Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

When Money Talks

At times it seems money rules the world and all of us are its surfs. When money talks, we listen.

kevinoleary-270x300Kevin O’Leary, the head shark on the TV show Shark Tank, frequently interrupts entrepreneurs supplicating for an investment by asking them, “Tell me about the MONEY.”

Asked about his views on the currency of the realm, O’Leary says, “Here’s how I think of my money: As soldiers. I send them out to war everyday. I want them to take prisoners and come home, so there’s more of them.”

If money is a major motivation, how did mankind advance before there was anything that could be called money? Hard to tell because some form of monetary exchange has existed for a long time, probably before history started to be written down instead of drawn on cave walls.

Money is an extension of basic economics. As man became social, dependency on others replaced self-sufficiency. That dependency produced the first coinage, in the form of animals or food (shekel is a derivative of sacks of grain).

Money also became the stuff of philosophy. Aristotle posited that objects have two purposes – direct use or an option to trade at a greater value. He didn’t exactly contemplate division of labor, but focused on coincidence of wants – if you have too many clay pots, you can trade some to somebody who needs them in return for something you want or need.

make-moneyAs mutual interdependence emerged, trading circles grew wider. They could extend beyond the cave or village to other communities and, later, to other countries. A more reliable means of exchange became imperative. The concept of money was born.

While money is a means to an end, it has come to stand for a lot more. For people like O’Leary, money is like a North Star on personal financial behavior. The prospect of earning money shapes – or perhaps contorts – decisions by students on whether to attend college, where to go and what to pursue as a major. The absence of money, or less money than you believe you deserve, can persuade people to “break bad.”

When Rod Tidwell, the movie version wide receiver in Jerry Maguire, exhorts his agent to “Show me the money,” he is equating money with status and respect.

Gigantic political battles have ensued over money. William Jennings Bryan almost made it to the White House in 1896 on his platform of liberating Americans from the Cross of Gold. There is a debate at every level of government over the minimum wage someone should earn for working.

Money and innovation have always been teammates. New products need money, often lots of it, to perfect a prototype or penetrate a market. Basic and applied research demand millions of dollars to keep the pipeline full of promising technologies. And money itself has been a target of innovation, from bills that are more durable and harder to counterfeit to the new innovation of virtual bitcoins.

Flexible_iPhoneApple’s introduction of the iPhone 6 may accelerate the demise of physical money by making it easier to buy things without a credit card or cash.

As vital as money is to most of us, our understanding of money remains vague and indifferent. Monetary policy seems more remote than rocket science.

Yet money exists pretty much like air, water and the moon. We just assume we need it and we go to great lengths to get it.

Or as O’Leary, whose college major was anthropology, says, “Don’t cry about money; it never cries for you.”

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