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In Praise of Cash

Why more money means more freedom, and how to increase both for all.

by James Leroy Wilson
March 6, 2002

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In Praise of Cash_James Leroy Wilson-Why more money means more freedom, and how to increase both for all. Recent signs are indicating that the economy is recovering from a mild economic downturn. This is good news. That is, its a praiseworthy event, a moral advance for our nation. Economic growth is a moral good.

One advantage - hardly the only one - that liberty has over every form of slavery is that we can better understand the humanity of other people. Any regime or social system based on an ethic that the individual "belongs" to a community, i.e., that even one's very existence and struggle for survival must be checked by other people's opinion of the "common good," is, in one form or another, slavery. And the degree of the slavery will determine how well we know the individual. If the slave's work, provision, and marriage are all pre-determined by law and/or custom, it is nearly impossible to assess that unfortunate person's life. When one's mind is contaminated from the start with the belief that circumstances determine a life, that one has little or no control over anything in life, then the talents, the true individuality, of that person were never realized.

Things are different in liberty, even for the poor. For while we all may be bound by the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter, it remains true that the individual can balance these according to her own values - how good the food, how fashionable the clothing, how warm the shelter. Whether to shop at the Gap, Wal-Mart, or Goodwill, is an expression of values, not of necessity. Whether to buy the Coke on sale or the still-cheaper generic brands - and whether to have soda at all - is an expression of values. Milk: powdered or fresh? To struggle in an expensive city when smaller towns have much lower rents, is an expression of values.

What liberty offers is a better life for those who seek it. And the better life is found by asserting individual control over one's own life. We can discern the values of a free individual by what he did with his time, what he did with his money, and his choices in marriage and other relationships. The same could not be said of the slave, who has no control over his economic and social life.

Time, money, relationships. A person is free to the extent that nobody else determines these for that individual. Of these, time and money are mere tools, means to some other end, whereas happy relationships with others is and end in itself.

Time and money can also be taken away quite abruptly, time (that is, a person's life) more so than money. This makes it even more compelling for each of us to spend these resources, to the extent we have them, to express our highest, most desired values. For the question for the individual is not "What am I accomplishing with my time?" but rather "How well am I spending my time?" For the former question expresses the tyranny of social standards - being at point A by age 25, point B by 30, point C by 40, and so on. More important is to ponder whether one is enjoying life and why. There is no universal answer.

Likewise, money is not a measure of one's accomplishments, but how one uses or spends money reveals plenty about that person's values. Where is my money going, and why? Is it better that it is spent or allocated some other way? Again, there is no universal answer. Each person may require basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter, but it is ridiculous to believe there is a nationwide minimum dollar amount that can accurately reflect such necessities. Some people don't need to pay for winter coats and heating bills, whereas other don't need cars to get to work. Some can and do grow much of their own food. Others can't. Still others won't.

It is also true that those with more money are better equipped to express their values by spending it where they want to. In that sense, they have more freedom than those with less. The solution to this is to generate more wealth and thereby increase overall purchasing power, so that there is more money for more people, to exercise greater liberty to express their own values. And this requires an expansion of production and business, of finding more capital to create and efficiently distribute better, less expensive products. Greater wealth is greater liberty.

The American people, ambitious and productive as they are, are to be credited with avoiding a severe recession and to take us back on the road to greater prosperity. The chief obstacle to further, more rapid prosperity is the drain of government taxing and spending, where individual choice is not only diminished by loss of personal income through taxes, but also curtailed and even banned by government regulation.

Government does not generate wealth, for if it did, it would not need to tax us. At its best all that it does is diminish our wealth with the promise of our security. Anything more it may try to do will not provide any benefit whatsoever and only diminish our money, our choices, and our liberty. It is easy to applaud high taxation as a punishment for the non-crime of "greed," when the rich pay greater taxes because the non-rich majority says so. It is quite another to establish that the efforts of the wealthy to attain their wealth came on the backs of the poor. Far from it. It is only because of efforts and innovations of the "rich" that the poor of the United States enjoy so many modern, inexpensive conveniences in the first place.

To paraphrase F.A. Hayek, the dollar bill, like justice, is no respecter of persons. It is not partial to the rich or the poor. It expresses, instead, the values of the free market, the collective values of a region's, or a nation's people, and ideally of the world's people. What is it that we deem important? Valuable?

Some people believe that religious principles ought to be made government policy and replace the true values of the free market through coercion, taxation, and prohibition. I believe, instead, that good, moral choices and values should get their chance in the free market. Best to take our chances there than leave it up to government. A government empowered to impose my preferences on somebody else sets a precedent that empowers a future government to impose the values of somebody else on me. The free market, where people are allowed to spend the money they earn on what they please, is more just. More compassionate. Morally superior in every way.

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