they could use a vacation from their poverty about as much as you and I can use one from your jobs. Maybe vacations should be a part of welfare. Or maybe people on welfare should be able to select a charity so portion of their un-earned income is sent to those with even more needs. Is that just too weird, or should I go looking for a whip?