Is It Evil To Make Money?

There’s a pervasive notion in our culture that being rich automatically means being sleazy, greedy, and uncaring (and admittedly Hollywood residents don’t help a lot with dispelling that stereotype). There’s also a pretty strong feeling among many people that not working for your money makes you bad or greedy or lazy.

If you strongly believe in not making money, I won’t try to change your mind; I strongly believe in letting people decide for themselves. But I’d like to other some alternative points of view that might help you in deciding where you stand.

Money Myths

Any time you argue with a belief that’s widely held in society, you have to call it a myth; that’s the rule. But in fact most of these ideas have a pretty sound basis. None of them are 100% wrong. But I think many of them are overgeneralizations, and I’d like to point out some distinctions that I think are important ones.

Money Is the Root Of All Evil

Actually — if you look in 1 Timothy 6:10 — you’ll find that what Saint Paul said is that love of money is the root of all evil. Money itself can do good things or bad things — the church collects money, after all — but to love money, to desire it for its own sake, and especially to love it more than God, more than people, more than goodness, more than virtue… that may not be the root of all evil, but it is the root of a whole lot of it.

On the other hand, loving most things is good. If you love your kids and want to send them to college — wanting money for that is not evil. If you love your partner and want to make sure they’d be safe even if you were hit by a truck — wanting money for that is not evil. If you love 3rd-world countries or inner city kids or spotted owls or cancer victims, and want money to help them get out of their bad situations — wanting money for that is the opposite of evil. So I think it’s an important distinction.

Why do you want money? What would you do with it if you had it?

Making a business is less work than getting a job

Owning a business is less work than getting a job once the business has been built. But my experience so far suggests that actually building the business is as much work as 40 years’ worth of employment, rolled into one decade. Certainly it’s much harder work.

At my day job, all I have to do is show up, do what my boss tells me to, and be average enough not to get fired.

In my business I have to motivate myself, plan where the business is going, decide the most important thing to do today, and be good enough to compete with every other business in my industry, including some really big companies. I must have or learn self-discipline, organization and planning, and prioritization, as well learning enough in my field to excel at some aspect of it.

It’s a lot harder than my day job. But I love it. It’s work that challenges me. It’s work that makes me a better person. And I hope that it’s work that makes a difference, that by my writing this blog, making my time management website, I can make some people’s lives a little easier.

What kind of work do you want to do? How much are you willing to do?

Power Corrupts

This one is the most true of all. It’s very easy to take advantage of having power — any kind of power, and money is a great example — to do things that you wouldn’t if other people had the courage to scold you for it. And it is a risk of being rich; we see it all the time in our tabloids.

But you can also abuse power without being rich. Being promoted to manager was a test of power and character for me; would I use it to force my coworkers to do things my way, and to do the grunt work I didn’t want to do? I made a few bad decisions; but getting the promotion, and seeing the results of those bad decisions, has made me a stronger, better person. Losing my temper was no big deal when it only affected me; learning to keep it was much more critical when it had the power to affect half a dozen people who I liked and respected.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” — Abraham Lincoln

What challenges would face you if you were given power? What would you have to change about yourself to be able to handle it? Would you be a good leader? What would have to change for you to be able to say yes?

Other things to consider

Most Men Live Lives Of Quiet Desperation

Thoreau went to the woods to live deliberately, away from the prejudices and preconceptions of society. And one of the things he found there is that, when you take a look at it, most people are pretty unhappy with their lives, due in large part to money or lack thereof. Or, to sum up middle-class America succinctly: most people go to a job they hate so they can spend money they don’t yet have on things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.

And living like that is crazy. Everyone knows that, at some level. Blogs like The Simple Dollar and Zen Habits help you with this problem by helping you recognize which expenses can be cut from your life without problems; blogs like Itty Biz and Personal Development for Smart People offer advice on making more money without going to work every day. But everyone agrees that you need to do something.

What would you do if you didn’t have to go to work, ever again? It’s all very well to say that you’d play golf all day, or lie on a Caribbean beach. But you know as well as I do that you’d get tired of that after… oh, say, a year or so. And you’ve probably got more than a year left to live. What would you do when you got tired of doing nothing?

Why not make your dreams come true? Live the life you always wanted… whether that’s helping kids learn baseball or making stained-glass windows or discussing holy books with learned men. A life that you want. A life that means something to you. Instead of quiet desperation.

What WOULD you do if you didn’t have to go to work?

You Could Make A Difference

Odds are good, actually, that you have a secret dream, so deep down that you may never have admitted it to yourself, where you make a difference in this world. The particulars will vary from me to you to Bob Gomez over there, but you dream of doing something that matters… maybe writing a history or philosophy book that clarifies everything, or working for your church, or volunteering at the soup kitchen 5 days a week, or traveling to poor countries and helping people get by, or making a difference in government, or….

If you didn’t have go to work every day in order to get money, you could do that.

What could you do to make a difference in this world if your job didn’t get in the way?

You Don’t Have To Keep It

If worst comes to worst, and you just cannot bear the thought of making that much money, but the idea of building a business still appeals to you….

give it away. There are plenty of people who will take it; you can give it to bums on the street, or worthy charities, or to me, if you’d like. (I’ll use it to build my business so that I’ll have time to help save the ethnosphere.) If it turns out that you’re not trustworthy with that kind of power, get a financial manager who will give most of your money to designated charities and dole out a small amount to you each month (it’s worked for British aristocrats for years).

So, is it evil or not?

I can’t answer that question for you.

I don’t think it is. I think that accepting a job that is less than I can do, to create less benefit than I am capable of creating, and in turn preventing both my selfish dreams and my dreams of helping others… I believe that’s evil. And the opposite of that: following my dreams, educating myself to do the best job I can, to build a business that will help others — in turn — follow their dreams… I believe that’s good. But you have to answer for yourself.