On the Importance of Money

by Abiola Lapite | 2/11/98 6:00am

I never cease to be amazed by the naivete that so many students on this campus display when it comes to the topic of money. It's one thing to be dishonest about such mundane matters as relations between the sexes and so on, but self-deception can prove not merely inappropriate but downright deadly in the financial arena.

Perhaps the greatest point of collective dishonesty on this campus in relation to money is the matter of its importance. To go by the conventional wisdom, at least as elucidated in the editorial pages of The Dartmouth, money is of very little importance to any but the most blinkered of individuals, and to want a lot of is to be lacking in imagination and spiritual depth. If some of our self-appointed dispensers of wisdom are to be believed, the world would be a far richer place if we would only spend our days deconstructing feminism and reading Francis Fukuyama rather than chasing after the almighty dollar.

One could be forgiven for thinking, in light of the present climate towards financial acquisitiveness on this campus, that it is a sign of humanity's madness that money should have been an object of so much desire by so many for so long in history. After all, money is the root of all evil, right? It can't buy you love, or happiness, or even respect, and the rich man dies as surely as the pauper does. What then is it really good for, one might ask? Why is it that the man who is satisfied with his income proves the exception rather than the rule?

The simple answer to this question is that, whatever the conventional wisdom may say, there is in fact no more powerful or more potentially beneficial thing in the world than money. Money is the universal balm, the philosopher's stone, the modern day equivalent of the holy grail. Money cures nearly all problems, and those few problems that money cannot solve are usually not solvable by other means anyway. Money adds youth to an aging visage, confers respectability on rogues, makes the greatest bore a source of fascination. Money is the civilized man's father and mother in one, and that is why we nearly all love money so much.

Here is a short list of some of the rarely mentioned things that money can do for a man: money can buy security; it can buy immunity from the law, even in supposedly democratic societies; it can buy immortality in the form of universities, foundations and museums. For members of despised minorities the world over, money or the lack of it has often made the crucial difference between survival and annihilation. Money (dare I say it) can even buy you love, especially if you are male, and not just a simulation of love but the genuine article. There is nothing like money to lend a man charm, mystery, self-confidence and that air of authority that even the most ardent "feminists" often find so intoxicating in practice. This is a lesson that most sensible young men absorb early in life, and it explains most of the macho drive for the biggest house and the biggest paycheck.

Of course, it is an honorable thing to want to do something with one's life that will prove of lasting importance in the long run, such as deriving an important new scientific principle or creating a transcendent work of art. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that few of us can do anything particularly well, and that most of us, even at a place like Dartmouth, would be incapable of achieving anything truly memorable even if we spent our lives trying. Since we are nearly all doomed to obscurity in anyway, why not enjoy our trivial lives as much as possible? But here again, money raises its ugly head, for few of the finer things in life come for free. Paintings by Old Masters, weekends in Malibu and Cannes, dinner for two at Le Cirque -- these things cannot be had on a middle class paycheck, and even if your typical professional can (just barely) afford a bottle of Moet of decent vintage, it takes the leisure time that only a rich man has to enjoy it to the fullest.

In summary, the rich, to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, are different from everyone else, and it is a blatant falsehood to think the millionaires have the short end of the stick. To those of you who are certain you are Mies Van der Rohes or Richard Feynmans in the making, I say "more power to you." To the rest of you, I say "Make Money!" Remember that it is far easier to become even a billionaire than a Nobel prize winner -- make money, and leave the history-making to the few truly fit for it.