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.