Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems in Modern Culture
Edited: December 10th 2020
Georg Simmel’s Money in Modern Culture is quite a remarkable paper. He claims money is everything and the more money you have, the happier you become. However, I do not agree with Simmel’s analysis and my argument can best be refuted by a Brooklyn raised rapper Notorious B.I.G. He informed us all that “Mo money Mo problems.” I argue that more money does cause more problems.
Simmel begins with the transformation of money in the middle ages from barter system to current money economy. In the beginning, the traditional medieval guilds were a living community with closely interconnected social, occupational, religious, and political systems. He discusses evolution from the barter system to property to the money economy. The benefits of the money economy freed individuals from restrictive commitments and created an equal mutual understanding across all lands and produced a comprehensive common level of interests for all people.
Simmel argues “money becomes that absolute goal which it is possible in principle to strive for at any moment” (p.27). “Money is ‘common’ because it is the equivalent for anything and everything” (p.5). Simmel expresses the idea that money is like an “insulating layer between the objective totality of the association and the subjective totality of the personality.” In modernity, individuals are dependent on a plethora of different suppliers facilitated by the money economy. That further leads to desires for happiness of a modern man because of money. He compares money to a magic key in a fairy-tale, and in order to attain all the joys of life, one must attain it. The rule of money as argued by Simmel has dissolved the social barriers.
Despite agreeing on Simmel’s views on evolution of money and its contemporary monetary system, for me this paper seems a bit one dimensional. Though he believes maximization of money accumulation is the ultimate goal in modern society, which may be true. Simmel does not discuss any side effects of the competition on money accumulation in contemporary society. For example, the money economy cannot be created in a vacuum. There must be time, resources, and technology put in place to generate and to earn money. He talks about “a state of development, movement and instability (p.29)” but the “instability” at individual level may not be enough. Since the paper was published in 1991, nearly 30 years ago, the spirit of making money in modern society may be the same, but its externalities cannot be overlooked.
The modern money machines do not care about the costs of making money. For example, the stock market is consecutively hitting record highs, along with the rising global temperature and cases of plastic continually piling up in the ocean. People may be happy when they have money in their own hands but fail to notice the consequences of the money machines. Isn’t plastic a byproduct of the modern society? It’s been more than 100 years, plastics are accumulating in our living system, and nature hasn’t been able to assimilate them nor technology has been able to find a better replacement. Likewise, global warming seems to be a discussion only during certain days, yet we use money every day.
Simmel’s overview of the evolution of money and the generalized goal among individuals to strive to earn more money because it brings forth more happiness may hold true for most. I also agree with this sentiment and his ideologies of the interweaving complexities of money, however he overlooks its externalities in terms of the means of cost making money. In conclusion, money can lead to happiness, but it won’t come free. Mother Earth provides enough to satisfy everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greed.