More Than Money
Issue #29

Money Changes Everything

Table of Contents

“Changing the Scorecard”

By Frances Moore Lappé with Anna Lappé

Money isn't what it used to be. Traditionally, money was not only a means of exchange but also a "ticket" to inclusion: by earning a living through contributing their labor, people both sustained themselves and felt part of the fabric of community life. Unfortunately, though, money has begun to acquire a new meaning, and it is spreading throughout the world: money is becoming the global scorecard.

Today a few hundred people (no more than would fit into Anna's high school auditorium) control as much wealth as half the world's population. Such concentration is far beyond anything wealth holders could possibly use to meet needs for exchange or to feel included in society. In this growing trend, the goal is simply being able to say, "I win. My score in the grand money game is higher than yours." Whether or not this is the motivation of an individual accumulating wealth, our society treats the wealth holder as if this is the purpose of money. We give status to those who make the most, counting and comparing the salaries of highly-paid actors and athletes and corporate CEOs.

This trend fuels the concentration of money in ever fewer hands-because how much one has doesn't matter; what matters is getting ahead of the next guy. I remember reading the Fortune 500 issue on the fifty richest people in the world. The "runner up" to Bill Gates wasn't focused on how happy he was with his billions, but on his plans for upping Gates in the coming year. In an atmosphere where we publish rankings of the wealthiest people to compare their "scores," there is never an end to the cycle of chasing after more.

Money as Contributor to the Common Good
To create a healthier human society, we can rethink the role we want money to play. Anthropologist Ruth Benedict's work gives us a clue. When examining what distinguishes high-functioning from low-functioning societies, she found that one critical factor held explanatory power: whether the individual was rewarded in status for selfseeking behavior or for action that benefited the entire community. Where the individual's status was linked to action advancing the whole group, there were positive societal outcomes- less violence, for example.

Changing the reasons we ascribe status to wealth holders--giving status to those who use their money for the common good, rather than to those who achieve the highest money score--could help us take a positive evolutionary step as a human family. We saw the first glimmering of this next step while writing Hope's Edge. Talking with so many people around the globe, we found that money is taking on richer meaning beyond simply, "I win." We met those who see that money can become a tool for creating the world we want and a source of legitimate status as community-builders. For example, the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh is often lauded for making credit available to the poor. Just as important, and maybe more, the Bank is also a social movement in which all borrowers must commit to upholding specific principles. Some principles involve practical actions, such as growing vegetables and sending one's children to school; others are less tangible, such as not inflicting injustice. Thus, the newly credit-empowered entrepreneurs are not only their village's new income generators but also creators of healthier community norms.

Appreciating Those Who Contribute to the Common Good
Recently I talked with a friend and businessman who has been told by doctors that he has only a few months to live. For a decade, I have watched him make his company into a nationally recognized model of enlightened practice, really a great place to work. The town where his company is based recently held a parade to celebrate his life and contribution. Hundreds turned out.

Although my friend is wealthy, for him and his community his wealth is not a scorecard. It has never been a way to stay ahead of the next guy. When I spoke with him recently, I could tell how much joy it gave him to be appreciated not for what he made, but for what he gave. I could hear the pleasure in his voice when he told me that the secretary of education had just called to thank him for his leadership. As more people like my friend choose to use their wealth for the good of the community, and more communities give status to that choice, the power of money as scorecard begins to fade. As long as the status money brings is increasingly detached from what enhances community, our societies-- indeed the Earth itself--will continue its rapid decline (measurable by such indices as mounting violence and melting ice caps). Choosing instead to give status to those who use their wealth for the common good, we can help shift the balance toward a healthier global society.

Each of Us Has Roles to Play
In transforming money into social glue, rather than social divider, each of us has roles to play. We can become conscious of occasions when we ourselves give power or status to others based on the amount of wealth they have, and simply choose not to do it. We can also discover ways that as communities and as a society we can honor and rew a rd those who use their wealth for the common good. In so doing, we can begin to harness the power money truly holds for global transformation.

1 See chapter fourteen, "Synergy in the Society and in the Individual," in The Farther Reaches of Human Nature , by A.H. Maslow (New York: Penguin, 1971).

Frances Moore Lappé is the author of numerous books, including Diet for a Small Planet, first published in 1971. She and her daughter, Anna Lappé, are co-authors of its thirtieth-anniversary sequel, Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet. The book chronicles breakthroughs on five continents that are re-embedding economic life in community values. Frances Moore Lappé is co-founder of two national organizations.


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