Money is Evil, Unless You're Sending It To UNH

The University Near Here manages to make me sad again with this announcement of something called the "Future Leaders Institute". Subtitle: "A Summer Camp for Ambitious High-School Students." It will run July 14 through July 19.

What will our Ambitious Future Leader High-School Students be doing at camp? Whittling? Canoeing? Learning how to recognise different types of trees from quite a long way away?

Nah. The camp's theme is "Money, Greed, Corruption." It doesn't sound like the Future Leaders will be learning any useful wilderness skills, or having much fun at all. The curriculum will be set up by faculty members of the Paul College of Business and Economics… no, sorry, I'm kidding. It will be run by R. Scott Smith, Associate Professor of Classics, and Nick Smith, Associate Professor of Philosophy, both of UNH's College of Liberal Arts (COLA).

Let's take a look at the program description, commenting as we go:

We tend to have mixed feelings about money.

What they actually mean to say: different people hold wildly different opinions about it.

Ayn Rand once described money as the "root of all good."

She did! Or rather, one of her Atlas Shrugged good guys did. His speech is reproduced here.

Karl Marx (following 1 Timothy 6:10 and a host of ancient thinkers) thought money was closer to the "root of all evil."

You see where we're going with this: it's gonna be Rand vs. Jesus, Marx, and a "host of ancient thinkers." Good luck, Ayn.

[1 Timothy, by the way, is also well-known for being the epistle where Apostle Paul advocated that women shut up and know their place and advised slaves to be respectful to their masters. Bible-thumpers pick and choose which parts of the book to thump.]

Money provides a near universal common denominator that allows people on opposite sides of the world to exchange things of value with great efficiency.

Stipulated. Not even Francisco d’Anconia would disagree. But:

Money drives so much in our lives and it motivates us, for better or for worse, to do things we wouldn't otherwise do.

Confused drivel. All incentives, including economic ones, can lead us to make different choices than we would otherwise. That is the definition of "motivate". But the paycheck is not the goal, it's not in the driver's seat; it's what the paycheck allows us to do. (Francisco: "[Money] will give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires.")

Money can eclipse other values.

Confused thinking ⇒ sloppy writing. Money is not a value. I think they mean to say: money can motivate people to perform acts at odds with their values and preferences ("You couldn't pay me a million dollars to do that. Well, you probably could.")

Politicians are corrupted by love of money; business leaders make selfish decisions to raise profits—and boost their own bank accounts; even religious leaders fall victim to greed.

Gee, for guys who like to quote scripture, I really think they should have paid more attention to Matthew 7:1-5.

A brave stand against (unnamed) corrupt politicians! Hey, I won't defend them. Although I'd wager far more politicians are corrupted by their love of coercive state power than by love of money. Good luck getting a couple of Liberal Arts profs to even recognize that, let alone preach against it.

And the (also unnamed) greedy religious leaders? No doubt. Hey, we're all sinners. But judging by recent headlines, seven-deadly-sinwise, "greed" is pretty far down the list, with "lust" a clear favorite among modern pastors and priests.

But the guys in the middle, there between the pols and priests: those (again, unnamed) businessmen are guilty of nothing except attempting to run their businesses more profitably than a couple of COLA profs think they should. It's difficult to work up any outrage, or even concern, about that at all.

For some, money is the most valuable possession of all.

Scrooge
Swimming in his Money Bin Really? Who? I suppose it's possible, but so what? Presumably we're talking about something more portentious than Sophie Tucker's (alleged) observation: "I've been rich and I've been poor. Believe me, honey, rich is better." But the image the "most valuable of all" assertion brings to mind is Scrooge McDuck's daily swim in his Money Bin. Perhaps the profs think that Warren Buffett or Bill Gates actually do that.

Money can fuel greed and corruption as moral beliefs give way to the view that all is fair in moneymaking. How often do we hear that it is "just business" when people treat each other as means to the end of profit?

The honest answer to that question is: "Not often at all. Maybe never."

Note (by the way) that the weak "fuel" analogy actually cuts against the attempt to blame things on eeevil money. When bank robbers vamoose in their getaway car, sane people do not blame the gasoline in the car's tank.

So, how can one live a good life and be a good citizen in such a money-hungry world?

Good question, although you could usefully generalize by leaving off the prepositional phrase. People that blame a "money-hungry world" for their own poor life choices are irresponsible losers.

Skipping past some boilerplate, we have the movies that may be shown around the campfire:

Inside Job, Too Big to Fail, The Corporation, The Wolf of Wall Street, Atlas Shrugged, Wall Street, Roger and Me

It's nice of them to include a mediocre adaptation of Ayn Rand's book in the otherwise uniform anti-capitalist businessmen-are-scum propaganda. (Although I understand The Wolf of Wall Street is pretty good anyway.) How about The Pursuit of Happyness?

Looking at "Potential Authors":

Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, Aristotle, Plato, Seneca, Karl Marx, Georg Simmel, Christine Lagarde (IMF leader)

Could be worse. Milton Friedman is a strong choice. I wonder if Christine Lagarde is there as an author who's got something interesting to say, or an example of corruption herself?

Here's one bit I left out. From up at the top of the page:

Cost: $800.

Yes, they are charging money to tell the kiddos how awful money is. (Is this irony? I can never tell.)

I'll close with the final paragraph of Francisco's speech, linked above:

Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to be the tool by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of men. Blood, whips and guns–or dollars. Take your choice–there is no other–and your time is running out.

I'd put the whole thing on the Ambitious Future Leaders High-School Students' required reading list. In fact, I'd be happy to give a dramatic reading of it for the AFLHSS this summer. And to show what a money-loving greedy selfish bastard I am: I would do it for free.


Last Modified 2014-08-06 9:33 AM EDT