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Psychological Basis for Money

 Money is universally valued; so much so, that we take its value as self-evident and in need of no explanation. Money today is valued for the products and services for which it can be exchanged, the security it provides against unexpected needs, the economic power it generates, the political influence it exerts, the social status it offers to those who possess it, the self-confidence and sense of accomplishment it fosters in those who earn it.  

Yet it was not always so. Since the invention of coins and paper currency, history is replete with instances in which people distrusted or fled from money as from the plague, rushing to convert any money they had into commodities or other tangible assets of inherent material utility and value or into diamonds, gold or silver or other currencies that had greater perceived value. US President Andrew Jackson embodied the widespread distrust of paper currency during the early 19th Century. Even when money is sound and saleable goods are abundant, the social and political value of money has not always been what it is today. In Pre-revolutionary France, money could be exchanged by anyone for an equivalent value of goods and services, but its political and social value was quite limited. The aspiration of the prospering bourgeoisie for upper class status was frowned upon, as historian Will Durant illustrates with the story of a wealthy French banker’s wife who was invited to a party of aristocratic women in Paris but when dinner is served, she was asked to eat in the kitchen.  

Theories abound to explain the economic value of money in terms of purchasing power. But in order to fully understand the value of money, economic theory is not sufficient. Money has acquired the all-pervasive value that it possesses today by a slow evolutionary process that can be most easily understood by tracing its social and psychological origins from ancient times. Money has to be viewed in a wider context as a social institution based on the consent of the population and as a psychological symbol based on the consent of the individual.

Material value of money 

Human beings exert themselves in productive movements which release energy and produce results. Physical need moves them. Mind prompts them to work productively. The body converts its energy into work and enjoys the fruits of its own labor. Money is a means to convert the fruits of human labor into a form that can be stored indefinitely, transported readily, and transferred easily to another person in exchange for goods or services. Subjectively for each individual, it acquired value because it represented the use value of his or her human energy applied in productive work and the goods and services produced by that work. Money became a symbol to represent the value of work, the things it produced, the property on which it was produced and into which surplus production may be converted.  

Interpersonal value of money 

Money became a symbol and medium of storage and exchange for the individual’s productive energy. Socially people relate to one another, seeks advantage from exchange and mutuality, look to others for what they do not have or cannot obtain by themselves. People value money because they value the benefits of exchange. By exchange, productive human energy becomes a force for constructive human interactions capable of fulfilling a wide range of human needs. People value money because it enables them to enjoy the fruits of other people’s labor. It acquires interpersonal or transactional value, because it enables people to relate to one another constructively by exchanging goods and services. The value of money issues from the fact that it is a social product. Money is a symbol for the value of relating positively to other people for material exchange.

Social value of money 

When many people produced and converted the results of their work into money, society discovered that the greater exchange of energies made possible by money made the collective stronger, more secure, more productive and more prosperous. Money encouraged people to work harder, cooperate and coordinate their efforts. Like the use of a common language, money helped forge a sense of community among people who had no personal knowledge of one another. It bound larger populations together in cooperative enterprise and exchange, forging separate individuals into an organized social collective.  

As society came to recognize the value of money for its own survival, growth and development, it introduced rules and organizations to support the creation and maintenance of money – standardized forms of money, laws governing who could create it, mints to produce it, banks to store and loan it. These social organizations arose because money acquired value for the society as a whole, as well as for its individual members.

The organization of money by society converted the force of individual transactions into a productive power that can accomplish anything the collective is capable of.  

To reinforce the social value of money, society accorded status and prestige to those who produced, possessed and accumulated it, since by so doing they contributed to the overall welfare of the collective. Thus, money became a major determinant of the relative importance and privilege of different classes of people in society and a power beyond the economic sphere of activity. Money acquired political influence and power over the decisions of governments.  

As the individual learned to value money as a medium that facilitates transactions with other individuals to meet personal needs, society learned to value money as a means for fostering the overall development of the collective.  The society’s subconscious recognition of the value of money matured as an emotional endorsement of money by the collective culture, which was then internalized in the value system of its individual members. Money became a symbol for the survival, growth and development of society and for the evolutionary energy that urged its to continuous progress.

Psychological value of money 

In addition to its economic, social and political value, money has acquired a psychological value for the individual as well. Society has instilled an appreciation of the value of money which becomes in its members a settled emotion serving to release the productive energies of each individual. The social power of the collective becomes internalized as individual power in the personality of each member of the group who exercises the strength and capacities of that personality to produce, attract, employ and control money.  

As levels of education and social freedom increase, the members of the collective become more individualized. In addition to meeting their economic needs, achieving social acceptance or exercising political influence, they also seek to acquire a personal value as individuals in addition to or distinct from the value accorded to them by society. They seek to enhance their psychological value as individuals. Money has also become a symbol of this psychological value. It has come to stand not only for economic security and social status, but also for individual capacity. It has become a source of self-confidence and self-esteem. Each individual conceives the value of money for success, perceives the value of money for social status, and senses the value of money as a means to fulfill physical needs. Money became a symbol for the success and fulfillment of the individual as a member of the collective. Other factors such as education, occupation and competence in work also acquire this symbolic value, but none of them are as tangible and quantifiable as money, so none has been as universally accepted as a symbol of personal worth as money.

Human value of money 

Money is in the process of acquiring a further value as a symbol and instrument for the conscious evolution of humanity. Society has evolved from earlier stages in which power, knowledge and wealth were concentrated in the hands of a small elite to stages in which education, democratic rights and economic well-being are widely distributed. In the process, the personal power of military rulers has been subordinated to the impersonal power of democratic governments under rule of law and the restricted access to religious knowledge has been disseminated from a priestly class to the wider population. The same transformation is now occurring with regard to economic privileges that were once the purview of a small aristocratic class. As society has come to understand and accept the value of universal education and universal suffrage, it is gradually coming to perceive the value of universal prosperity as well.  

Money, which was once the symbol of a privileged elite, is in the process of becoming the symbol of the inherent value of every human being. The recent proliferation of credit cards among large sections of the population in developing countries such as China and India is just one expression of this change. As education and democracy have distributed knowledge and political power to the masses, money – once an instrument for concentration of social power by an elite – is now becoming the instrument for distribution of economic and social power to every citizen. Marx was right in predicting the economic upliftment of the working class, but wrong about the means. Instead of a violent revolution to usurp power, it is coming about through a conscious and voluntary distribution of power by the social collective which realizes that its own best interests are served by this process. Society, which in the past ensured its survival by ensuring the power of a leadership class, is now in the process of elevating the value of every individual to the status of the leader. Money is becoming the symbol and instrument for that evolutionary transition. Money is a human invention intended to serve an evolutionary purpose. Society is in the process of discovering that the original and ultimate value of money arises from the human beings who create it and whom it is intended to serve.


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