Money and Power

I met a very interesting gentleman last week. He’s the chair of the board of a foundation that works with school boards to integrate immigrant youth. He explained that he’d been very lucky in life, and all appearances seemed to agree. His home was inner city, gigantic and hyper-modern. But from his elevated vantage, he sees a number of problems with our society. The crux of it all, however, comes down to the conflation of power with money. If we could divorce power from money, in his opinion, all would be well.

Is money a source of power? There is obviously economic power attached to money. If I have no money, I can’t buy what I want. The more money I have, the more I can buy goods or services. If I want someone to do something for me, such as wash my car or clean my house, I simply need to be able to pay the market price. There are some things, however, which don’t have a market price because our society deems them dangerous (illegal) or priceless. An example of something that’s priceless is democracy, where we don’t have the right to buy or sell votes.

Political power doesn’t reside solely in government. Most companies have an element of office politics, which is simply another way of saying that not everyone has the same amount of influence. Usually, those with more influence, whether from a position of authority or from individual charisma, have an outsized influence on decision-making. At the same time, they often receive an outsized salary. This idea raises the question of whether the money is the source of power or the result of power?

I believe (without any proof) that people who value money will use their power, to whatever degree they can, to gain more money. They are also likely to be influenced by people who have more money, likely in the hope of emulating their perceived success. People who don’t value money, however, will not only use their power for other purposes, but they are unlikely to be swayed by those who have money.

The situation is compounded, in my mind, by the taboo we have in our Western society, of talking about how much money we have or spend. Besides the gentleman in the hyper-modern house, I am very rarely able to tell how much money someone has or earns. As such, I generally assume by default that they have “about as much as me.” In that case, I must rely on other clues to develop a sense of the power balance that makes up our interactions. In the end, I don’t believe that money has any inherent ability to bestow power. I agree that our society would be better if people worried a little less about money and a little more about helping those who need it. But even that thought becomes non-sensical when I recall that money is simply a means of trade, and whether we help others by giving money, by giving time, by giving good advice or just by being a friend, it’s all helpful.

Do you think money brings power? How do you develop your influence?

4 thoughts on “Money and Power”

  1. “I generally assume by default that they have “about as much as me.””

    even with all the stats about how nobody has any retirement savings?

    “our society would be better if people worried a little less about money”

    not having to worry about money is the **exact** reason I care a great deal right now. It’s hilariously provocative to suggest that, as a result, I care more about things that matter since I’ll have 50+ years of focusing on things other than money. If not having to have money get in the way of things is so important, why don’t others actually work towards such a goal?!

  2. Greg, it’s funny when we talk about “how much money”, we are almost never clear about whether that means “savings in the bank” or “spending money”. In my case, I assume that my spending amount is similar to others. I know that my assets put my far above the average, but that only means I can live without working for money. Otherwise, I can’t exactly go out and spend far more than average people (without having to go get a job).

    I really enjoyed reading your comment. I’m glad there are people who see that caring about money early on can free you to care about other things later.

  3. My parents had a good line about the difference between the appearance of wealth and the actual possession of it: “anybody can buy something. Not everyone can pay for it.” I think I was 20 before I understood what they meant. My wife and I could “afford” a $1M house now, but are quite happy with the house we bought for half that, warts and all. Instead now I dream about having a monster mortgage killed off in my 40s and then not having to worry as much about not finding work I enjoy in my 50s.

  4. Usually when it comes to money, I prefer to spend little early and spend more much later because of how things go down in price as time goes on. You never quite need to buy what you want when it comes out instantly. That’s merely the need for instant gratification in play.

    But more on your subject of money and its relationship to power. It feels like we’ve been taught that power is relative to the money we own not in how much we have but rather in how much we spend, just like how you mentioned earlier. However, I feel that power isn’t really related to the concept of having money or even spending it, but rather how well you use the resources you have, which in this case would be money. i feel that power is relative to how well we spend our money.

    I feel that it would be interesting to see what would happen if we learned about money and financial management at an earlier age. What would we think about this issue then? I actually wrote a blog post about this if you want to have a look at it. Feel free to leave a comment after having a look.

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