Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Does Following the Money Make us Mean and Lonely? Money and American Political Life

"Money, its a crime.
Share it fairly but don't take a slice of my pie.

Money, so they say
Is the root of all evil today.

But if you ask for a raise its no surprise that they're
Giving none away."

It turns out Pink Floyd may have had it right about money. Peter Singer writes that the psychological effects of money on us may have some profound ramifications for political and ethical deliberation. Recent studies suggest that when people are cued to think about money itself (such as with pictures of cash, or of play money), they tend to become more isolated, more narrowly self-interested, and less helpful to others.

So think about how one might be solicited for money in regard to all sorts of moral and political issues. It seems each day I get several letters from the ACLU, Amnesty International, Barack Obama's campaign, the local food bank etc, asking me for a donation. Singer believes that such efforts might actually be counter productive in some cases--for those groups that want to foster some sense of community or group responsibility, the emphasis on money might tend to make people feel less interested in assisting others. "Money consciousness" might be disempowering.

So what happens to our politics when issues get infused the language of economics?

Bill Clinton was famous in his first presidential campaign for cutting through political smoke and mirrors when he announced: "It's the economy, stupid."--implying that what Americans really cared about were bread and butter issues concerning their livelihoods. It is not uncommon today to point to experience in business, or as a CEO, as a qualification for political leadership.

Yet, Aristotle, and more recently, Hannah Arendt, both seperate economics (dealing with issues of simply reproducing life) from politics (dealing with issues of acting together to achieve ideals or actualize values). Perhaps the recent turn in American life that collapse politics into economics (resulting, perhaps, in a rise of money consciousness) leads to a fragmented citizenry that has a hard time thinking of what it means to accomplish grand projects together?

Enjoy some classic rock (but don't expect to feel good about it afterwards):

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