How did you spend your stimulus funds? If you are like many Americans, you have yet to exhaust them.
While remaining stuck at home during much of the year, many households and individuals stockpiled their money at a rate that would make Benjamin Franklin smile approvingly. As the economy reopens, those pandemic-induced savings will be set free to fuel a surge in spending as folks get back to the activities they love such as frequenting restaurants, visiting coffee shops, going to concerts and taking trips. Much of the public can now not only breathe a sigh of relief on account of the discovery of the vaccines, it can also celebrate its rescue with hoovered up pandemic cash.
Money and Coronavirus relief
To what can we attribute this marvelous relief? Science did its part, but the real hero was, and is, money. Our government turned to the dollar to treat both the health crisis as well as the economic threat that the pandemic promised. While billions were promptly funneled into vaccine research, billions more were spent bolstering bank accounts while the economy remained on hold.
One cannot scarcely help but harbor affection for a tool that possesses the life-sustaining and pleasure-producing power of the US dollar. Why then would Scripture describe affinity for something as useful as money as “the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10)?
Money has many features that allow it to rival God. We rely on both to ‘fix’ things. God and money each offer peace of mind by providing security against the uncertainty of the future. Both have a variety of media vying for your attention. God has EWTN and money has its CNBC.
Money is a medium of exchange
Money’s chief social contribution is its ability to conveniently serve as a medium of exchange. By eliminating the double coincidence of wants, money improves individual standards of living. A basic example illustrates the benefits. Imagine that you own an apple orchard. You have more apples than you can use, but if you want to trade them for almonds, you will need to find someone who not only has excess almonds, but also wants apples in exchange. However, with money you can sell your apples and then simply go to the store and by some almonds.
Money is a unit of account
Further convenience arises from money’s wide use as a medium of exchange. Frequent and regular exchange allows money to serve as an accurate unit of account that measures relative value between all sorts of products and services in real-time. Ten dollars can get you one pound of almonds or 6 ½ pounds of apples. Next week the relative value might change in response to shifting preferences and supply.
Money has incredible scalability. Free from the reliance on barter and coincidence, money’s mediating power allows humankind to develop its faculties and exercise greater dominion over the rest of creation.
Money is a store of value
To perform this mediating function well and enlarge its potential to contribute to human development, money must be useful as a medium for future exchange. This means that it must function as a store of value. However, once money becomes a store of value, it creates expansive opportunities for cultivating the vice of avarice.
When combined with our capacity for unlimited wants, these three features of money – medium of exchange, unit of account and store of value – can be a toxic mix. Why? Simply put, money multiplies opportunities for the exercise of avarice by allowing wealth to be accumulated and preserved. Avarice fuels a sense of independence and mutes an awareness of our reliance on God.
Using money well
God has given humankind the ability to develop and use money (and even invent new forms of assets like bitcoin and ether that aspire to that role). Like the hand that causes sin in Matthew 5:30, the lesson from scripture is not to throw money away, but to learn to use it well.
Instead of fostering acquisitiveness, the proper application of our funds can stimulate the growth of God-given talents in ourselves and others. We can exercise that task of good use not only through charitable giving, but also through the discriminating purchase of goods and services and the virtuous investment in the development of others’ potential. The key is to avoid the temptation to stimulate avarice. Whether money comes into our hands through selling apples or almonds, or through government largesse, successful use means applying it as an antidote to the very sickness it might otherwise inflict.