Column on “It’s Only Money!”

"It’s Only Money!"

Tibor R. Machan

How is it you never hear prominent critics of Western materialism and
capitalism defending the likes of Bernard Madoff with the exclamation,
"It’s Only Money!"? If their disdain for money is honest, if they consider
it something dirty and unimportant in human life. at least in a decent,
exemplary human life, then surely it should be of no great significance
that some people like Madoff steal if from people big time.

Indeed, why is it that when there is an economic downturn like now all
those folks who urge us to go back to nature–really they mean the the
wilds–and who decry all the development that occurs in good times are
deafeningly silent? There ought to be triumphant Op Ed pieces in The New
York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Nation, The New
York Review of Books or other publications that often publish pieces
dubious about our materialist ways. Don’t you think? This is just what
such folks wanted–the destruction of the automobile, the
de-industrialization of the country, the return of workers to labor in
their gardens or the woods. What could be better than widespread
unemployment to undermine the excessive commercialization of society?
Without jobs, people will not be crowding the malls but, more likely,
commune with nature in the hundreds of national parks and forest preserved
for just the occasions when the rat race of capitalism has subsided?

Oh, but times like these make folks more honest than when it costs them
nothing, not even embarrassment, to deride modern materialist society.
Still. I would admire the people more if their integrity showed when it
may be a bit tough to live by one’s professed ideals. It would be
admirable to see animal rights advocates out in the wilds defending small
prey against the large, show that they are not only against the human use
of animals but also against other animals’ use of vulnerable animals. Or
to have all the critics of modern civilization to step up and publicly
applaud all the downsizing going on in Detroit and elsewhere, maybe even
lend a hand to those who have become unemployed by, say, hiring them as
gardeners or farmers and animal care givers–you know, all those jobs that
leave the wilds intact and do not cause urban sprawl.

Alas, this reminds me of that well known quip that there are no atheists
in foxholes (which, by the way, is a crock). Integrity, which is keeping
in mind and acting on all the right values without ditching some of them
when they become inconvenient, is in short supply. It is in extremely
short supply with politicians and bureaucrats who are part of an
essentially corrupt system, one that lives off the principle that it’s
perfectly fine to rob Peter in order to benefit Paul (and skim some of it
in the process for one’s troubles). It also brings to mind those
celebrities on late night talk shows who insist on attempting to persuade
the audience that they care nothing about money, nothing at all, only
their art concerns them! Yes, and I have this bridge you may wish to
purchase from me if you believe that bunk.

For all the people out there who are routinely disdainful about money, I
call upon you to come to Bernard Madoff’s defense–as well as the defense
of others who defraud clients and rob banks and otherwise take other
people’s money without permission–by proclaiming loud and clear, "Hey,
it’s only money, so what’s the big fuss?" I implore all the priests and
ministers who keep telling their flock that "the love of money is the root
of all evil," to now insist that Bernie Madoff & Co. are not worth fussing
about since all they did was take the money, which, as the faithful have
been told over and over again, isn’t really what’s truly worthwhile. (But
then why bother about sending around the collection plate?)

Fact is, money represents hard work and some luck in our lives and we use
it to obtain the products of other people’s hard work and creativity (and
a bit of their luck, too) if they are willing to sell them. To scoff at
money is no smarter than to denounce theater tickets that get you in to
see the show! And when one has it stolen from him, as the Madoffs are
willing to do, one has every reason to be outraged. Because money matters!

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