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The Tinkered Mind
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February 23rd, 2022
For all our gripe and balk when it comes to money, the concept of fungible value is still too conceptual, and in most cases, we just don’t get it. This likely seems absurd: money? We don’t get it? Are you kidding? Money makes the world go round. Sure it does - well sort of. Money as an incentive unto itself is highly conceptual and is always at least once removed in abstraction from a true incentive. Money in of itself is not the incentive, it is merely an avenue for other incentives which are not as difficult to fathom.
For most people money is a kind of ethereal chore. We are constantly taking out this garbage without taking the time to understand what’s behind the opal plastic of the bag we carry. Whatever it is, it’s somehow correlated to virtually every other part of life.
Frugality and even greed affect money in inside-out ways. It’s by failing to interact with money we have that we end up saving it. In all other instances with money, we deplete it as a means to the ends of a different incentive. Such as an incentive to feel more relaxed: pay for a massage or a pedicure. And incentive to feel healthier: buy supplements or a fancy wearable for tracking sleep. An incentive to be perceived as wealthy? Buy an expensive car.
Money presents this counter-intuitive backfire if we try to apply the concept of an inceptive directly to money itself. The incentive is rarely if ever for the actual money, but for the things that are accessible through the conduit of a certain amount of money. Even the person who diligently and wisely saves and successfully invests does so with the imagined outcome that some day such money will come in very handy for other things.
Upton Sinclair once said: It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.
This quote seems to give a lot of weight to the value of money, and this very sentence should give reason to pause because it sounds a bit funny. A lot of weight to the value of money? A little redundant, no? A salary in this case, and in most cases is a bundled set of other incentives that generally represent a person’s real life: paying for a place to live, the food they eat, the toys their kids play with, the clothes they wear. The incentive to have and provide all of these things runs very deep - and they existed long before we even invented money.
But we can have incentives that aren’t related to money. Nationalism, for instance, requires no money, but the ethereal social grist that makes up the fabric of socialism drives untold masses of people to engage in often extreme behavior - war. This might seem correlated to money in that its conceptual, ethereal - more in the realm of thought than it has to do with the hard tacks of physical reality. But there’s an important difference.
Money has no identity. This is essential for its fungible quality to remain in tact. All incentive on the other hand entails a strong component of identity. Salary becomes a conduit and an avenue by which to express and maintain a certain identity - at least for components of that identity that require money. But the incentive structure of a person isn’t limited to what people can buy, thankfully, but also, the strange relationship that exists between incentives and money also means that by default we’re all quite untalented when it comes to building wealth.