I have asked myself this question for quite some time now. This is part of a sequence of questions I keep puzzling myself with. Do I really need money? Does money really put any values into anything (other than literally) with respect to my need? Which role does money play in my human life? How is it so important? Well, for some of you these questions might not be so tricky, rather properly answered in your mind. But I do struggle with these simple questions. So I started a little journey to find the answers. However, this turned out to be quite satisfying. For I was able to find an answer that was simple enough to satisfy my stupid simple mind. Now if you are willing to and have similar questions in mind, I will take you on this journey \. Most of you probably already know everything. I will just make it simpler for you. I am not teaching you anything. For Socrates said that knowledge cannot be taught. I can only remind you what you already know.
This journey simply starts with asking the question: what is money. It is important to notice that a society with a sustainable economical objective requires money as its principal trading currency. But why? Why and how does a society need it?
Well to answer this question, we simply start by taking an already established definition: need
1: a lack of something requisite, desirable, or useful
2: a physiological or psychological requirement for the well-being of an organism
So need comes from ‘the lack of the object of desire’. In order to survive or reproduce, as a human being, I need to eat and thus I need food as a basic requisite. Now, how do I acquire it? Well, I can kill some animals and cook their meat. Or I can start farming. This will require some amount of time and/or effort assuming I have all the necessary skills to do these things. However, there is another way. Imagine that I am a wood-gatherer and in my free time I gather wood. I became hungry while I was doing so. Now I have too much of wood I don’t need. I can trade these wood with someone for food. That is rather much easier and convenient. I don’t have to spend any time or put my effort into gathering food, now that I am tired already. So I look at what I currently possess so that I can trade it for food with someone who has some extra.
Now that is not easy either. Not only I have to find someone who has extra food but also the one who needs the item I possess (wood in this case). Finding this person with this right combination is difficult indeed. I may not be able to find this person on my own. So I need to go to a place where the probability of finding such a person is quite high. Here comes the concept of the market. It is a place or an establishment where people come and announce what they possess and what they need in return. In other words, what they have ‘to sell’ and what they want ‘to buy’. At the end of the day if I find someone with the Goldilocks combination, I am lucky, I will have my food. If I don’t, I still haven’t found food. I haven’t solved my problem yet.
Now, if I introduce an independent entity that has nothing to do with food or wood, I may be able to solve this problem in a quite sophisticated manner. Here comes the solution to the face of my problem— money. Now I just have to find two guys with different interests rather than one guy with both interests. I find one guy who will give me money for the wood I have. Then I need to find another guy who is willing to trade his extra food for the money I now possess. So you see I just solved my earlier problem or rather made easier to solve.
But not quite. If you look closely, you will see, I have rather introduced a whole bunch of new problems. Now I notice, there are two guys in the market who are trading a different amount of food for the same amount of money. Either they are unaware about this because probably they are in different parts of the market. Or may be the second guy has lowered the amount of money he wants in order to exchange more food because he needs to sell fast. Or may be one of them is just cheating for their very own personal reasons. Now how do I solve this problem of inequality in the exchange rate? Someone needs to fix these rates. One way is that someone indeed needs to set the price and tells everyone that this is how it is for today. That someone needs to be authoritative enough so that everyone listens to them or someone who has control over the flow of money. Or another scenario is that everyone should agree with the price for that day or they can decide on some policies they all can agree with democratically. Now comes the problem of governance.
So suddenly, I have a whole bunch of new problems to solve. I absolutely forgot that I just needed some food. But now I have only money and all of a sudden, I am trying to maximize my gain with little money I have. My need is no longer food, rather maximizing the amount of it. And I have no idea what should I do, who should I go to. I have no sense of security. And the problem has compounded many folds and is not in my hands anymore.
I could end these seemingly endless problems and solve everything if I could actually get food for the money I have. So you see, I didn’t really buy food for the money. I bought convenience and I bought time. I bought the effort I needed in order to gather food on my own. And with the time I ‘bought’, I did other things, probably gathered more wood as it seems easier for me to gather wood than food. Because now I know gathering more wood would guarantee the security of getting food in the future.
So you see, the need for having money comes from a prior need, a lack of something I desired in the first place, and not the other way around. But some people forget that and try to gather more money than they possibly need because they feel secure that in the future whenever they need something, they can acquire it easily. I get that part. Their sense of insecurity contributes highly to the natural selection. Insecurity defines the need and thus secures their survival. It is not a negative quality, just ‘a’ quality. Excessive insecurity, however, impacts rather negatively. We now try to hoard as much money as possible regardless of the need for it in the first place. Then to justify this action, we buy things that we never need and eventually never going to need. In order to support that action, we suddenly now need more money and then more unnecessary things and so on. It goes on and on in a spiral that does not seem to end, rather increases its radius until our death, even beyond it in some cases. All of a sudden now I have five credit cards and $10,000 in debt and I am sinking with all the unnecessary things I never needed.
So where did I go wrong exactly? I went on in this journey looking for food and now I am in a never-ending spiral and can not seem to satisfy myself and thus not in peace with myself. I went wrong when I prioritized my sense of need. I forgot that my primitive need should invoke my need for money and not the other way around.
But there are certain caveats to this line of thought. It is sometimes easier to misinterpret for those who believe that what we get is what we deserve. We indeed get what we deserve. But we seem to interpret this statement in a different way. We think that if we need something we better have something to offer in the first place. That is a very humble thought. But notice, I started that sentence with the urgency of some ‘primitive need’. If I don’t need anything, I don’t have to possess anything. But you may say that doesn’t make any sense. Because I will definitely need something someday if not today. I better be ready for that day. That is true without a doubt. So now you see you are in a circle that you can control if you can control your need. It is now about putting a balance between the two. It is now absolutely in your hand. Only you have the power to do whatever you want to do with it. Yes, you can still make it an ever-increasing spiral, and that is totally fine if that’s what you want and are comfortable with it. You can also keep it as a circle by carefully measuring yourself. Nevertheless, remember you are in control.
So, my journey ends here with this beautiful realization. The journey I started to look for answers. I hope this answers your questions as well. Because you see there is no right answer. The answer depends on you and on WHAT YOU NEED.