Money as a Subsitute for Power

So this post was supposed to be up Friday, in fact I thought I had published it Friday, but noticed this morning that the article was still in the ‘draft’ stage. It appears the blog had a technical glitch or I didn’t have enough coffee yesterday morning when I should have published it.

Money to people means all sorts of different things: to some it is security while to others it means freedom.  Then there is the one case that is really interesting substituting money for power.  In a nut shell power is addictive thing for a lot of people.  Let’s face it having people do what you want provides a nice boost for your ego regardless if you have authority over them or you are paying them.  It is also why our popular culture tends to follow stories about kings, presidents, CEO or anyone who is well off or outright rich. It also might explain why there is never a TV show about a single mom living in poverty despite the fact there is lots of room for dramatic content in that story line.

Yet for some people that don’t actually have much power over anyone, money can buy a nice substitute for direct power.  So while you might be a mid-level grunt at work if you can afford a contractor to do what you want in your new bathroom.  Or you can get a little more respect at a clothing store if you are willing to spend a lot there on a regular basis on custom suits.

The problem of course is using money as a substitute for power is the power you are feeling isn’t real.  You don’t actually control much of anything, yet you feel powerful since you  get to tell people what to do.  Yet if you piss off someone enough they won’t do business with you regardless of how much money you have.  Granted money does tend to buy a lot of tolerance from people, but there are limits.

Also having a lot of money can also be an interesting lesson in power itself.  Just because you have it, doesn’t mean you need to use it.  This is where I think I personally confuse people.  Yes our household earns a lot of money, but that doesn’t mean we have to spend it.  In fact, I would argue that the restraint of power or money is the more difficult choice.  After all spending money is easy, just ask anyone who has ever won the lottery.  The number of stories of lottery winners going broke is more common than I thought possible, see here for example.  On the other hand if you choose to save the majority of it or use it to pay off debt that behaviour comes across as strange to people.

So how can you really have money or even power and choose not to use it?  To be honest it’s best to forget you even have it most of the time.  I tend to spend my life ignoring the numbers in my investment or bank accounts and only really look at them when calculating my net worth statements.  I’m busy with other things, so just because I can buy a new car doesn’t mean I should go do it every three years.  Just because you can do something really doesn’t mean you have to.

So have you ever used money as a substitute for power in your life?  I personally can’t think of an obvious case where I did it, but I might have.

4 thoughts on “Money as a Subsitute for Power”

  1. It is an incredibly powerful feeling knowing that you could walk onto the car lot and pay cash for that new Escalade… and even more powerful of a feeling choosing not to. 🙂

  2. I agree with dave’s comment, as I felt the same way when I bought my Corolla 4 years ago this week. Knowing that I could walk into a car dealership and plunk down $18k for any car I wanted made me feel powerful (also because I would not have to deal with the finance guy LOL!).

    Being able to use money to buy my way out of misery is a powerful feeling, too. Chosing to forgo 40% of my salary to regain control of my life by working P/T instead of F/T was powerful because not needing the F/T salary gave me incredible leverage against my employer. Using money to leave the job altogether and retiring 2 years ago was similarly powerful.

  3. I agree with the other comments – there’s power in knowing that you can just buy something in cash or quit a job you hate.

    But when I read your article, I thought about what kind of power money brings when you’re ill. In Canada, you can skip the queue by going for tests or treatments in the US or in Quebec (I live in Ontario so those are my two closest options). I learned this when I was ill last year and needed an MRI and other tests. I didn’t end up spending my money because I found another way to skip the queue, but to be frank, I now keep an account just for future medical expenses.

    When you’re in pain and suffering and you have to wait for months to get a scan, trust me, money is very very powerful.

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