Monthly Archives: December 2016

Power and Money

There is a general failure to understand the relationship between power and money. For most people, power and money are closely related;  to the ignorant they are one and the same. This is due to a lack of experience with either, added to the inability to imagine using power for anything beyond acquiring goods and services.
Americans in particular suffer from this basic confusion of power with money, not because of any intrinsic deficiency but rather because of the nation’s fixation on capitalism. Unlike every other powerful country, the USA was founded at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, in the same year as the publication of Adam Smith’s treatise on capitalism: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. The rise of the United States and the rise of industrialism are inseparable. When capitalism is the only economic system in your experience, it is difficult to imagine a society based on anything but currency. One consequence is the tendency to confuse money with freedom or power.
Money is nothing but a medium for exchange. It has no power beyond that of making an offer to exchange goods or services; it confers no freedom beyond that of choices between goods or services. Money can never buy real power.
Power is simply the ability to effect change. This ability exists in two basic polarities: creation and destruction. Ultimately, power derives from individual will to create or to destroy, combined with the ability to act upon that volition.
Money can be used to recruit goods and services for the purpose of amplifying the effect of such a decision: materials, machinery and labor to build a hospital; or weapons and soldiers to erase a human settlement from a portion of a map. Neither of these actions is an example of power. Both depend on the participation of manufacturers and service providers, who are free to refuse; both are exchanges of currency. The exercise of power occurs between the moment of decision to build or to obliterate, and the action that initiates a process of change.
Acquisition of wealth, privilege, social status – these have nothing to do with power. All are forms of participation in a system of exchange. Such systems can be constructed so as to multiply the effects of power, but they are not powerful of themselves. The essence of power is the act of destroying something that exists, or creating something new. It is an individual act and cannot be bought or sold. Understanding this will clarify many social, political and economic structures.

The Big Lie: Elitism

If you are a thinking person with a moral sense, you agree with the Enlightenment philosophers – including the founders of these United States of America – that all human beings are endowed with certain unalienable rights, among others life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In other words, you believe in the essential equal dignity and rights of every human being. This means you are capable of reason.

You do realize, however, that not everyone is endowed with equal powers of body, mind and soul. You acknowledge that people differ in strength of body, mind, imagination, creative urge and character. Albert Einstein was better than most at mathematics; Leonardo da Vinci had an extraordinary gift for painting; Nikola Tesla could visualize engineering solutions others could not. Crazy Horse was better at military strategy than Custer. Elizabeth Tudor had exceptional talent for leadership. Shakespeare wrote a better play than anyone.  You prefer to travel in an airplane designed by a qualified, reputable and credentialed engineer, not one designed and built by an amateur. This makes you an elitist.

There are, however, different kinds of elitism. Healthy elitism wants the most skilled heart surgeons to perform life-saving operations; the most incorruptible and magnanimous leaders to represent their communities in government; the brightest minds and sharpest wits to argue the merits and detriments of ideas; the most methodical and rigorous scientists to describe our world; the kindest and noblest souls to educate our children. This kind of elitism values – and, ideally, rewards – extraordinary individuals for their contributions to the general good. Society offers these elites power in trust, as a recognition of merit.

Unhealthy elitism is not concerned with the general good, but with egocentrism. Here power is not given in trust as a recognition of merit; rather,  merit is assumed to be derived from the possession of power – often the power to destroy. This is the realm of the bully, who manipulates others with the threat of violence and calls it leadership; of the miser, who hoards wealth in an ever-growing yet sterile trove and calls it stewardship; of the glutton, whose pleasure is not in enjoying good things, but in knowing that he has more of them than his neighbor; worst of all, the truly evil such as are found in the boardrooms of American pharmaceutical, insurance and health service corporations, whose interest in medicine is not to heal, but to extract a maximum of profit – and if healing comes as a side effect, so be it. These elites take from society all that is in their power to take, and seek to destroy any opposition. Their puppets, meanwhile, mock the great-hearted, the intelligent and the good.

Elitism in power is a fact, not an option. The unhealthy kind of elite seeks power for its own sake, and generally finds it unless opposed with courage and vigor. The healthy kind will serve the common good with power or without. It is in the interest of us all to entrust power to the givers and deny it to the takers.