Money and wealth -- seeing the difference

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Author Message

John Michael Greer

I'd like to ask a favor of those who are interested. One of the core themes of my book _The Wealth of Nature_ is the difference between actual wealth and the abstract tokens -- we call them "money" -- that our society uses to measure wealth. Wealth in the broadest sense consists of real, nonfinancial goods and services that people can actually use in their lives; money, in the broadest sense, consists of every abstraction that has value because it can, in theory, be exchanged for wealth. (Compare a tomato and a dollar bill, for example; you can do plenty of things with a tomato, but the only thing you can do with a dollar bill is exchange it for a tomato or some other real, nonfinancial good.

I've noticed that a lot of people seem to grasp this distinction very readily, while others don't, and I'm curious about the difference. The favor I'd like to ask, then, is for readers of this forum who feel inspired to do so to talk a bit about how they see the difference between mony and wealth, and if there was some specific incident that brought that home, what was it?

Wednesday 15 June 2011 08:04:39 pm

Wendy Brown

For me, this is a very complicated discussion, because there are so many variables in my life that resulted in my realization of how truly wealthy I am and to try to explain all of the events that occurred that brought me to my final epiphany could almost be a book in itself.

If I had to pinpoint one event, however, it would probably be that day my husband was trying to find out if our four year old understood what it was that he did for a living. He is an electrical engineer and at the time worked for a company that designed these very complicated machines that were used to manufacture CDs and DVDs. Our daughter had been to the plant several times and seen the machines in action. So, he asked her, “What does Daddy make at work?” hoping that she would say something like “CDs” or “machines.”

She said, “Money.”

At the time we thought it was pretty funny, because yes, indeed, that’s what Daddy worked for. In fact, as his job responsibilities kept him at work for significantly more hours each day and as the business trips increased, my children and I began to question our importance in his life, as it seemed he was so rarely present. The final straw came after hearing, once too often, how important his job was, because we “couldn’t live without money.” It was with horror that I realized how intricately tied his self-worth was to his job, and, at some point, I decided to challenge the notion that we couldn't live without money.

I spent a lot of time working on paper eliminating expenses to see how changing our habits would impact our bottom line. Then, I started eliminating some things in real life to see how they would impact our lifestyle and discovered that many of things for which my husband worked so many hours were not even necessary. I discovered that by cutting those things, we didn’t need as much money, and if we didn’t need to have as much money, he didn’t need to work so many hours. The fewer hours he spent at work, the more hours he could spend at home with us, doing things that saved money, like chopping wood to heat our house during the winter. Then, because we were heating with wood (that was given to us for free – we just had to haul it away), we were saving money on heating oil, which means he didn’t have to make as much money.

It was like a snowball, gaining girth and momentum. The less money we spent on unnecessary luxuries (like television), the more time we had, and the more time we had, the more we could do for ourselves, and the more we could do for ourselves, the less money we needed to pay someone else to do it for us.

The final epiphany came when my husband realized that he didn’t have to be stuck in a job he hated simply because he believed that we “couldn’t live without money.”

At this point, we’re (finally) able to conceive of the possibility of him not working full-time for a corporate employer. He is (finally) realizing that his worth is more than his job, that he is much more valuable as a husband, a partner, a father than he ever was as an engineer (although he’s a damned good engineer!), and that the work he does here with his daughters and wife at his home is significantly more important than anything he has ever done as an “employee.”

We discovered that true wealth comes from doing work that enriches our lives and not “making money.”

Thursday 16 June 2011 10:05:44 am

EJ Hurst

Living on Gabriola, we have a concept we call "Gabriola dollars". These are not a local currency like Salt Spring Island dollars but simply the idea that every dollar earned on the island is worth about 1.5 dollars earned elsewhere. In other words, the wages are lower but the lifestyle paybacks are worth it.

I started realizing the difference between money and wealth when my son was born and we elected to have one parent stay at home full time. This took us down to one income. Then, when he was older, my partner and I each took part time work in order to home school and have time with our son.

Money cannot possibly replace the wealth of family time and closeness that these decisions have given us.

Thursday 16 June 2011 11:11:36 am