Nothing puts a glaze into the eyes of average citizens quite like discussing economic theory. At best, it’s a confusing topic. Start injecting things like gross domestic product, prime interest rate, futures pricing, trade subsidies, and compound interest and you’ve pretty much lost most of your audience. But talk to the average person about money, and it’s a whole other ball game. Money, after all, makes the world go ‘round, or so they say. Everybody needs a way to earn money because nothing, except maybe the air we breathe, is free. Money, or a lack of it, shapes our lives in every imaginable way.

Growing up in a capitalistic society, we are raised to look at money as an end in itself rather than a means to an end. What I mean is, for most of us, the acquisition of money is what drives our lives. We need or want things that cost money, so we work to make money. We trade that money for things and then need more money to get more things. The more we have, the more we need. The more we need, the more we work. Capitalism requires a certain level of materialism to function properly, and we seem to have that down to a tee. But as our lives grow increasingly more dependant upon a steadily increasing flow of money, and as our materialistic tendencies increase with each new innovation, we slowly lose focus of what is really important in life and we instead turn all our energies into amassing as much money as we can (or as many things as we can, which can prove how much money we have or had.) Rather than spend our relatively short time on earth in harmony with each other and nature, we construct an adversarial environment that pits man against man with money right in the middle.

Of course, governments need money too, and as a result, we have taxes. Because government does not produce anything sellable (in theory at least) yet it is expected to provide many tangible and intangible things for the citizenry, the only source of money for the government (again, in theory) is taxes. The bright side of taxes, at least in a democratic society, is that their collection and use is supposed to provide for the common needs of the society, so you get back what you put in, in some manner or another. Unfortunately, the reality is often somewhat less than that. Too often, the people in government spend public tax dollars as if they had won the lottery, providing little oversight or accountability for the way those monies are spent. Such waste or abuse causes the average citizen to have to provide more tax dollars, making him earn less or work more. In addition to setting tax rates and spending tax dollars, government also creates legislation that causes more money to be drained from the everyday worker and into the pockets of the business industry, setting up an adversarial environment between man and the government.

And then there’s business. Provider of jobs (so people can earn money) and creator of goods or services (so people can spend money.) Friend of the politician (through political donations) and befriended in return (with tax subsidies and tailor-made regulation.) Business is the glue that holds the whole system together, but being in that position requires a greater level of trust and integrity than exists today. Part of the reason for the animosity between people and business stems from the mutual reliance each has on the other. We wish we didn’t have to work for a living and business wishes they didn’t have to pay us to work for a living, but as we can’t have one without the other, an uneasy truce exists. The other reason stems from the misguided notion that a business entity is the same as an individual, at least so far as the law is concerned. Businesses exist to provide jobs, goods, or services. They exist to generate money for the workers and money for the owners. But they are not thinking, breathing, sentient forms. Businesses are piles of paper and rooms of inventory. They have no need for food or shelter or health care. Yet government policies and regulations afford businesses many of the same rights that are afforded to individuals. As such, businesses (and those who head them) can affect social mores and agendas more readily than average citizens can simply because business has greater wealth resources than individuals do. An already adversarial environment just gets that much worse.

Underlying all this commotion though, is still the idea that money is an end in itself. And with that concept comes the tendency of people, government, and business alike to devise any scheme to get more than they are entitled to. Because in addition to satisfying our materialistic tendencies (which I believe are more ingrained than innate), money also carries with it an element of power or control. The more money a person has, the more control they have over their destiny or the things they want to have. The more money a business has, the more it can control its corner of the marketplace and the more power it has in the political sphere. The more money government has, the more it tries to spend it, usually on ill conceived plans, but just as often on things or in ways that the tax payer would not approve of. Too often, tax money just fades away or gets diverted while the original intended use is forgotten about. Yet government always wants, and has the power to get, more money than it needs. And all too often, business and government conspire to get more from the citizens, whether it is money or work or both.

The business of money is yet another area to consider. Banking, insurance, and investing are all aspects of our financial world that touch us each on some level, including government and businesses. Because money is so important in our world, entire industries evolved to help us manage, protect, and increase our own supply. In a not so surprising turn of events, these industries are among the most powerful “behind the scenes” forces that shape financial and economic legislation in ways that affect the daily lives of John and Jane Doe, sometimes for the good, often for the bad.

Money is important. There’s no getting around that. But is it the most important thing in life? Problems with money are often the main cause of family strife, business failure, or government corruption. For those who have little, it’s never enough. For those who have some, it’s never enough. And for those who have plenty, it’s still never enough. This is the prevailing attitude of the majority of people in our country, and the majority of businesses as well. The next several essays will talk about various economic issues, among them credit and bankruptcy, insurance, taxes, trade, saving money, business and labor, unions, and the consumer society we live in. I’m not an expert on economics, but I hope to take a fresh look at these necessary aspects of our world and throw in a little Common Sense where it’s needed. I hope you’ll join me.