Is money the root of all evil, or is it just a technology that makes our lives more efficient? Should some things not be for sale? This week on Philosophy Talk, we’ll be discussing money: where it comes from, what it is now, and what it could become in the future.
What Is It
Money, they say, does not buy happiness; but having none can make life extraordinarily hard. Whether we have a little or a lot, we are all familiar with how much money matters in our daily lives. But what exactly is money? Is it a commodity that evolved spontaneously from systems of barter? Or is it purely an invention of government, used as a means to pay off tax liability? What difference would the answer make to things like job creation, inflation, and government spending? And how do modern inventions like cryptocurrency fit into a theory of money? Josh and Ray run up the bill with Graham Hubbs from the University of Idaho, editor of Pragmatism, Law, and Language.
Ray and Josh open the show with a brief discussion on money – its forms and origins, uses, and potential problems. Given the recent resurgence of cryptocurrency and government response to Covid-19, these conversations may prove useful as our idea and treatment of money continue to evolve.
Ray and Josh welcome the show’s guest, Graham Hubbs, a professor of philosophy at the University of Idaho. Graham acknowledges Ray’s point on the origin of money – a tool for government taxation – as well as Josh’s example of R. A. Radford – bartering. Furthermore, Graham describes four main functions of money. He then proposes that they first analyze money as a concept before considering money as objects. This in turn raises several questions. Where does the practice and concept come from? How do we use it to assign prices, especially when some things seem invaluable? How do we address problems like transgenerational wealth accumulation and monopolies? These are some of the questions the hosts and guest consider.
In the last segment of the show, Josh questions what the world would look like if Graham had total power to address the aforementioned problems with money. In response, Graham proposes implementing an education campaign to teach youth about economics, history, and anthropology. In light of questions about funding this new curriculum, Ray more broadly asks how much of citizens’ needs as a whole should be paid for by the government. Finally, the hosts discuss the connection between ideas and money with a brief concluding note on Bitcoin.
- Roving Philosophical Report (4:49): Holly J. McDede offers insight on the arbitrary nature of money. She draws from Scott Fitzpatrick, a professor of anthropology at the University of Oregon who has closely studied stone money called “rai.” On the island of Yap, these large stone disks were traded, gifted, and displayed at the owner’s residence, or in many cases, traded without moving physically. Now, these abandoned stones can still be found throughout the island, though they are perhaps not nearly as valuable as they once were.
- Sixty-Second Philosopher (46:02): Ian Shoales addresses the recent scandals concerning Kelly Loeffler, particularly the politician’s wealth, private properties, and career. Shoales also acknowledges the protests regarding Covid-19 supposedly impeding on personal freedom as well as its ties to broader political and economic systems.
Is money the root of all evil?
Or is it just a technology that makes our lives more efficient?
Should some things just not be for sale?