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Money Is Not Wealth

September 2006

The Truth About Money

Money Is Not Wealth

by Francis and Lia Ayley

Francis Ayley is the president of Fourth Corner Exchange, a regional alternative currency operating in the Pacific Northwest since 2004, and is also a business consultant who has been active in monetary reform for 30 years. He founded North London LETS, the second-largest Local Exchange Trading System in the UK, in 1990.

Lia Ayley saw North London LETS grow from an idea in FrancisÂ’ mind in 1990 to a thriving local currency system. She is a member of the management group of Fourth Corner Exchange, and is delighted to see a community currency system being established in the Pacific Northwest. Lia is also a psychotherapist and hypnotherapist in private practice in Bellingham.

Part 3

In Part I of this series, we discussed how there is more than one kind of monetary system, and some of the serious flaws in the money system we currently use. In Part II, we showed how money, as used within a system of exchange, is not value-neutral but directly influences the behavior of those who use it, according to the conditions inherent in the system itself. In this article, our third and final part, we discuss the distinction between money and true wealth, and the serious consequences that have arisen from our tendency to confuse the two.

We live in a consumer society that continually reinforces the idea that money is wealth. Bankers, politicians, economists and academics encourage this belief. Every day our senses are assaulted by advertisements delivering the same message, and even mainstream economic theory supports the idea that money is wealth. It’s not surprising that nearly everyone believes that money and wealth are the same thing, although in fact, this is an illusion that is easily dispelled.

Imagine yourself completely alone on a waterless desert island, with a chest full of $100 dollar bills — let’s say, $1 million in total. All that money cannot buy you clear water to drink, food to eat, shelter from the sun or a boat to get you off the island, unless someone else comes along who has those things and is willing to exchange with you. Real wealth, therefore, has nothing to do with money. Real wealth consists of the natural resources of the earth, the goods and services we use every day, and the people we depend upon to provide for our needs.

In certain circumstances, money can be used as a means to procure real wealth, provided that a) an agreement exists about the value of money, and b) the people involved are willing to trade with each other. But in our society, the distinction between money and wealth has become blurred, and many people no longer differentiate between the two. This confusion has led to a number of serious consequences.

“If Only I Had More Money ... ”

If we believe that money is wealth, it is easy to begin to focus pathologically on money, thinking money can meet our needs and solve all our problems. “If I only had more money,” we think, “then I would be able to ... .” This “money solves all problems” mindset can cause us to place considerations of relationship, ecology, community, and even our own health and well-being behind the goal of earning or accumulating money, thus devaluing those things that constitute real wealth in our lives.

Believing money to be wealth, we become less concerned about protecting our environment and the natural world, and more concerned with how we can profit from them. We become less concerned with the quality of our relationships, and more concerned with how we can use those relationships to make money. The environment becomes a resource to be consumed, with little regard for long-term consequences or the welfare of future generations. Relationships are sacrificed when necessary, as long as the sacrifice results in financial gain.

The more we place money in a primary position in our lives and the quality of our relationships secondary, the more we find ourselves separated into isolated economic units, competing with each other in our search for empowerment, which we also come to identify with “having more money.” We are drawn towards increasingly antisocial and psychopathological behavior, which we hear justified by phrases like “that’s business” and “it’s a dog-eat-dog world.” Communities suffer as relationships decay, and as considerations of money override the good of the community and quality of life.

We may even sacrifice our spiritual connection and our self-esteem, as we are pressurized to compromise our ideals, ethics and morals in order to “get ahead.” We may become involved in corruption, malpractice and even violence in our search for what we conceive of as wealth, security and the ability to satisfy our basic needs and desires.

On the other hand, we may decide to reject money, living as best we can without it, accepting the limitations and loss of power that this brings. Or, we may find a workable compromise, successfully attaining a form of “right livelihood” that does not require us to sacrifice too much in terms of our relationships, our spirituality, our health and well-being or the environment.

But no matter what decisions we make on a personal level, we all suffer from the overall loss of community, the degradation of our environment, and the loss of hope that have been the consequences of our current system of economics and the confusion fostered in people’s minds between the idea of money and the things which constitute true wealth. Every day, decisions are being made on a financial basis that impact our environment, our communities and our quality of life. When money becomes the primary focus, people inevitably suffer. The long-term consequences are often acute, as we are seeing today as we reap the results of pollution, environmental damage, and the weakening in the fabric of our society.

Socially Responsible Money

Confusing money with wealth is thus a serious error leading to a downward spiral of negative consequences for us all. In order to break this destructive cycle, we must change our beliefs about money and, out of this new understanding, create a money system that values true wealth: our environment, our communities and our human contacts with each other. We need, in short, a socially responsible money system.

Such a system would be based on mutual support, cooperation and universal goodwill, rather than on competition and greed. It would not reward those who have money simply for having it, or for accumulating it, but would instead encourage a continual process of exchange. It would be non-exploitative, not allowing those who have more money to profit off of those who have less, as is the case within our current interest-based monetary system. A socially responsible money system would reward healthy, cooperative relationships, encourage people to interact peacefully and penalize antisocial behavior. In short, it would encourage the creation and preservation of the things that constitute true wealth and quality of life for us all, and would relegate “money” to being simply a convenient means of exchange.

There is a growing consciousness in the world today of the need to expand our ideas about money in this way and create healthy alternatives to the scarcity-based money system currently in use. Worldwide, people are now working to create alternative monetary systems that support community and give priority to human needs. Fourth Corner Exchange is a regional Time Dollar system currently operating in Whatcom and Skagit counties, Port Townsend and Everett, helping hundreds of people to rebuild their communities and enrich their lives through fostering healthy, abundance-based exchange. Local currencies provide a solution to the destructive impacts of current economic practice. We invite you to join us at Fourth Corner Exchange and become part of the solution!

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