I have an essay on how I would like to see money. For me, the concept of money was challenging to learn as a tool. If you enjoy this site and the ideas that it conveys, please contribute how you see fit.

A Human Based Value of Money

Christopher James Munson Jr

As we peer into society’s future, we–you and I, and our government-must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

-FDR Farewell Address, 1961

When we speak of money, the most common association is that of a bill or perhaps numbers on a screen.

What does money signify? It depends on who you ask. For many, it represents a limiting reality ensuring a cycle impossible to break: work, pay rent, work, pay rent, etc. In this scenario, money represents little more than a necessity like water or food. This essay is not directed directly towards those, though they may still benefit from the mindset. While I would like to imagine a world with more personal freedom, I do not think money will deliver that solution. What I would like to establish here is a way to view money for those who are fortunate enough not to need it. What I hope to provide here is an antidote to a source of greed or worry about a resource that can be an unfortunate disconnection from life.

In an ideal world money would represent a value-exchange. Money at its core, can only be a placeholder for value. It is not inherently valuable. It has certain utility if one were desperate: like kindling, tissue paper, and butt wipes. Naturally, we place such trust in the medium of exchange as it is far more useful than as a butt wipe. While it is good to place trust in money, placing ones being, or meaning for existence, in it is a result of unconscious behavior. In history, one can find examples of hyper-inflation devaluing a central currency to the point that people use the paper as kindling or leave it completely and return to bartering. Imagine working a job for the sole purpose of gaining money just to have it plummet in its value! It can be a slow plummet or a fast plummet. The United States, for example, left the gold standard in 1933. The value of the dollar has slowly declined since then; it is also possible that goods and services, on average, have grown in price significantly more than wages have. Whether or not the dollar declined in value or prices rose very quickly is hard to say. A credit-back government printed currency is called a Fiat currency and I think this limits the value-exchange of a currency greatly.

Without a proper system of checks and balances, a Fiat currency can greatly influence what consumers can exchange it for. Since the value of one of its currency must be manipulated with interests of “shareholders” in mind[1], the Fiat currency runs significant risk of gross manipulation. The “value” of things (goods, services, etc.) de-couples from an appreciation-based exchange when markets are corrected on the large scale without considering the small scale. The question, for example, of “What is the value of a United States undergraduate education?” becomes difficult to explore. Near the top end of this spectrum, a whopping $250,000 will provide a four-year education. The average cost is nowhere near this coming in at $100,000 for four years of education.[2] But what is the value of the dollar? What is the value of education? “In only 40 years, the average cost of college, including tuition and room and board, has increased over 150% for both public and private four-year colleges.”[3] Does this mean that an American education has become much more valuable? Maybe. I do not think that education is easy to value as it is a highly personalized journey. There are a myriad of factors that could contribute to the change in price of the US education that I will hold off on elaborating here because it is not within the scope of what I want to write about.

When we say, “I value this” what do we mean? Analytical psychology defines value as the feeling function—that is our bodies project a need or desire onto a thing to let us know that we ought to gravitate towards that thing. A more literary definition reveals that a valuable thing has significance—that significance likely contributing a great insight or substance within some sort of pursuit: art, math, science, etc. I take that substance to signify something that provides life or helps one move towards a thriving life[4].

If one possesses a lot of dollars, it means they have a great potential. I do not mean potential in terms of ability to produce something but rather having available many options for things “to do” or “to purchase” or avenues to follow or houses to live in, etc. For example, one may buy an expensive vehicle that has all the bells and whistles: solid doors, powerful motor, phenomenal sound system, driving assist, etc. The car with driving assist is a particularly interesting example, as many cars currently produced come with this feature. People seem to be willing to pay more to drive less. If what they value is driving a car, then the car with driving assist would not be the correct purchase for them. Purchasing a driving assist car to drive it would be like hiring a world-renowned pastry chef to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! I happen to love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Though certainly a top-tier pastry chef can make much more than the sandwiches. This transaction represents a mismatch in value and product purchase. A person who likes to drive cars and purchases an expensive car to have it handle most of the driving experience, or worse interrupt it at inconvenient times, is clearly missing their personal mark. They value something else: perhaps freedom, or status, or possess a compulsive buying problem. Regardless, they are not buying a car; they are buying a delusion.

This delusion has nothing to do with the car, however. The delusion originates from our perception of what money is and its function. Money, like words, I think serves the purpose to loosely translate things/experience/desires/human condition across humans. Money never stores value. It is always in flux. Growing up, I worked at the Boulder Farmers Market. One of the aspects of this jobs involved tending money. I was always amazed at how the money in the box would change rapidly, especially if we were busy. In not seeing the money sit still, I realized that it was useful only in transit. Once we finished for the day, that money would be deposited in the bank to pay bills, workers, etc. It always had (and still does) a destination. We would say that we had a successful day if we made xx amount of dollars. But did we put the value or success into the bank along with the cash? It would certainly be delusional to think that the bank would pay us interest on the satisfaction of selling produce!

The flow of money is a vehicle for whatever it is that I want of observe. Like words, it has a profoundly limited ability to convey experience or express my inner state. If I go on a date with a beautiful woman and compliment her telling her I think she looks pretty, my words are shallow unless I am expressing this from my self rather than telling her than because I think that is the right thing to say. If I wanted to take it a step further, I could say that I could gaze into her eyes endlessly for they calm me to my core. These are both statements that express a deeper desire, attraction, or for connection—maybe all the above. Without the complimentary inner state, I waste my breathe. Similarly, with money, if I purchase a piece of artwork or food because it is what I think I should buy, I wasted my money. However, if I purchase something that I think is truly wonderful, beautiful, useful, or necessary, it is a good use of my money.

Money is a simplified vessel, a boat perhaps, that allows me to float across a depth. If I lack the depth, either I am imagining profound waters below or I am imagining the boat. Either way, I would expect to be placed in a mental ward if many others had not been doing the same. To spend money on something that someone does not want, require, or need is an absolute waste of human energy, potential, and perhaps divinity. Further, like money, I do not offhandedly trust the boat, nor put all my faith in the boat, for a variety of reasons—mainly that I do not know the construction of the boat. The boat represents a fine base but once one learns to swim, it should be relied on less and less. There will always be a need for boats so a fear of them running out is silly. We need the boats to get from one island to the next as the distance between them is too great. Thus, someone who is lucky enough to test their swimming prowess in the waters might also be lucky enough to find a great treasure chest if they decide to go for a swim or dive. That, I think, is the true value of money. If one uses it to go and search for something that humanity has not yet, it is a fantastic demonstration of wealth. If they simply continue to buy beautiful cars that practically drive themselves, then it is an unfortunate flaunting of wealth. Wealth, thus, is achievable by any human being if they take the time to understand what it is they like and put in the effort to exchange they potential for that thing and value derives from what it is our being recognizes as significant—shifting or transforming the perception or life rather than filling some loosely idealized box.

[1] the shareholders in this case are the banks, corporations, or anyone who deals in large quantities of money



[4] a personal favorite concept