Much as this sounds like an April Fools joke, it’s straight: workplace interactions would go a lot better if people realized that money doesn’t exist.
It represents real things, which gives it an air of reality, but it has no substance. It is mere representation.
It represents some of the things it represents fairly well; others, it represents exceedingly poorly.
It represents work, but it is not work. It does no work itself, for all the economic jargon to the contrary. You cannot put your money to work, it does not make anything, and it certainly does not spontaneously generate more of itself. You cannot buy work; you can only offer to pay a person to work. The work is not separable from the person you pay to do it. And it is not separable from the good that person does you through the work–none but a very broken person pays someone to work at injuring him.
It represents power, but it is not power. It does not even have power, although those who possess lots of it seem to. The only power money conveys is purchasing power, but to say that is to reinforce the impotence of money. It represents that which one might purchase to gain, display, or maintain power. But that power lies inert without some suggestion of its use or the promise (threat?) of its use–one must know what it might be used for in order to know the extent of power it represents.
It represents security, and it is even a security. But it is not security. It must be exchanged–for weapons, for medicine, for a plane ticket, for food–to secure anything. Nothing is secure until it is possessed by someone who calls himself owner of it. In what sense one can possess money, which doesn’t actually exist to be possessed, I am unsure.It represents work denominated in hours, which gives it the impression of representing time, but it does not represent time. It comes to represent time only when persons are so sure of their value to others that they are willing to price out their own existence: “My time”–that is, my willingness to pay attention to you, for which you must pay me–“is worth $350 an hour!” It represents time only at two or three removes: it represents hours of work, which represent the positive contribution of someone to another someone’s life.
Looking at numbers on a balance sheet or on a paycheck or on a bank statement or at the bottom of a receipt or at the bottom of a checkbook register, it is easy to forget that they are less real than the things for which they stand as symbols–the food, the candles, the work, the medicine, the roofs, the coffins, the cradles, the years of mutual goodwill, the people and the good they have done and the goods they need done to and for them. Those are the things that should be honored and treasured and measured and accounted for, because they are real.
Money is just a convenient fiction.
I like to imagine that this is what Jesus was trying to do with his famous “render therefore unto Caesar” saying. Look on all creation and marvel at what God can make! Look at people and figs and stars and onions and fish. Look at the ideas God can come up with! Justice and mercy and sex and childbirth and lactation and sunrises and worthy work and friendship.
And look at Caesar, bless his heart. This economic system, this political nightmare, this collection of weapons, this puny little coin stamped with a crude image of a man making utterly ludicrous claims to divinity–that’s the best he can do with all his power. Let him have it if he wants it. It’s nothing, compared with what God can make, with what God has given, with what God asks of you.
And this silly bit of metal stamped with an image of a man is certainly nothing next to the image of God that is the man or woman actually standing in front of you, demanding your patience, your kindness, a share of creation’s gifts, a bit of human courtesy.