Perfection never liked “good enough”. Perfectionists don’t like money. They will give you a long list of money problems, of famous quotes from the wise about the shortcomings and longlowings of money and those who want it or have it.
And they are right, mostly. But where do they go wrong?
Goodenoughists will tell you that money measures social benefit. When you get paid, you find out what your work is worth. When you buy something, something completely different from what you do or make, you get to decide if it is worth the price, and you use money to measure your benefit against your effort. Scientists would call it a metric. Suddenly, we can compare apples and oranges, after all.
When a business makes a profit, that means the world likes their output better than their inputs. It means that someone has benefitted from their production. Money measures the social benefit.
Money can’t measure social benefit perfectly. Some things aren’t owned or traded on the market and we don’t want them to be. That leaves them out of our calculations. Big GNPs do not necessarily equate to big happinesses. The money metric won’t tell you in advance whether something is worth doing, and even afterward, all you know is what someone was willing and able to pay. Maybe you saved someone’s life, and you don’t want payment. How could that be measured?
People can and will game imperfect metrics and they do not make exceptions for money. This kernel of truth forms the center of the pearl of foolishness we know as market phobia or economic ignorance. (Libertarians will note that one of the best ways to game the system is to use the power of the state.) Economists have a fancy word for this: “externalities”.
If money causes such terrible problems, we ought to have a better alternative that we can choose. What are the alternatives to money, it’s would-be competitors and superiors, not a different kind of money, backed by a different comodity, but completely not money? Usually it is power. Power measures benefit very well, but it measures only the narrow benefit of the wielder of power. Even someone with good intentions and imagination will have trouble measuring the social benefit of their use of power. They’re guessing.
Money doesn’t make you guess. It may not get it perfectly right, but it will fall in the ballpark.
Money lets you help someone. When the tsunami hits Japan, will you send him a sandwich to say you care? It will rot on its way there. Send money, dude. Put your money where your mouth is.
Money lets you tip your bloggers and podcasters, it lets you support artists. What else are you going to do, buy them a sandwich? What if they’re not hungry?
Money is the Esperanto of desire, the Rosetta Stone that translates my subjectivity into yours and lets us coordinate our efforts into a cooperative symphony of production. It’s way better than the alternatives.