Money and Meaning: The current print edition of The Minneapolis Observer, an excellent, intensely local monthly newspaper by former Utne editor Craig Cox, digs up a 1997 Fast Company interview with "worldly philosopher" Jacob Needleman, who wrote Money and the Meaning of Life. I've always liked sociologist Georg Simmel's sentiment that "Money hollows out the core of things"—that is, money shifts our focus from the intrinsic value of something to its commodity worth. But Needleman has a more nuanced view. Excerpts from this excellent interview:
Q. Doesn't having that much money mean you no longer have to worry about the basic necessities of life? Doesn't that free you?

A. No. If you are worrying about vegetables now, you'll be worrying about yachts then. You're a worrier. It's in you, not the money. Life, except for the obvious physical needs, is not so much defined by the external situation as by the inner one.

Having money won't change your internal makeup. If you're an anxious sonofabitch without money, you're going to be an anxious sonofabitch with a lot of money.
Q. Based on your encounters with the super-rich, is there ever a time when they can put down their egos for a moment?

A. Death is the great equalizer. I've seen that phenomenon many times. I've had people in my classes come to me, men and women over 50 years old, and they say, "I made it. I'm rich. But what the hell is my life for?"

In the meantime, all you really need is a couple of hemorrhoids to learn humility.
Q. What would you say is the most common misconception that businesspeople have about money?

A. They forget the whole human condition. They forget we're mortal beings and we're meant to love and to serve, not just to get. Money is the most tempting illusion; it tempts most people to forget that we're people. We live, we're going to die, and there's much more to life than making money -- although without making money life is very difficult.
Another perspective: Helen and Scott Nearing, referred to earlier, sought to extricate themselves from the market economy. During the Great Depression, they left New York to start a sustainable homestead in rural Vermont. An excerpt from 1977 issue of Mother Earth News:
"Civilization," said Mark Twain, "is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessaries." A market economy seeks by ballyhoo to bamboozle consumers into buying things they neither need nor want, thus compelling them to sell their labor power as a means of paying for their purchases. Since our aim was liberation from the exploitation accompanying the sale of labor power, we were as wary of market lures as a wise mouse is wary of other traps.

Readers may label such a policy as painfully austere, renunciatory, or bordering on deliberate self-punishment. We had no such feeling. Coming from New York City, with its extravagant displays of non-essentials and its extensive wastes of everything from food and capital goods to time and energy, we were surprised and delighted to find how much of the city clutter and waste we could toss overboard.

We felt as free, in this respect, as a caged wild bird who finds himself once more on the wing. The demands and requirements which weigh upon city consumers no longer restricted us. To the extent that we were able to meet our consumer needs in our own way and in our own good time, we had freed ourselves from dependence upon the market economy...
Recommended reading: Perhaps the best book my dad ever suggested on this topic, Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.

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