The acquisition of money is the ruling passion of our times; most people believe it holds the key to happiness. The ethics of acquiring money vary widely, ranging from those who are willing to do anything to become rich, to those who have some vague but serious notions as to right and wrong ways of becoming wealthy. Methods of acquiring wealth vary from honorable (developing an important business), to lucky (winning the lottery), to sleazy (outrageous lawsuits), to simple theft.
More than any other factor, the unprincipled pursuit of wealth leads to mental and moral confusion, and to the conclusion that we live in an insane world. If the ultimate goal, happiness, depends on which ticket is drawn in a lottery, or what irrational verdict a jury may pronounce, then reason and other critical values like hard work, persistence, and honesty, have less than overwhelming importance. And if we are dependent on luck or the whims of others then we have no control over our destiny.
People seem to pursue wealth for two reasons:
• Keeping score — Many people use money to compare themselves to others: to keep track of their relative success according to whether they have more or less wealth than their peers.
• To enjoy luxury and leisure — Many people dream of endless leisure, but it seems that few people are happy living such a life; people seem to need to have some goals; some productive activity. To be truly happy, people need to create value.
Money is an important and excellent possession. It enables one to buy whatever can be bought, and many things of great value — leisure, some sensual pleasures, material goods, travel — can be bought. Money can also be used to build a business or to provide assistance to those who need help. But the almost unlimited number of people who are both wealthy and unhappy shows that money is only part of the equation.
To value money, it makes more sense to think of competing types of good, rather than good vs. evil. While money is good, and serves many useful purposes, it is not sufficient for happiness. In order to be content and at peace, one must actively create value and maintain a sense of personal integrity. In a just society, money will be one of the rewards for honestly creating value.
People who obtain wealth without creating value may experience various forms of pleasure, but they will never have a sense of personal fulfillment. People who are striving for the most that life has to offer may hope for wealth. But in the many potential conflicts between integrity, the desire to create value, and money, they should choose the first two at the expense of the latter. Wealth is a question of degree; some is better than none, and there could always be more. Questions of integrity are binary: When properly understood, even very complex issues usually have morally right and wrong responses. Wrong actions are not half wrong, they are simply wrong. Wealth can be made, lost, and made again, but lost integrity is usually not regained.
Money is a tool of exchange. Earn money by fulfilling your highest potential — trade that money for the highest values, and the best products and services that others can create.